Sharing Our Writing: Inspiration or Intimidation?

I’ve posted a bit about our environmental essay project (with the companion media component), noting how I have assigned myself the same project as they are doing it, too. The idea is to make my own writing more visible for them, so I am constantly sharing out how things are going and using the comment feature in Word to share my reflections with the students. My aim is also to have them assess me with the rubric I will be using to assess them. How interesting will that be, eh?

The other day, I finally finished my essay on Fuel Cell Technology. I shared it with my students yesterday, stopping many times as I read it out loud to talk “outside the paper” about approaches such as “loaded words,” use of background information and plagiarism, how to form an argument, and summarizing thoughts with some final points.

I am hoping it helps them as writers, although I had to remind them that I have been writing for years — sometimes, professionally — and my essay is merely an example, and not necessarily the model. No, that’s not right. I guess I am worried that my essay might intimidate, rather than inspire, my young writers.

I purposely did not “dumb it to down” for the classroom of sixth graders. I wrote as I would write about a topic, as a writer. But I know some of my kids were thinking, “I can’t write like that,” so I placed extra emphasis on them writing to the best of their abilities, and my belief if them as writers with something to say. Still, I have this nagging feeling that I set a bar some of them (not all, certainly) will have trouble reaching. I only got this feeling after I had shared, though.

I’m curious to know what you think about sharing our own writing with our students? Can it intimidate them? Inspire them? Do we “change” our writing to reflect where they are at, as writers? Or do we write as writers, and show them our skills? Please chime in. I need a little help thinking this through.

Anyway, here is my essay, with notes:
Fuel Cell Technology Essay (With Notes)

Peace (in the thinking),

  1. I am tempted to engage you in a conversation on fuel cell technology, which means you captured my attention with your writing. Your comments help to direct the focus of the lesson to the structure of the piece. In that way, your students have somewhat of a recipe for their own writing. If Boolean was writing for this project, what would his work look like? (I do like that kid.)
    I recall how difficult it was for me as a child to put words on paper. I would have appreciated more structure from the teacher but instead it all seemed so random, with the focus being on writing X number of pages or words.
    Scientific writing will be a challenge for many students but you have taken their writing in many directions this year so stretching their challenge level into this new arena is in order once again. The Common Core dictates the change as well.
    Is your writing intimidating? Well sure! But, I doubt any of your students feel they are in competition with you. If anything, you are giving them a real life example of a writer. Rick Riordan is still a bit abstract. Kevin Hodgson shows them how the process really works.

    • Thank you, Gail. I know we’ve talked a little bit about how to begin to make the shift to the new standards. This is one of the ways forward. They are engaged in their topics, I can tell you that.

  2. I think that it’s a great idea to share our writing with students. What I think is important, though, is that the writing we do share isn’t only our polished work. We also should be sharing our process work, especially the first drafts that don’t come out “just right” and the struggles we face in the revision process. Many of the pieces that I would consider my best took a while to get that way. This is how real writers write, and I feel like letting our students see this will facilitate their willingness to embrace the writing process and their own identities as writers.

    • I agree — making it visible is something we need to keep in mind. They saw me plan out my ideas on a graphic organizer, share out a draft of my introduction (which changed after I read it aloud to them, which I noted), and then into this final version. I am a writer of cyclical revision — I revise as I write, circling back on myself — so making my draft visible was tricky.

  3. I like both that you are doing your assignment with your students and that you didn’t dumb down your own writing. I think your participating with the students shows that you think the assignment is important, one worth doing. I suspect your students have been very curious to see what your writing looks like and are glad to find out that you are indeed a good writer. How disappointing it would be to find out that you weren’t much better than they are! Don’t we want to be taught by teachers who are experts and can pass on to us what they know? You continued teaching with your writing in the comments on your essay and as you read aloud.

    My students are in third grade and one of their favorite writing projects is writing books for their kindergarten buddies. We start the project with a guest author who shows them her storyboard for her novel as we introduce the storyboard I want the third graders to use. Ours is 5 pages long with a few entries per page. Hers, in comparison, is pages and pages long (she extends it across the room) and has writing all over it. The kids love it. They don’t expect their story boards or their final products to look like hers, but they love seeing hers and are definitely inspired to do more than they would have at the end of the presentation.

    • You are right — they are always interested in what I am up to. When we do writing prompts and projects, I always try to be “one of them” as a writer, and share out what I thinking.

  4. I also share my writing with my students–not every piece, not all the time–but I feel I should model what I ask my students to do. Some of the pieces they really enjoy–like my memoir about failing my driving test at age 16! I do remind them that I should be a better writer than they are. After all I have two degrees in English and one in education. There would be a bit of a problem if I was at the same skill level as my 8th graders. Some of the best sharing of my writing came when I let them in on the process. I copied everything–prewriting through multiple revisions to final draft–for one poem. I ask students to analyze and name all the things I did as a writer. For many of them it’s the first time they’ve seen how messy writing can be.

    I’m impresed you were able to complete and share the whole process for a longer essay. I have a hard time completing every assignment, but have accepted that modeling some of the process is better than none. I also share lots of examples from previous students to show them what they are capable of.

    • Yes, I made it clear, too, that my writing should be longer and more complex, as I am older, have more experience and am a writer. My concern was that balance — modeling versus sharing something that is beyond most of them (not all — I have some terrific, strong writers).
      Thanks for the comment.

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