It's been ten days since I wrote here on the blog. Ten days, and I come back with the same issue: seventh grade fiction.
The final drafts of their short fiction stories were due on Friday, and I powered my way through all of them yesterday and today so that they could get them back first thing tomorrow. Reading these stories confirmed what I've known for a while: this group is definitely not one of the stronger groups of writers I've had in recent years. But they are not hopeless. They made progress. They will make more; it'll just take time and patience.
When I started this short fiction unit back in mid-November, I didn't plan for it to take so long. I started with a few basic thoughts:
1. Seventh graders always want to write fiction.
2. I always steer them away from fiction because 7th graders are notoriously poor fiction writers.
3. I give my students freedom of choice with their Trimester Finals.
4. Seventh graders who try to write fiction for Tri Finals are generally unsuccessful.
5. I am a writing teacher. Instead of avoiding a genre they're bad at, or allowing them to be unsuccessful, shouldn't I do something about this problem?
So I thought we'd spend a couple weeks on fiction. Do some stations for skill building. Write some rough drafts. Do some peer response. Revise. Edit. Keep making progress.
Sometimes progress moves so slow it's impossible to notice that you're moving forward.
I commented on rough drafts. I sorted into reteaching groups based on areas of need. We spent a week on building and refining dialogue writing skills. I retaught in large groups and small groups. I held 63 individual writing classes in three days.
We made progress. Slowly, painfully, surely, we made progress.
This last group still bothers me. Ideally, I would never want to attach the mark of failure to any piece of writing created by a student. But I give my students ample opportunities for rewrites, revision, feedback, and help along the way, long before the assignment is ever due. I support my students in every way possible, but I also have to allow them to fail if they make that choice. Maybe that's what keeps me coming back to this group of seventh graders. There are more in this group that seem to accept failure instead of putting in the effort to grow.
I refuse to label this as a permanent condition of this group, or of this generation in general, as so many adults seem quick to do. They are still young. They still have plenty of time. I didn't give a damn about school when I was in the hormonal throes of middle school, either.
We'll make progress together. It just might take longer than usual.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.