I’m writing this prequel to my slice after I’ve finished because I realize that this snippet of my day may make it sound like I’m some kind of strict directions Nazi that lives to stifle children’s innate creativity. I promise you I am not. There are so many years when I don’t give an example or leave things vague so that my students have room to create. If you come to my room you will see lots of creativity and personal zest. But there are times when kids need to follow the directions and this year I am struggling to help my students see the importance of this lesson. The following is a true story from the trenches of a very normal day.
4:30 am. A freshly brewed steaming cup of coffee in hand. I sit in the dark of my living room listening to the hum of the wine refrigerator (which is painfully empty right now) and click on my keys. I’m wondering this morning. Wondering and reflecting.
Yesterday I asked the students to do something simple for me. At least I thought it was simple. We are in the middle of a unit on argumentative writing and based on prior writing I noticed that most of my students were struggling to write a simple, clear, and straightforward claim statement. Through my conferring and monitoring of my small Edmodo support groups I knew everyone in the class had decided on a position, had brainstormed their reasons, and was well into collecting evidence. So I asked them to post their claim statement to our Edmodo Writer’s Workshop group. Little did I know what strife this would cause me as a teacher.
Cut to writing workshop. They smoosh in the door from technology class, a bit of excitement in the air. Writing notebooks come out. There is energy in the room, arguing is in the blood of every 5th grader.
“Log in to Edmodo and read the very important message I’ve left for you please,” I say. I have written what I think are clear directions. “Please post your claim statement with your three supporting reasons to our Writing Workshop group by the end of class today. Remember to follow the format I believe ________ because [reason 1], [reason 2], and [reason 3].” (This is from the Lucy Calkins unit that we are using and we are sticking as closely to it as we can for the first go round.)
This format idea is not new to them but I think to myself…..self, I bet some students are still unsure. I pull our anchor chart about claim statements out and put it front and center. I draw an arrow. I let the students read the directions, and then I clarify. They have a large Edmodo group and a small one so I repeat the directions and remind them to post in the large group and to please write in a complete sentence. Just follow the format.
“Is everyone clear on what we need to do today, in addition to our work collecting evidence?” Heads nod. Cool.
I’ll be honest. This is more attention to directions than I’ve been giving lately. Because following them has been an issue for many of my students I’ve taken to just handing things back to them over and over and over and over as I repeat the phrase, “please follow the directions.”
So, my little writers get to work. Earnest work. Hard work. Many already have their statement ready to go so they decide to post it first thing before they dig back in to their research. I glance at the postings…uh oh. Not what I asked for.
“Writers I need to catch you for a second. When you post your claim statement you need to include both your claim and your reasons. Not just one or the other. And please write in a complete sentence, please follow the format I asked for.” I feel a bit defeated. I’m not trying to stifle their creativity or mold them into a Pink Floyd-esque school of misery. I just want them to be able to write a clear, straightforward, simple sentence. I give it a few minutes and then I check again. uh…oh.
So my wheels turn. Give them another example, I think. I go to the board and write an example next to the anchor chart.
I believe that students should follow directions because it helps them be successful in school, teaches them to read carefully and closely, and prevents their teacher from going bananas.
A few students giggle as I finish writing so they all look. I turn to see smiles around the room. Ok, I’ve got their attention. I whisper…Can you please make sure that you’ve written your claim statement just like this?
By the end of class almost everyone had it right. Every student with an IEP had it right, every student with ADHD had it right. But still…..still…there were a good handful who needed a personal invitation to the instructions. When I checked with them they understood what I was asking for. They just didn’t do it. WHY!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
(Please excuse that flagrant abuse of punctuation marks.)
After class I look at my student teacher Amy. “Why?” I asked. Why indeed and how to proceed.