Monday, August 6, 2018

Tinkering in the ELA Classroom #EdChat #EngChat

Makerspaces are a great place to allow students and teachers to tinker with projects, but they are not the only place. There needs to be an element of tinkering allowed in every class if we want students to feel comfortable trying new things and seeing what happens. Tinkering can have a great place in the ELA classroom if teachers allow students the time to do it.

Back in my earlier teaching years, I was very strict with my deadlines with students. Assignments were due when I said they were due and no excuses would be accepted. It takes years in the classroom to fully understand that life happens for students and not everything is going to be done on the set, and sometimes arbitrary, deadline. The students submitted their work, I graded it, and we moved on to the next lesson. It is how I was taught and how it just "worked" in our ELA classrooms. However, the minute I started to allow students to tinker with their papers, I was getting amazing work and my students were becoming stronger writers more quickly than ever before.

The notion of tinkering is play around with something to see how it works, to make it work if it is broken, or just see what is possible with an idea. Too many classrooms still expect one and done essay writing and that mentality does not allow for students to try different approaches to ideas. While teachers may allow for rough drafts, they do not really allow for experimental thinking on ideas. Students just go through the motion to produce the paper they are sure the teacher wants. I used to ask students to take positions that were contrary to class discussion, but then I would not give them the time to flesh out what those ideas might be. Not only did I not give them the time, I did not model how to even do it. How could I expect them to do something I had not even demonstrated in class?

There needs to be time and space given to students to tinker with their writing. Allow them the opportunity to come up with an off the wall thesis and see what they can do with it. Let them explore different narrative devices in their story. Let them go out and write the craziest short story written in the second person that has ever been written. Give them the time to explore the written language and see what they can do with it. You will find that they realize many of the writing conventions you tell students to avoid are worth avoiding. Learn by doing is not a new idea. I'm not re-inventing the wheel by encouraging teachers to give students time to write. However, viewing this part of the writing education as tinkering might be what works with your students.

Teaching writing was always my weakness as a teacher. It was always a personal goal to make my writing instruction better. It took me a while to understand that it was not about doing more, it was about giving my students more time to explore what writing looks like to them. By allowing students to tinker with their writing as part of the process without being worried about grades, I started to see growth in my students. That, of course, is the whole point of writing.