Today, a young woman I have never met before came into the Special Education room and asked, “Is there anyone here who could help me with an essay?” In Spec Ed I pretty much always get to answer those questions with a resounding “YES”. It’s fantastic.
She and I sat side by side looking at the essay she had written and the comments her teacher had made. The essay was already strong, and the teacher had ideas for how to make it stronger: try discussing your theme in more depth in the introduction; try making your topic sentences more specific to what you are proving; try breaking down long quotes and discussing the importance of particular words or images. The suggestions were clear and came with thoughtful direction.
The teacher had not provided a grade on the essay, and the young woman was quite nervous. We spent time deeply focused on the comments, what they implied about the essay in its current form, what they envisioned for a future form. We looked back and forth between the essay and the comments, talking, pointing, questioning. Eventually, I left her to her writing and moved on to work with other students.
At some point while I was talking to another student, she finished up and left. She didn’t say goodbye; she didn’t need to. She was deep into her own learning and confident in her own process. I was delighted, and I kept smiling a secret little smile as I continued through the morning.
This was the story I told about my day when I got home, and then the story I wanted to write about today, which made me curious: What was it about this interaction that was buoying me up? I have edited literally thousands of essays with students. I have helped thousands of students. As great as this interaction was, it has happened before and it will happen again. (Though I freely admit that I love it every time.)
I thought about the moment when she understood how to re-shape her topic sentences. How she suddenly said, “Oh! So stop trying to be general and really dig in to what I’m going to be saying in the paragraph. It’s almost like leaving off my old first sentence.” Was that it? It should be, but no…
What old first sentence did I need to leave off to see what was really going on? How could I re-view my experience of this? I decided to do what I tell my students: just start writing and see where you end up. It’s only a first draft.
And sure enough, as I wrote, I got it. That young woman who stopped into Spec Ed for help: she doesn’t have an IEP. In fact, she doesn’t have an IEP, she’s in a Grade 12 University level English class, and by all accounts (I asked her teacher), she’s an excellent student. But she came to Spec Ed for help. This is fantastic. Our Special Education room is becoming the room we’ve envisioned: everyone who wants to learn is welcome. Spec Ed is a space for learning strategies, for valuing how we learn and that we learn. You don’t need an IEP to look honestly at your strengths and your needs and figure out how to mesh those two things. You don’t need a learning disability to realize that you need help. And if you *do* have a learning disability, you should have a place that values learning for all. That’s why helping another student with another essay made my day. We’ve created a real learning space right in the middle of the school.
And now, I take a leap. This isn’t my first draft (I’ve been revising as I go), but it’s not a polished piece, either. This is my first blog and today I will publish a piece that is definitely still in progress. Since I decided to participate in the month-long Slice Of Life challenge, I’m going to have more of these, and I’m not used to it. Still, if I value learning and I value writing, then I value the process as much as the product. I say this *all the time*; today, thanks to this challenge, I start to live it. Here goes publishing a draft…