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Teach the Sewer (Writer), Not the Sewing (Writing): My Sewing Life Meets My Teaching Life

By Kathryn Caprino
 | Nov 14, 2018

Teach the SewerIn my literacy assessment course, my students and I are reading Lucy Calkins’s Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions (Heinemann). We have been focused particularly on her idea of teaching the writer, not the writing. 

This concept really struck a chord with my students, many of whom want to teach at the elementary level. Many of them were familiar with the process whereby teachers correct student papers and students go back and copy the corrections in their final drafts. We talk about how though these final drafts may be “perfect papers,” the writer is not growing in these instances.

It is important to me as a teacher educator to help my students understand that their students’ writing pieces may not be perfect. They may be working on only a few elements at a time. And their pieces will reflect that they are improving as writers. And this is hard work when our students often come to us from environments that privilege The Writing Assessment, which needs to be perfect.

And, as happens many times when I am teaching, I began to apply our work to my life beyond the classroom. And this led me to thinking about my sewing.

Learning to sew for me has been a multiyear process (as is often the case with our student writers). For my birthday three years ago, my husband bought me a sewing machine that has probably more capabilities than I will ever know what to do with. Then, my mom gave me a few lessons on how to make coasters.

I made some good coasters. And some even had beautiful double stitching. And some had straight corners. But more of them were not any of these. And that’s OK.

So when my mom came up about a few months ago to visit, she gave me another lesson. She did all of the first lessons again about how to thread the machine, how to get the needle into position, and how to work the foot pedal. And she showed me some stitching and some backstitching. And then I practiced.

And once again, some of my lines were straight, and some were not. Some of the corners were perfect. Some were not. And that’s OK.

When my mom came up most recently, I wanted to learn how to do curves for some burp cloths I want to make for my friends who are expecting. And once again, my mom modeled for me how to do curves. And then she let me practice. And I did all right. Beginner’s luck, perhaps.

I have not made a perfect coaster or a perfect burp cloth yet. My mom’s lessons are not about creating a finished piece. But they are able helping me learn to sew—no matter how many lessons I may need.

Maybe not for a particular piece. But in the future.

So, with all of that, here are some tips for teaching your writers, not the writing, in your classroom.

  • Encourage students to share hobbies they are developing that have nothing to do with writing. Having students share how they are progressing in other hobbies (e.g., sharing a new video game level they reached or a new recipe they want to try) will help them think more about the process than the end goal.
  • Showcase works in progress around the classroom or out in the hall. We have to convey to ourselves and our students that writing takes time and that we are all—even those of us who teach writing—constantly working on our writing. Showcasing more examples of our works in progress and those of our students can help convey this belief.
  • Create process videos. One of my favorite projects in my children’s literature class is having students create process videos as they create one image in the style and media of an illustrator of their choosing. On the due date, students bring in the final, completed illustration and a video that highlights their process—from blank canvas to final product. It is very cool to see the work and effort they go through to create wonderful illustrations.

I look forward to hearing the ways in which you are teaching the sewers (I mean, writers) in your classroom.

Kathryn Caprino is an assistant professor of pre-K–12 new literacies at Elizabethtown College and a book blogger for teachers and parents at katiereviewsbooks.wordpress.com.

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