“Generously comment on the actual language that moved you and all that the writer has done well or attempted to do. Only then, go down the road of making suggestions.”
As I was reading “10 Surefire Ideas to Remove Writing Roadblocks” by Regie Routman, this quote reminded me of a day long ago in my classroom, like a pleasant odor brings a memory to mind.
Many years ago, I was teaching third grade. Early in the year, one of my students was coming in late almost every day. I was concerned that she was missing a lot of school. Not only that, most days she wore bright pink lipstick, fancy dresses, and shoes with heels that probably belonged to her mother. I had cautioned her, more than once, that footwear like that could bring serious injury at recess or in PE. No matter how many times I spoke with her about what she wore or the importance of being at school on time, little changed.
However, I didn’t give up. After a little investigation, I uncovered the reason for her tardiness. I found out that my student’s mother went to work early every morning. It was the third-grader’s responsibility to get herself and her little brother out of bed, and dressed. Together, they walked the lengthy distance to our school. It was a small miracle that she and her brother made it at all.
I cried for her.
The next morning, my little student came in late with pink lipstick, a fancy dress, and high heels. The same little girl as the day before. Yet, in my eyes, she had changed. I was looking at the student, rather than the shortcomings. That day, I told her how pretty she looked and that I appreciated how hard she worked to look nice and to make it to school each day.
I think that is what Regie means when she advises us to look at the writer, not just the writing. When we just look at the writing, we see the shortcomings; the missing punctuation, the misspelled words, or the somewhat weak endings. When we “put the writer before the writing”, as Regie puts it, we see how far they’ve come. We see the better choices they are making. We see how they used our feedback to make a better piece. We hear their voice and listen to their story. We see THEM.
By the way, from that day on, my sweet third-grader was rarely late to school. When we celebrate the good, the good grows. The student flourishes.