Today I got the chance to go and talk to a third grade boy about his writing. His teacher was concerned because after he wrote, he couldn't read it and neither could she. His handwriting was in bad shape and he had no idea what he had written. My job was to see how to help him become a better writer. He was a great reader and really wanted to improve on his writing.
The piece we were looking at right then was a prompt he had responded to for the quarterly assessment. I asked to see his writing folder or what he was currently working on in workshop. The teacher said they couldn't find anything. I decided to just start on another piece...ignoring the prompt writing.
The child and I talked for a few minutes about what the possibilities of his writing. He told me a story about him going to a water park with his grandpa. He said they went to the park and he climbed to the top of the slide. His grandpa was at the bottom holding his arms out to catch him. When he got to his grandpa, he caught him and then hugged him. Since he had trouble remembering what he wrote, and since he would not finish his piece that day, I had him sketch a picture at the top of the paper and label it.
Next, he began to write the story. It began like this: "One time I went to a water park with grandpa." That is as far as he got today. It was written with spaces and nicely formed letters. There were no lines on the paper, but it was all written in straight lines. No problem reading that.
When I asked him about giving the piece to his grandfather when he finished it, he said, "I can't, he's dead." We then talked about keeping memories alive and how important it was for him to capture those memories in stories. He had a very serious job to do in workshop. I asked him which paper he liked best: the prompt or the story he wrote today. Without hesitation he pointed to the story.
After he had gone back to class, I had the chance to talk to the teacher about the importance of meaning. This story had meaning for the child. It was full of meaning. She didn't have to have his eyes checked or just the right kind of writing paper, she just had to find something that held meaning for him.
Thanks, Carl Anderson, for all your lessons in Assessing Writers on meaning as a trait in writing!!!