If there is one thing I could impart to students to not say, this is it!
Earlier this week, I held my Tuesday Writer’s Circle meeting with six third graders that I have been meeting with weekly since January. This is the sixth year I have voluntarily led such a group. It’s always been once a week, with six students – two from each third grade class, picked by their classroom teacher either because they were “good” at writing or liked to write. Honestly, I love having the group. Generally, the students really do some quality, fairly independent work, and are motivated to attend. In other words, we tell them it is a privilege to be part of this small group of “special” writers. And what do you do when you have a privilege? You work to protect it. Usually.
So, a few years ago, we started having a problem with a few of the writer’s circle students coming to group without their work done. Since our group time is very short, usually just enough time to do a “mini-lesson” on the type of writing we are currently exploring, there are weeks that the students have some homework from me. And no, it is not worksheet homework on parts of speech or how dialogue works, it is creative writing homework. Usually, the homework would involve finishing a piece they had started. Certainly, it involved no more than a half hour’s worth of work to complete before our next meeting – a week away, on the following Tuesday. It was, and is, a reasonable expectation. Still, students appeared without the work done. This led to a “new” rule that the teachers & I set in place to deal with the students who would not do the “extra” work for writer’s circle. Essentially, they are told that if their homework is not done, they will have to return to class and not attend writer’s circle that week. Occasionally, this is not enough to phase the students and they just calmly return to class. Usually, the potential embarrassment of having to return to class before group is over has had the desired effect of students finishing their writer’s circle homework before our group meeting.
Tuesday, I had a student who appeared upset as we were gathering in the hall prior to entering our designated space for this activity. I knew immediately what was causing the problem as I watched her eyes start to glisten with tears. She had not done her homework, which was finishing the color poems they had started last week. When asked, she confirmed that this was, in fact, the case. When I told her she had to return to her class instead of coming to group, the tears flowed freely. I felt bad but I stuck to my “rule”.
I felt bad until she turned to me and said, “But, Mrs. L., I didn’t have time to finish it.”
We have discussed “not having time” is not an excuse to be used. These are 8 and 9 year olds. They have an entire week to do something that requires less than 30 minutes of time, at the most, during the week between our meetings. I get it. We are all busy. But, part of being allowed a privilege is the responsibility that comes with it. I wish I could make the students understand that when they tell me they didn’t have time to complete something for our group (and it is not every week), they are telling me they really didn’t care enough to do it. Given their age, I also sense that this is an excuse that they have heard given, and accepted, either at home, in the community, or maybe even at school. Most of all, hearing a student tell me this makes me sad. I’d much rather have them tell me the honest reason they did not complete their homework. They forgot. They didn’t think it was important. They didn’t think I would enforce the “rule”.
Whatever the excuse, my reply is:
“You have the time. Use it well.” And, “If it is important enough to you to be part of this group, you will remember to do the small amount of homework that is occasionally asked of you”.
Writer’s Circle is not only about learning to write, it is about learning responsibility.
After the events unfolded, we had a refresher about the writer’s circle rule this week.
We will see if everyone has their final copy of their color poem done next week.
I hope so. It is hard to be a “tough guy”.