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The States of Reading and Writing

Lately, I've been trying to share the works of my "teachers" with my students. From writing a quote about writing and reading on the board to having several students take home Thomas Newkirk's The School Essay Manifesto, I've been hoping to show them that I'm still learning and wrestling with writing and reading theory, and I want them to do the same. Just yesterday I introduced Peter Elbow's metaphor about itching and scratching, and my students haven't stopped giggling every time I mention it.

With that said, I've been thinking a lot about the state of reading and writing. How often do we invite students into the experience of reading and writing rather than the task? How do we get them to develop a reading or writing itch that needs to be scratched? They might seem like the same thing, but I've read enough of Thomas Newkirk's Minds Made for Stories lately that I'm really reconsidering what I've been asking students to do in my classroom.

Students can do things, but is what they do necessarily meaningful if they aren't having an experience--or if the experience isn't that of quality?

Newkirk makes this point in Minds that I think we should all consider:

If all works well, we are carried forward as we read, sustained, seduced by the writer who may, herself, have felt this motion in the act of writing--as the topic seemed to open up, as she "listened to the text" that at times seemed to take on a life of its own. (83)

I've never been a fan of worksheets because I don't think they ask kids to think. Instead, I think they often tell kids what to think. And that isn't working in a classroom where I want kids to come to their own conclusions and argue in support of them. Literacy shouldn't be just an act of compliance. There should be inquiry, debate, and internal motivation to think! The experience of reading and writing should want them to desire more participation.

I can't say that every kids experiences the "motion" of reading and writing every day in my classes, but I'm trying to work hard to get them to have a positive experience with both. I want them to scratch their own reading and writing "itches." And I want to keep exploring this idea further. What books do you suggest that explore this idea more?

I end this brief post thinking about the student that just had to interrupt my fifth hour yesterday to give a book talk about G. Neri's Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. He went on a journey with that book--a journey that he was so proud of that he knew it was worthy of celebrating and sharing.

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