Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 01 2012

What sixth graders write without structure.

Every night, sixth graders respond to a prompt in their Writers’ Notebooks.

They have very little guidance or requirements aside from filling an entire page. Prompts are either a quote or topic like “my future” or “my home”. I collected 5 notebooks from each homeroom class on Friday and read through them all this afternoon. Here are a few quotes from their writing:

From first period:

“We all need to look at ourselves and make changes for the good of mankind. Hating and treating others wrong just because of the skin color is not right… I believe [MLK Jr] is saying don’t waste all your life  doing wrong because time is the one thing we can’t get back.”

“I don’t want a husband unless God picks a good guy for me.”

From second period:

“I had to take the first step by learning how to walk again when I had surgery.”

“Failure is something that you can always turn around and make it into something good.”

From third period:

“I also thought that MLK’s quote meant that when you get down you should pick yourself right back up. And if you see anybody getting down on themselves, you should pick them up.”

“There will be times when you want to quit, but don’t. You won’t achieve if you quit.”

From fourth period:

“If you have friends that are trying to make you do something wrong or what’s not right, those are your roadblocks.”

“My role model is a strong African American black NBA ball player who lives in Miami.”

“I also want to learn how to pay my own bills. I want to know how to pay my light, gas, water, and vehicle and many other kinds of bills I have to pay. I don’t want to look dumb just because I don’t know how to pay my bills.”

From fifth period:

“I know what is right for me is writing because it is thoughtful and smart to do when you don’t have anything else to do while you are mad, happy, or sad.”

If this is where we’re starting from, this is about to be an incredible year. I’m still very hesitant about the way I’m structuring my class (heavily dependent on this kind of homework for now) but reading these is encouraging. The content I got from this sample of 25 students is honestly closer to where my students were in April of my second year than September of either of my previous two years teaching. I have an inkling that investment and accountability with this page-a-day homework is going to have a major pay-off.

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