On Reading- Reflections from our Readings

I ordered the books right away.

On Reading – How what I learned will change my practice

We were tasked with community reading. “Choose a book,” Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Because Writing Matters from the National Writing Project or On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I ordered right away. I could not decide so I ordered them all. Thanks to Amazon Prime for quick action.

Summer had just begun and I was not super excited about heavy academic reading. I set a goal of one chapter a day and began with Bird by Bird. To my absolute delight, I was turning the pages and flying through. I had this crazy thought that “Hey, maybe I can be a writer too?” It made me think about all the stories I had to tell. It was real and funny and validating. I wanted my students to be excited about writing too. I wanted the teachers at my school to grab some of the thrill of this new possibility and it made me think about how I could integrate this into my writing committee meetings. Could a little Bird by Bird be shared? What came to me is the fact that although I knew about writing and valued writing, I did not really feel writing from a writer’s point of view, but Bird by Bird made me think about the possibilities.

Zinssers article “How to Write a Memoir,” showed me that it was important to get the story down. My mother has a fantastic memory for things from my childhood. Classmates from my 3rd grade class and what their parents did for work. Sometimes I look at her in disbelief that she has kept this information in her brain for this long. I find that my memories are flawed at best. I think that I remember the impactful parts, but even then, only from my perspective. Not really accurate. There are stories I would like to tell, but I am worried they might not be true. Zinsser says not to worry about those problems in advance. Worry only if you plan on publishing to a wider audience.

Memory is a funny thing. With my students, I find that many have not really thought about what happens to them or their experiences. When I ask for them to record them, they have gaps. I wonder about just getting it on paper and not worrying about the gaps. Is filling them in as a fiction writer acceptable? Just come to it as honestly as you can is my final understanding.

“Small moments” is one of the jumping off places for writing our personal narratives and it is what Zinsser supports too. He says “look for small contained incidents” that you still remember because of a universal truth. This universal truth is what fuels my writing and trying to get students to find their universal truth will give their writing purpose. These are the discoveries that surprised me in my readings.

The encouragement to read based on what sparked us was also a great surprise. I had a great conversation with Kari which led me to Katie Wood Ray. So many of these foundational authors I had read excerpts of, but did not see how it all tied together. The permission to do only a chapter or 2 and maybe an article allowed me to read more deeply into what I would focus on in my class. I chose chapters on structure, independent writings and managing distractions in the writing workshop. My practices were validated, but I was reminded that the teacher led DIRECT approach is really a very low structure- the students are not responsible for their own actions and decisions. The higher structure comes with training and teaching the students to manage themselves within the range of activities provided in a writing workshop. This remains a goal and a great challenge. I know the suggestions I read in her book Writing Workshop will allow me to be more intentional.

Overall the readings that we completed during the course were varied and provided guidance for not only my own understanding of being a writer, but of teaching writing. The interaction with all of the readings and my discussions with my reading group made me come to the conclusion that I have a lot to learn. In my future, I will keep these texts and these authors close to help keep me on track. I loved that sometimes the whole text was not needed to shift and refocus thinking.