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Student Writing

Dear Teacher,
Please, never
The red
Of stop and blood.
How about blue?
The color of endless skies…
Be sure to write
So I can read.
Read so I can write
Better the next time.
Tell me,
How did I do? Not
Did I do
What I was supposed to do. Not
Did I write
Your point of view.
What effect did my words have on
You? Did I
Amuse? Did I
Confuse? Did I
Persuade you to think another way or lose you
When I took a sudden
Turn? Show me where
I went right
So I know
To do it again.
Yes, I want to spell and punctuate
But not until
My story’s straight.
Remember, I’m learning.
Remember, this is hard.
Ask yourself
How would you like me
To grade you?


Last Friday, Tara at A Teaching Life wrote about the devastating effects that unsupportive comments and grades can have on young writers. I was really touched by the crumpled student paper she found on the floor. Only days before, my son had brought home a paper with a confusing grade and comments he needed help to decipher. I did appreciate that the comments supplemented the circled numbers on a rubric. I can see the advantages of rubrics, but even as a parent (and not the actual writer) they seem unsatisfying, and a very different approach to student writing than I was taught when I went to graduate school years ago. All of this mixed together inspired the poem above.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Violet Nesdoly.

(c) 2013 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

10 replies
  1. Bridget Magee
    Bridget Magee says:

    Fabulous poem, Liz. Blue (or any color other than red) should be required to
    “Show me where
    I went right
    So I know
    To do it again.”
    Love this sentiment. Thanks for sharing. Happy Friday! =)

  2. Author Amok
    Author Amok says:

    Hi, Liz. When I began reading your poem, I thought of Tara’s post right away. I like how you capture a teen voice. Right now, I am judging a MS/HS writing competition. It’s so difficult. The kids put in a great deal of effort, but only a few pieces stand out. How do we encourage children to work hard and grow as writers without discouraging their emerging voices?

  3. Carmela Martino
    Carmela Martino says:

    Great poem, Liz. I’m especially struck by these lines:
    >>Show me where
    I went right
    So I know
    To do it again.<<
    I emphasize the value of this when I lead critique workshops. My students often want to get to “what doesn’t work” right away. But I say it’s important to highlight what DOES work, not only so the author can keep doing it, but also so that the rest of us can learn from it.
    Happy Poetry Friday!

  4. Robyn Hood Black
    Robyn Hood Black says:

    So thought-provoking, Liz. I particularly like,
    “Remember, I’m learning/Remember, this is hard.”
    AND the idea that working on a story and working out the grammar/punctuation are two different things. We should nurture the magic first, then give guidance re. the correct rules.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. skanny17
    skanny17 says:

    Not much time to write but I suggest the work of Katherine Bomer in Hidden Gems and her other books. She looks for what is moving and what works in the writing. A VERY short summary here of her wonderful work. Not every teacher alas, learns how to confer and what to do with young and tender writers. And phew! once must cover the “curriculum” and be sure they “get it”. I say let teachers teach in the most creative and inspiring ways they can to reach whatever standards are set. Judge output not input and watch some (many) teachers soar in their ways to help children become more successful writers.
    Janet F.

  6. Violet N.
    Violet N. says:

    What a moving poem. You succeeded in getting me inside the head of that little writer. I especially like the lines:

    “…Show me where
    I went right
    So I know
    To do it again.”

    Isn’t that what we still crave, as adults?

    Thanks, Liz, for writing and sharing this perceptive piece.

  7. Linda at teacherdance
    Linda at teacherdance says:

    I love that you wrote in response to Tara’s story. It is something I work hard to share with those teachers with whom I work. A mentor of mine a long while ago thought that we should only comment in pencil, much less attacking. And the first time, only comment about the content, forget the rest. You’ve said it exactly right, Liz, look for the things that are right first, to teach what the student is doing well. I’ve done in for a long while, & it is a pleasant experience for the student & for me the teacher. Thank you! (I hope you don’t mind if I share with my colleagues!)

  8. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    Good reminder. Grading is hard! I read an article last week with a title that was something like “Why Teachers Secretly Hate Grading.” I posted it on Facebook with the comment: “It’s a secret?” It’s not easy to find the balance, and give feedback that is appreciative and helpful, and still have time to get through the whole pile!

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