Dreaming and Writing Together: Reflections on our 2nd grade Family Writing Workshop
Before I dive into my family literacy event, I want to say thank you to the vast support system of my class’ families throughout this hybrid school year- I could not have made it through without their willingness to provide intimate knowledge of their kids. For their communication, patience, and partnership, I am forever grateful.
In the planning process of my family literacy event, I reflected back to one of my first experiences at J. Houston Elementary. Before I became a teacher here, I was a UT undergraduate student and J. Houston was my cohort’s home base for classes and fieldwork. In our Community Literacies course, Dr. Tracey Flores shared her practices of community writing workshops with us. We were able to witness this work in El Puente- a partnership between our cohort and The SEED, an Adult English Literacy and Leadership Program housed at J. Houston’s campus (in the portable next to UT’s). Each week, Dr. Flores opened our time together with a text to read and an invitation to write. We could write however we wanted and worked collaboratively, sharing and discussing as we wrote. This is where I learned the power of being in a community of writers and writing together. Everyone in the room had important stories to share and vast knowledge(s) to offer to the group.
Coming to the close of this school year, a lot of my second grade class’ work felt unfinished. Thankfully, I have the opportunity to move up to third grade next year, so I’ll get to teach and learn from/with this incredible group of kids for a little bit longer. Knowing this, the end of the school year felt more like a pause- a beat to breathe, a moment to celebrate and rest. With so much deficit discourse circulating about “learning loss,” I wanted to establish a contrary belief in our learning community: we have done hard, important work this year. We took care of each other, we grew in so many different ways, and we have much to be proud of.
Earlier this school year, my class had a circle where we shared our dreams with each other. I wondered how their dreams may be different after so much has happened the past year and realized that students’ caretakers would be powerful voices to have in this conversation. With this thinking, I planned our Family Writing Workshop. My teammate and I’s second grade classes (who have grown quite close this school year), their families, interventionists and other staff members that work with our kids, administration, and next year’s third grade teachers were all invited to come together on Zoom to read, write, and celebrate the school year together.
I chose to host the event solely on Zoom for safety and accessibility reasons, but I hope to continue to organize gatherings like this in-person in the future. Sitting at my desk in my bedroom at 5:27 pm, I had deja vu to teaching on Zoom for the first time. I couldn’t believe (though I hoped) that this was probably the last teaching I would do from my bedroom, praying that my roommates working from home wouldn’t blow out our wifi in the middle of the workshop. And then, the familiar Zoom doorbell rang a few times and little faces popped up on my screen, ready to share everything that had happened after we left school up until now.
We opened the workshop with a mindful moment. We always begin our school days with a different mindfulness exercise and many of the students really embraced some of them, so I wanted to provide an opportunity for them to share this ritual with their families. We pre-recorded a video of students from both classes guiding a 5 senses activity: notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can feel, and 1 thing you can touch. I smiled watching this play on Zoom- they were so excited to show everyone how to do this. Next, I shared our restorative circle agreements that our class refers to throughout the day at school- speak from the heart, listen from the heart, and everyone has the right to pass.
We had students from both classes, a few of their siblings and cousins, some of their parents, other teachers, and my principal and their child. My teammate and I opened our discussion with sharing just a few of the things that have made us proud of our classes this year.
We then opened this prompt to the families:
I emphasized that this could be anything from waking up and logging on to Zoom every day to learning how to do something new in math. I worry that sometimes when we talk to kids about pride, too much emphasis goes to rigid goals and concrete accomplishments. While these are important, I want them to understand that there is so much to celebrate in the seemingly simple yet truly challenging moments- especially during a global pandemic.
I then read aloud What Will You Be? by Yamile Saied Méndez. When brainstorming what theme to center our workshop on, dreams kept coming to mind. At the end of the school year, we’re doing lots of reflection and refraction (as kids and as adults). We’re thinking about all that we have learned and what we still have yet to explore. We’re radically imagining what school can look like in the fall when (hopefully) the pandemic is in our rearview mirror. We’re thinking about who we are now and who we want to be in the future.
One of my most valued sources of children’s books is Vera Ahiyya, a kindergarten teacher and author, also known as @thetututeacher on Instagram. When I saw Méndez’s book on her page, I looked it up to read and was immediately reminded of my students’ writing- specifically “I am” poems that we worked on in the first few weeks of school. This beautiful text felt like a full-circle moment to share. Students each took home an English or Spanish copy of the story to read with their family.
I grew emotional reading the book aloud- in the first few weeks of the year I asked my class what was one thing that they liked about second grade so far and so many of them replied that they loved listening to stories. When I reflect on the school year, especially when I’m feeling like I have failed as a teacher (which we all know happens sometimes), I think about this. My students love language and the power of storytelling- and that is always one of my biggest hopes as a teacher. In the story, a girl ponders “what she will be” and turns to her Abuela for inspiration. I see so much of my students in her as she pursues new dreams for herself and the world.
We used What Will You Be? as an invitation to write. I asked everyone to think about what they want to be next school year and beyond. We started with drawing our ideas. I longed to float the room, peeking at everyone’s papers… but through my laptop I could still see faces looking down, pencils wiggling, and some cameras turning off to focus. Next, we began to write- labelling our pictures, describing the story of our illustrations, and writing sentences to accompany. When everyone signaled that they were at a good stopping point, we talked.
One brave student volunteered to share first, which got our sharing rolling and more and more second graders volunteered to show their piece and talk about what they wrote. It was really powerful to see the variety of thoughts they had. Some dreamed of being artists, vets, and writers, others dreamed of spending more time doing what makes them happy. One student shared that she wanted to be “the best 3rd grader.” I think this resonated with a lot of us- a desire to be your best self in future endeavors. I really appreciated the connections students were able to make across their dreams too- at one point, we were talking about all the different jobs that people who like to draw can do… tattoo artists, architects, painters, and more!
After a little encouragement from the second grade writers, parents began to share too. Some wrote/shared about personal and career dreams, while others thought about dreams for their children or for the world. As someone who doesn’t have children of their own, it was really inspiring to hear the multifacetedness of dreaming for yourself and for your family. One parent shared this sentiment in our Padlet, which beautifully speaks for itself.
To end our time together, everyone shared one word to describe how they were feeling about the close of this school year and looking forward to next. The responses in the chat were:
I couldn’t agree with this collection of thoughts more.
During the summer of 2020, I (remotely) participated in the Heart of Texas Writing Project’s Summer Institute. Coming into the summer, I had a lot of wonderings about classroom community and how it relates to writer’s workshop. With the guidance of our institute leaders, Deb Kelt and Carmela Valdez, and all of the other Summer ‘20 teachers, I decided to focus my inquiry project on three areas: building curriculum on existing literacies, co-constructing a strong foundation for writer’s workshop, and building community through literacy to take action in and beyond our community. At the time I presented my plans for my project, I had no idea what the ‘20-21 school year would look like, and the enactment of these ideas shifted in lots of different ways throughout the school year. However, in reflecting on our family writing workshop and all of our class’ endeavors this year, I see so many connections between how our class community informed our writing time (and vice versa). This year was a constant practice of collective care- in how we showed up on Zoom and at school for each other, how we wrote together, learned together, played together, and helped one another through very (very) challenging times. While a part of me still mourns the adversity of the last year and a half, the words of my students and their families give me hope. In this space of writing together and simply being together, I was reminded of one of the reasons why I love teaching so much. Our togetherness is sustaining and our writing is a source of hope and action.