Every semester, SUNY New Paltz sends undergraduate teacher candidates who are just starting out in the Elementary Education program to Duzine Elementary School in New Paltz for their first fieldwork experience. The teacher candidates each partner with a cooperating teacher and classroom, where they spend 40 hours over the course of the semester. I had the privilege of supervising the partnership for the first time this past spring, and it was incredible to see the teacher candidates’ growth as they learned all about literacy instruction from their cooperating teachers at Duzine.
When the semester ended, I asked Rebecca Burdett — a first-grade teacher whose love for writing emanates from everything she does — if I could come back for a visit. Every morning, Rebecca and her students engage in Writers’ Choice, a thirty-minute period of time in which students choose what and how they’d like to write. And I wanted a chance to soak in more of this magical space, where students are authors who find their voices without hesitation. They conduct surveys, choose lines in poems to illustrate, observe objects from nature (like antlers, crickets, turkey legs, feathers, etc.), write letters (and then mail them), make signs, add notes to a kindness jar, and the list goes on.
There are many amazing things to me about this sacred time in which students write, uninhibited by curricular mandates, standardized assessments, and all the other things that go along with today’s high-stress educational policy environment. It reminds me in some ways of how I watched my own 5th-grade class transform when I introduced the idea of a Writer’s Notebook. But perhaps what struck me most of all about Writers’ Choice is that it demonstrates the ability and possibility of first-grade students to write because they want to, not because they have to. Each student is engaged, willing, and ready to participate fully, and does so enthusiastically.
Teachers and students in K, 1st, and 2nd grades throughout Duzine Elementary engage in Writers’ Choice in some capacity, and one thing is absolutely crystal clear: students’ choices about their own writing matter.
At the end of my first year as a faculty member, I’m grateful to Rebecca and the other educators at Duzine who have so graciously invited me and our teacher candidates into their classrooms. I can’t wait to return in the fall!