| A WritingFix/NNWP Teacher Presenter: Kelly Nott
a Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant shares her on-line materials
My name is Kelly Nott, and I’m a teacher in Northern Nevada. Having taught almost all elementary grades and Special Education Resource, I’m currently looking forward to beginning a new adventure teaching Middle School English Language Arts in 2010. Prior to teaching, I was a hotel manager.
Background to my beliefs: I have few memories of how I learned to write, other than red marks on my writing letting me know what I didn’t spell correctly or that I used way too many commas. As I grew up, I wrote to express emotions--about the people in my life (which is a great way to share a part of myself with others as a gift) and as therapy in my journals. I had scraps of papers in notebooks with poems, thoughts, short stories. Writing was a huge part of my identity.
Mrs. Green at Sparks High School inspired me creatively to add description and to use figurative language devices to add my voice to my assigned pieces. And Mr. Ridgely at Los Gatos High School furthered that inspiration by instilling the “No Fear” attitude. Until that time, my personal writing had been an escape and therapeutic for me…however I was intimidated and afraid to open myself up in assigned writing that way. It was too close, personal, intimate, and I didn’t want to lower my guard to have something that was part of me (my thoughts and opinions) open for debate or revision or to be told that I was wrong to think that way. I also didn’t feel that a teacher would be truly interested in what I thought or believed in. I shared some personal pieces that year with Mr. Ridgley; he asked me why I didn’t let my ideas flow as freely with my class assignments.
During my senior year I learned that my thoughts and ideas were important, and that before colorful blossoms could appear in a garden, one needs soil, fertilizer, light, water, and the seeds. What I planted in my writing garden--those seeds-- I learned would determine what grew. How I cared for that garden (tilling/weeding the soil, feeding and watering the seeds, etc) determined just how that garden would appear to others as well as what they would reap from it. My senior year focused on writing conferencing, and it allowed me to let my guard down and write more freely.
After I went to school to become a teacher, I found that there were really no classes in the curriculum that taught me specifically how to teach the craft of writing or how to assess writing. I had fabulous ideas for completed projects across the curriculum…and when I became a teacher, those pieces were the ones I would look at and avoid because I wasn’t sure where to begin or what to do. These life experiences, I realize now are the foundation of my personal beliefs when it comes to teaching writing.
A belief I have about teaching writing: First, I believe that we need to effectively communicate and show what is expected of our students--to the students as well as their families. We need set the example with our own writing and with student authentic samples. When a child asks, “Why do I have to…,” we tell them, we show them, we share the pen with them, we conference and coach them, reminding them along the way of why. I remember asking why when I was in school; I was told, “Just do it because it’s proper English.” But I wanted to know why that grammar rule was a rule; it didn’t make sense to me. The following quote really says if all for me. “Writing is a craft before it is an art; writing may appear magic, but it is our responsibility to take our students backstage to watch the pigeons being tucked up in the magician’s sleeve.” --Donald Murray, 6 +1 Writing Traits: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades.
A second belief: Students must feel safe to take risks in their writing. Creating a “No Fear” zone within the classroom is essential for student to feel free to genuinely express themselves and exert passion without fear of reprisal. I often tell the kids, “Just vomit on the page…get your ideas out…we will clean it up later.” I believe that there are key components for the “No Fear” classroom environment, including allowing students choice in writing, allowing students to write badly, developing a candid relationship through conferencing individually with students, and helping students feel safe about their writing by giving them the tools to provide that critic’s eye. And by doing these things, students begin to see it’s not them we are changing/revising; it is their writing.
A third belief: I believe that writing is essential for communication in our world. It is all around us. I ask students the first day of school, “Why do we read?” I then follow it with, “Why do we write?” As the students blurt out their reasons, I create a word splash for both…and the connections between the two are enlightening for them. Once they understand the purpose of writing (not just because my teacher told me I had to write about this), they can move forward, be open for instruction in organization, voice, format, and conventions for the genre of writing.
Finally… I believe that without writing, our world would be a very sterile environment; not to mention, there would be no books to read, no way to visit someone else’s imagination, few ideas shared to the extent that we can envision and experience them ourselves. I believe that many of my students would go insane without being allowed to share what is bouncing around in their heads. I believe that we would have little inspiration and direction, and only a few ways to demonstrate how we feel through the poetry, passion, and painting found within the written word.