Bursting into Flames: a Teacher's Reflection
by Tracy Thibodeaux

From the sweet to the strange, from the dreamy to the detailed, from the funny to the serious, from the spare to the elaborate, from English to Spanish - the work in this 2000/2001 collection of Cluster 6a writing varies in both form and content as greatly as the range of personalities in the classroom. There is such diversity of thought and feeling and meaning. One quality that all these writings share, however, is honesty.

The students were given the direction to thoughtfully reread their writer's notebooks and notice themselves as writers. They were asked to select a seed idea, an entry that was particularly meaningful or compelling, or as I like to say, screaming from the pages. These writer's notebooks were bulging with the thoughts, feelings, reactions, rantings, and ramblings of kids on the cusp of it all. I found writing that represented the joy and madness of the first year of middle school - in other words, change. Leaving elementary school and entering middle school, moving from childhood to young adulthood, the fierce fluctuations ofeverything.

We pull together during this writing process - we share stories, exchange drafts, talk intimately and honestly (sometimes for the first time), read and giggle, read and wonder, and most often, read and understand. And yes, sometimes, eyes roll, teeth clinch, tempers flare, frustration sets in and papers are crunched into balls and tossed into trashcans across the room (and those are just the teacher's reactions). But the pens keep moving and the laughing and talking keeps happening. The teacher keeps gently, and sometimes not so gently, suggesting and directing these young writers through conference after conference. Sometimes listening as a student jabbers on about a topic that is but five lines of writing on the page. Other times asking a question of a student writer who then sits in silence for five minutes trying to verbalize one thought, and thinking all the while that the teacher will give in and move on to someone else. She doesn't. She's getting good at just sitting and waiting, student writer fidgeting at her side, until they finally talk themselves into their writing. And they eventually always do.

Kids begin to demand that talk, "ooh-oohing" me from their seats, "I need a conference!" and bouncing up to me with their drafts. During a conference at my writing table with a student I hear that annoying chatter from the corner of the classroom, and I look up prepared to yell something about using independent writing time wisely, only to find three students gathered around someone's wrinkled draft, talking and pointing and suggesting.

I believe that no one in the classroom is the same after an experience like this. We become acutely aware during this time - of ourselves, and our fellow classmates. As one student said during a class reading, "You think you know someone , you see them every day in school, but then you read their writing and it's like a whole new person there."

Yes, we become a community during this time, in an almost profound way. We shared a vision, a common goal, a united desire, and we realized it. And these pieces that you are about to read, our hard, shared work, we had no other choice but to write them, because in our experiences, "The poem is calling," and "some words can mean a whole lot," but mostly because "under our heads is fire."


Related Language Arts links:

Reading Assessment
Student Poems
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Updated 8/7/2002