At Christmas, my mom did that thing that I usually hate: tried to send me home with a bunch of stuff from my childhood. It's not that I'm not sentimental; it's almost impossible to love reading and writing as much as I do without being sentimental. But I'm also a clutter junkie, and stuff is my weakness. I spend so much time trying to wrangle the stuff I do have, that I've built a strong aversion to adding any new stuff to my collection piles. Especially not new stuff that is actually old stuff.
And then my heart melted: this wasn't any old stuff. These were writings from my elementary school years.
I was lucky enough to go to an elementary school that truly valued and celebrated writing. I'm not sure if this was an educational push in the late 80's-early 90's, or if I was just in a special place, but my school loved writing, and I had some special writing teachers. Teachers in every grade chose a "Writer of the Month" to celebrate with the principal and publish our writings in the school newsletter. Our teachers ordered blank picture books for us to create professional looking publications. We had class writing anthologies each year. It's no wonder I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid: I grew up in the ideal writing workshop environment.
Reading through my old writings is ridiculously fun. From a writing teacher's perspective, I can see snippets of the voice and sentence structure I still use today. It's also a healthy reminder on how much writer's can grow in a nurturing environment. I love reading my old writings, and I wondered if maybe my students would like them, too.
We're in the middle of Iowa Assessments testing, the end of the second trimester is approaching, and blizzard days are leaving us all a little weary. I offered my students the option if they wanted to be entertained by some dramatic readings of my old writings, by the author herself. The yes votes were almost unanimous. I projected them up on the screen while I read to them.
Fourth grade class anthology:
My 4th grade masterwork (my students were impressed by the old-school typing and thought the font style should make a comeback):
My students loved that I ended my story with the word "butthead." Since I project my own writing on the screen while we work in class, I also pointed out that my use of parenthetical asides is something I've done for decades. We talked about how the paragraph about being tired after doing the dishes was a pretty decent example of "show don't tell" for a fourth grader. We talked about the basic structure and how I tried to follow my "list" from earlier in the paper, but kind of lost steam toward the end.
Then we moved on to a fifth grade example so we could compare and talk about how I grew as a writer:
To say "Mirror Image" was a hit would be greatly underselling the impact this story had on my students. They groaned at the clunky and unnecessary dialogue. They tore apart the plot loopholes. They gasped at the twists and cliffhangers. They ripped me apart for naming the sisters Shirely, Shelly, and Sherry. They laughed their butts off. They sent me emails about how it was their favorite part of the week. They wanted more. Not only were we able to have a significant conversation about how I'd developed as a writer between fourth and fifth grade, we also had a chance to talk about common issues with fiction writing.
Sharing these writings was such a hit that I know I'll come back to them (and others) with a more focused teaching purpose next time. My kids loved "Mirror Image" so much that they want me to rewrite it, make a sequel, or focus on other characters next time we have a Free Write Friday. I have to admit, I'm eager to dive back into a piece of writing from 23 years ago and see what I can do with it!
As a somewhat "advanced" writer for a kid, my 4th-5th grade writings were perfectly accessible for my 7th and 8th graders. Seeing how I've grown and being able to critique my skills gave them a confidence boost and the ability to relate more than they can to some of my current writing. I've long been an advocate for writing with students. Now I'm adding sharing our old writings (if we have them) with students, too.
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.