I spent a bit of time this week sitting in on a few middle school classes with which I soon will be working. As I listened to them discuss complex topics of monumental importance, impressed all the while by their eloquence and compassion, I was reminded of a moment in that very classroom two years ago that blew me away (names have been changed).
Each morning that year, the students spent a period of time writing. Students took turns bringing in a topic or a bit of inspiration (frequently a song or poem that they found particularly meaningful), and the class would set to work writing silently in the mood-lit classroom. After a time (there was no signal, just a feeling that enough time had lapsed), the student who had brought the inspiration for the day would begin reading their piece of writing aloud.
Others subsequently took turns, in no particular order and without raising their hands or waiting to be recognized in any way, reading their piece of writing whenever they were ready. Not every student shared their writing every day. Some wrote a lot, some very little, some only shared a sentence or two of their larger whole. Some students, too shy to share their piece, would pass their notebook to a neighbor to read aloud in their stead. Frequently, students were moved to tears by their own writing, or by listening to the words of their classmates.
On one particular day the inspiration piece included a reference to a glass half-full, or half-empty, I can't remember which. Many of the students' compositions followed that theme of optimism versus pessimism. One particular student, Carissa, began to share her piece.
"The glass is not half-empty or half-full;
it is exactly enough water for one life,
and I'm going to drink it slowly."
Her teacher informed me later that part of Carissa's academic history included an IEP, or "Individualized Education Program," specifically for writing. Such programs are tailored to meet the academic needs of a student who struggles in a particular area for a variety of reasons.
It's hard to say when Carissa went from struggling with writing to eloquently expressing such powerful ideas, but a safe, respectful environment in which to share her writing aloud was probably a large part of it. If you ask Carissa, she'd say she wants to be a writer when she grows up.
Never underestimate the capacity of a child to think and express in profound ways. Never underestimate the power of a respectful and encouraging community to let individuals shine.
...makes me want to sit down with a nice cool glass of water. Or maybe half a glass...