| Teacher Portfolio: Rebekah Foster
a Northern Nevada teacher shares on-line lessons and ideas
I am Rebekah Foster, and I teach ninth graders—all day, every day, and I love it. As a young child, my favorite pastime was writing. And as a teacher, I wanted my students to love writing as much as I did, but found that what I was teaching them wasn’t necessarily working. And then, a few years ago, I read Ralph Fletcher’s book A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within, and I have been forever inspired. These days, I have my students write more than ever before and both of us can see how beneficial this new strategy has become. By the end of the year, my students have formed writing communities and many of them finally see themselves as writers. I love watching dreams take flight.
Someone once told me that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to become good at something; therefore, I believe that my students need as many hours of writing, talking about writing, and sharing writing as I can possibly give them. While my curriculum does focus on some traditional genres of academic writing, I also give my students as much freedom with their writing as possible. They start by keeping Writer’s Notebooks in the summer and continue throughout the year; they turn in writing to each other for feedback as well as to me. After choosing what type of feedback they would like, we discuss how authors pick and choose revision strategies based upon the comments of others. We discuss how writers make choices and knowing the options leads to better decisions. We write and read and read and write all year long. By the end, they can fill notebooks. And throughout the year, we practice the techniques we see as we read—similes, metaphors, alliteration, repetition, sentence structures, etc. all become a part of their writings as they work to incorporate what we learn in class in their writings. Simply by having my students write, write, and write, they come to feel comfortable with their writing and they come to label themselves as writers.
Humans have told stories for as long as we have been in communities. A good story is a direction for life and a way to understand our place in the universe. We write to communicate, share stories, and tell each other about the life lessons we have learned; if we do not know how our writing is perceived, we will never know if we are successful with our writings. Therefore, my class also focuses on revision. I put students into small writing groups in which they share and discuss their writing constantly. The small groups produce a strong sense of community where they learn that everyone struggles as a writer and they learn to appreciate each other’s techniques and skills and writing passions. When students can share their writing, they become emboldened with their own strengths and together they learn how to strengthen and revise their writing. Revision also comes in the form of reading. Good writers come from voracious readers; writers who can pinpoint and appreciate successful techniques and skills come to use those techniques and skills in their own writing. As we read, we discuss elements and techniques used in the creative pieces of others; we learn to read each other’s writings through the eyes of a reader which puts everyone on the same level—a ninth grader and Dickinson, a fifth grader and Judy Blume, a teacher and her students. When we look at our writing as a reader, our revision becomes stronger as we value the process so much more.
Ultimately, I believe that writing is the practice of telling about ourselves and the world. We all have the gift of seeing the world and having stories and life lessons that need to be shared. As a writing teacher, I feel that allowing students the time to practice and revise together is absolutely invaluable. Because of these beliefs, my classroom is through and through a writing classroom that helps students realize the power of their own words.