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When Teenagers Write…

This year, I am teaching primarily tenth grade students.  Two of my classes are a combination Intensive Reading/English.  Within that framework, I am also teaching writing because tenth grade students in my state have to take FCAT Writes in February.

The task is huge.  For some reason, most students in today’s schools do not know how to write properly.

I had a very frank talk with my classes and explained that they would be writing every single day.  Not that they didn’t before, but those assignments were usually responses to the reading they had done each day.

This year’s writing instruction will be much more formal.

With this in mind, I set the stage from Day One by having my students write a letter to themselves on the first day of school.  I asked them to describe things they had liked and disliked about the previous year.  I asked them to describe their feelings going into the new school year.  I asked for examples of goals they hoped to meet this year and a plan for attaining these goals.

You could have heard a pin drop as those kiddos went to work.

When I read the responses later, my jaw dropped.

Students had been very candid, and I learned so many things about each student…much more than I had up to this point in previous years.

The stories they wrote…of running away…of being bullied…of skipping school…of being suspended numerous times…oh, how they broke my heart.

What made me weep openly, though, was their expressed desire to change…to be a better daughter and sister…to make new friends who would support them…to attend school every day…to be on their best behavior so they could stay in school.

It was as though time had stopped while I sat on the couch late Tuesday night, hesitant to read each story because of the pain and hope that sprung from each page.

The second day of school, we watched Ashton Kutcher’s speech from the Teen Choice Awards.  I’d seen the speech on Facebook and decided to turn it into a learning opportunity inside of my classroom.  I broke his speech into three sections, created questions related to these sections, and watched as my students diligently answered each one.

We had wonderful discussions as we analyzed each part for a deeper meaning.

These students are bright.

They are eager to share.

They are eager to learn.

Teenagers’ writings reveal glimpses into the vortexs of feelings that swirl within their souls.  Not quite adults, they don’t always know how to express their feelings, so they act out.

Given a pencil, a piece of paper, and a prompt they can relate to, students find a way to escape from the shackles that mire them down in muck as thick of quicksand.

They are given a voice, from which sings lyrics of sadness and hope.

When a teenager writes, he/she finds something that is often missing from their world…a voice.

It is a beautiful thing to behold.

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