What Motivates EL Students to Write Well: Goodness or Correctness?

Now that Asilomar 65 is looming on the two-week horizon, and L1, my pd partner in crime and writing buddy, and I finally carved out time to meet, I’m noticing every comment or question around me that pertains to writing and English learners.  Now that our study session is populated – with real people — now we can fine tune the discussions and activities around our topic.

And yet, I cannot seem to carve out many minutes on my own to get back to that doc in Drive.  I am in two days of Instructional Coaching Training and heading into a grade level meeting tomorrow to see how I can assist 4/5th and still also be an intervention teacher.  And thinking of the Saturday lab model, writing workshop with live students for teachers to write and confer with…Of course Thursday night is back to school night and I don’t even have a letter yet for GATE parents — and I give up on my idea to have a letter to each first grade family whose children I am doing Leveled Literacy with.

So, Monday, my special treat for me arranged months ago, was that I spent a day in Writing 3-5 with Lucy Calkins teaching.  She is so inspiring, so honest and so smart about writing instruction.  I am still wanting to go back through my notes, especially with after-school writing intervention coming up.  Ugh, and I lost a teacher to overwhelm on that field.  In the Oakland Marriott, I sat in the front and center and took copious notes.  I got some gems — and some powerful reminders to apply to the work L1 and I will be doing at Asilomar.

The title issue of goodness is not from those kids who finish and hold their work out to you asking, “Is this good?”  It is from Peter Elbow’s challenge in Vernacular Eloquence (one of the denser books I have ever chewed through) in which he calls for a cultural shift from our obsession with correctness and to begin discussing what goodness looks like in writing.

Well, there’s kind of a narrative thread in here somewhere.  The coaching day was built around the power of language and listening to engender trust.  The writing workshop day was built around understanding the arc of units and the key things to teach for every genre.

I will carry all this, somewhat like the squirrels who are running along the fence boards carrying things for storage, until I can put it to use.  Teachers coming over Sunday to pass on the baton for the next Saturday writing workshops in our series.

This is how expository it gets in my head when there’s a lot going on.  And I’m needing time to digest.  Our Asilomar session title pulls out a narrative thread….

Once upon a time there was a veteran teacher who always wanted to do well to get it all right.  She really wanted things to work and not fail.  Then, somehow, life shifted for her and she began to want to be good — even if, to hell with it, everything didn’t get done. And in spite of not ever getting things to work perfectly.  So, she worked hard and remained conscientious about keeping agreements, however, what she really cared about changed.

Her heart began to care about the people around her and their issues, not the products.  And she cared about contributing.  Her desire to be right was overridden by an irresistible urge to share what’s good.  To be good.  To practice goodness.

And she lived happily ever after into the next week, when, perhaps the schedule eased up a bit.  But more likely cultivating goodness to Thanksgiving.


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