A February 2016 article in The Smithsonian (Infants Can See Things Adults Cannot) reveals that our brain filters out our ability to see things deemed unimportant--rather quickly. Adults cannot see image differences that infants can. The implication that the brain filters out things that don't matter should make every writing teacher pause.
What if this judgmental, housecleaning region of the brain doesn't allow us to notice adolescents and teenagers in the act of writing outside of school? We know our kids write, somewhat. Certainly, social media and digital platforms provide opportunities. Beyond the digital, we might also be aware of a few students with a passion for composing stories or poetry--who keep notebooks or journals. Yet, what if more of a writing process is happening than we allow ourselves to see?
What if in the complexity of the cortex, we believe that we have the current form of education so thoroughly figured out that we train our brain to dismiss writing--to no longer be conscious of it since it is not occurring inside the classroom?
In this episode of The Classroom, two 8th grade students, Jackson and Soumil, talk like two sagacious writing teachers. They write at home. They write for themselves. They write for others. They share. They talk. They reflect. They own their writing fears. They understand what works with making writing better. They grasp of the moves writers make when inspiration dries up or if they have an idea in need of development.
And I have to ask myself how adolescents know this much about writing? Is it that they always have known this much from their personal experiences and I have been ignorant--I have never paid attention? Maybe it is good news and a prevalence of adults are modeling and mentoring great writing habits? Maybe it is the often black-eyed CCSS? Maybe it is a packaged reading program. Perhaps it is the presence of phonics at an early age. Or maybe it is simply that children and adolescents and teenagers have always wanted to write, do truly want to write, and will always find a way to write.
Maybe our culture has grown so used to understanding writing (and all of its processes) as only a very narrow model. Perhaps we have forgotten what long thinking looks like when it comes to the writing process since so many classrooms can never feel free to create the space and time for long thinking. So much of writing is a process that includes recursive acts of silent thinking, conversation, and observation.
My students tell me again and again that they write. Furthermore, when I ask them to tell me about their writing lives, few talk about writing IN school. Perhaps a sidebar, a fragment, a term has taken root. But the writing process--that happens more often than not outside of school. Too many years of packaged, prearranged and girdled writing process instruction has done as much of a disservice to teachers than students. When you let them talk, students tell us that they still manage to engage in the constant act of composition right before our eyes--and we just can't bring outselves to recognize it.