Penny Kittle absolutely ruined reading for me five years ago.
You heard me. Destroyed it.
In the summer of 2013, at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institutes, Penny taught me how to read like a writer. Our class studied short poems and discussed the deliberation of the author’s diction with a sense of wonder rather than through the lens of “what does this symbol mean?”. We read whole books in book clubs and gave a presentation about our texts on simply its craft. We wrote process papers at the end of the class that told the story of how we’d written our final essays.
Something about this made me absolutely unable to mindlessly read anything anymore. Online articles, advertisements, tweets, and even beach-appropriate fiction just screamed CRAFT ANALYSIS!!!! at me. I couldn’t really relax and let go while reading anymore–instead, I was hypersensitive to the words I read, thinking constantly about what the author had lived, and done, to write such a work.
The total immersion in craft study of those two weeks has stayed with me, five years later. In every book I read, I have a new appreciation for the work of the writer–the work of writing.
The craft of language, the power of literacy, is everywhere.
And seeing writing everywhere helped transform me from a lifelong reader into something more: a writer.
I start my day with the awesome Twitter crew at #5amwritersclub. Many participants are teachers, writing before they begin the day with their students, and many others are parents, writing before they begin the day with their children. I identify with both groups and love the sense of identity that comes from writing beside my tribe.
I feel the same way about writing in online communities like this blog. Every time a WVCTE post appears in my inbox, I think about not just what the post says, but also what my fellow teachers were thinking and doing as they wrote. I have watched our WVCTE President’s and Vice President’s thinking grow over time, since I’ve had the privilege of reading their writing. When Jess wrote about barnacle goose chicks (LOL!), and when Karla wrote about making time for what we value, I read beyond the “I agree” part of my teacher brain. I thought about those women, both moms, cramming in some writing after their kids’ bedtimes, or in the early morning hours before school, or on their too-packed planning periods.
This is, in part, what helped me shape my identity as a writer. I saw my peers, my friends, my teaching neighbors writing. I saw their process, their thinking, their methods translate into writing. It showed me what was possible: that I, too, was a writer.
Our students need to see this, too.
As we kick off this school year, we need to make not only our own writing processes visible–from initial thinking, to drafting, to tinkering, to publishing–but our students’ processes visible, too. Students who see one another write understand that it’s not a one-track process; writing can look different from one kid to the next, and from one school year to the next. The possibilities are endless.
We can all be writers. We should all be writers. Viewing the world so differently has no doubt made my brain more tired, but it has made my life so much more rich.
Believing that I could become a writer took time, a shift in my mindset, and lots of work…but it transformed my identity and introduced me to a whole community of writers I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and for that, I am forever grateful. I can only hope that my students someday can feel this sense of gratitude to the writers–both the teachers and students whose words they read, and the published poets and authors whose craft we study to get better–that I feel for every writer, every human, that I know.
Shana Karnes is a mom of two, an avid reader and writer, and someone whose life has been immeasurably bettered by literacy and all it entails. She is grateful to be part of the WVCTE community, and loves equally her NWP@WVU and Three Teachers Talk peers and pals. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.