Slicing Empathy

We just returned from Spring Break and had our first Writers Workshop. After getting them started, my first student approached me draft papers in hand, gave them to me, and finitely said, “I’m done.” Initially I continued my bad habits of “correcting” misspellings/periods/caps, strongly “suggesting” changes in wording or organization, and “marking up” her paper. Then I stopped myself.

I took a breath, reread what she had written, and celebrated the ideas she did get down on paper. Her affect immediately changed, and I lauded her for her thoughts. AND it helped me see her writing more clearly, too! With all the others I conferred with, I definitely gave more positive support than before the Break, and I noticed the change in their responses to me. They smiled, they relaxed, they even puffed their chests out a bit. This was juxtaposed with one boy for whom I did have a lot of “suggestions” at the end of the period. He shrank a bit, his eyes shifted more, and he avoided meeting my eyes compared to the others.

What a fine balance between positive feedback and really pushing their writing. (This is probably one of those cases where it does not need to be an “either/or” situation and should be a “Yes, and…” approach.) I’ve never seen myself as a writer before, and so I always said I’m not a good writing teacher. This SOL Challenge is definitely helping me gain insight into their process and how feedback, even if productive and helpful and all those sweet, “teachery” words we use, does not substitute for genuine appreciation for what the writer has produced.

I get caught up with wanting to “fine tune” fifteen writers’ pieces, and I forget about them as individuals and how they hear my “suggestions” or how it feels for me to take my purple Flair pen to their paper. I probably would have stopped writing if in these past eleven/twelve days you all corrected my punctuation, spelling, revised my words, said I should move this sentence/fragment to the front, etc.

Thanks for the support and understanding in my first attempt at “slicing”!

6 thoughts on “Slicing Empathy

  1. Your words in the second to last paragraph popped out at me. I too get caught up in “fine-tuning” students work and i inadvertently undervalue their overall message. Thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m a first time slicer too, and I find, day after day, that I am propelled and encouraged by the feedback I’ve been getting from this supportive community. Even after using a workshop model for years, I still sometimes have to stop myself from being the copy editor. I often have to remind myself that I am a fellow reader and writer and try to approach each conference and conversation in that way. Today was a great day for you and your students! Here’s to many more!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great insight into your teaching. I think it is also so important for us to model that positive support for our students. There is value in them seeing the good in each others’ writings, too. Our world needs a whole lot more empathy!

    Liked by 1 person

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