Words Are Magic

“Mom, I learned something today!” N said, climbing into the car after school.

“What did you learn?”
“I learned that words are magic!” he said.

***

I’ve started this post umpteen times over the past two days (so much for every Tuesday! Attempting to allow myself a little grace on this…) I have this beautiful micromoment on my mind – the highlight of my week, really – and yet I’m stumped when it comes to crafting it into anything longer than a quote for my “N” book.

Before I was a teacher, I worked as ane ditor; I love precise langauge and accuracy. But, just like the kids I see every day, sometimes that editor gets in the way. So I’m setting myself this challenge. For the next ten minutes, I’m just going to freewrite off of this phrase, using some of those heavy handed sentence starters we hand kids as scaffolds. I’m in need of scaffolding… I’ll see you in 10.

***

“Mom, I learned something today!” N said, climbing into the car after school.

“What did you learn?” “I learned that words are magic!” he said.

When we emailed this to his dad, G, later, we got back the most beautiful and thoughtful musing on the Berlin wall (where G is traveling right now). How did G reach to that one phrase and exactly nail why it is that it’s so important that N understand the power of writing. This is just what I want all kids that I work with to understand, that their words have the power to wound or heal. It also reminded me of G’s power to really listen (and, I guess, read) and get to the heart of the matter. What could have been just a cute anecdote, he was able to translate into a real moment of learning for N.

So one thing I’m thinking is that I want to make sure that this undercurrent becomes an overcurrent. I used to say, “Reading is Thinking!” to my kids every day when I taught primary grades – I wanted them to think every time they picked up a book, no matter what, even those kids in boring little readers with not much soul-searching to offer. What kind of similar refrain can we use in writing to remind kids that they are always writing for purpose? They’re not just getting words on a page, they’re not just sharing something cute, but that their words have the power to transform people’s lives. THAT’s why they should be writing.

Another thing I’m thinking about is the “close reading” that G did of N’s email. This wasn’t some fancy complex text – it was an email we dashed off on our way to bedtime. But G as a sophisticated reader didn’t let it just wash over him. He took the time to think about why those words would have stuck for N and to respond to that piece. Again, this is something I want studetns to do all the time – to see that there’s more than just the sentence on the page. The author chose that sentence for a reason and the conversation the author wants to have with you is about the reason the sentence is there, not the words of the sentence themselves. (And there’s another notion! The notion that every word an author puts down is inviting a conversation with a reader.)

***

True story: before I began writing, I checked my email. The notion of freewriting and not editing myself was uncomfortable. But I did it – and I’m pleased with what happened. I felt like I got to what it was I was trying to say. If I was going to exapnd this and develop it, I know the kernel of truth I’m going for now – and I can decide how much of that I want to keep – and it might just be the thinking. At the very least, I practiced writing and thinking during my writing time – and isn’t that really the goal?

 

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