I banished the kids outside on Saturday. They'd been on their tablets for too long, faces stuck in Youtube. As soon as they unplugged, the complaining started.
Mom? I'm bored.
Mom? What should I do?
Mom? I don't know what to play.
I closed the sliding door in their face and told them, "Go. Play."
As I cleaned the kitchen, I happened to glance out the window into our backyard. My ten-year-old twins Jacob and Emma were lying in the hammock. With notebooks and pencils! They were talking and writing and talking some more.
Well, you know this English teacher mama was just so pleased. I imagined the stories they were creating. Probably making heart maps, right? Or maybe they were writing poems about the neighbor's dog, or, you know, Nature. Or maybe they were sketching, and then they were going to write about those sketches later.
I smiled to myself, so proud that getting them to unplug had led to this development. About 15 minutes later they migrated to the back porch. I headed out there with my book and peeked over Emma's shoulder to see what was in the notebook.
What I saw had me rolling my eyes.
Ugh. What? That is it. We're getting rid of the tablets. I'm putting them into Luddite training. They are so addicted to those screens.
While this internal rant was happening, I had an ear cocked to their conversation. Suddenly, I realized that my inner monologue needed to shut up and listen. Because they were being smart. Smarter than I gave them credit for.
"Oh, we should do one of those videos where we tell people they can ask us questions in the comments. Those are always funny," Emma said, adding it to her list in her notebook.
Jacob nodded, adding "But nothing too personal." He wrote the idea in his notebook too. They had a handful of possibilities on their list, many based on things they enjoyed watching.
On the next page, they were generating a list of the things they didn't like about Youtube. Here they were noting features of Youtube, and limitations that annoy them. They were doing such a close reading of Youtube as a genre, and that list was informing how they might make their own channel and generate content.
As I watched them write ideas in their notebooks I realized that this is what I hope for our writers, for the creators in our classrooms. My kids were immersed in mentor texts, considering audience and purpose and tone. They were making choices about form and content and purpose.
They were creating. On their own.
I was embarrassed to think about how my first instinct when watching them out of the window was to ascribe to them the kind of writing I like to do, the writing I'm good at. I was disappointed that I'd been so quick to dismiss their ideas when I first heard them talking.
I realized too that my kids first chafed at the idea of having to figure something out on their own. They wanted me to give them the answers, to direct their thinking. But what they ended coming up with was so much more genuine and engaging than anything I could have thought of.
And as I reflected on my reactions as a parent, I shifted to think about myself as a teacher. How often do I do this in my own classrooms?
As I move into a new school year, this is my goal. I'm a literacy coach now and in this role I'm supporting other teachers reflect and plan and grow. I want to get students doing more of this in our classrooms, not just in backyards and playgrounds and maker-spaces. I want to give kids time to mess around. To think about the world they live in and consider ways in which they can contribute to the conversations they're already a part of. I want students to make choices about topics, about genre, about craft, about delivery. I want to empower them to see themselves not just as consumers, but also creators.
And then I want us to get out of the way.