When I first heard that Ruth was writing a book about helping kids with traumatic backgrounds through writing, I was thrilled. As many of my readers know, my husband and I opened our home and hearts to two young girls who have hard backgrounds. Before the girls came into our lives, I thought that young children from similar backgrounds just needed someone to love them and everything would be fine. As Ruth explains in the first part of her book, children’s brains are altered when they experience traumatic events in their lives. Below is an image of two brains, one from a 3 year-old who received love and nourishment from the beginning of her life and one who has experienced extreme neglect. The amygdala, which controls our emotions is enlarged in the child who has been neglected and traumatized. The amygdala is where fear comes from and children who have trauma in their backgrounds live with fear every day of their lives, even when we perceive there is nothing to be afraid of.
|Image from work of Dr. Bruce Perry|
As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think that all teachers, not just teachers of writing, should read this book. We all have hurting children in our classrooms, children who are hungry, fearful, and anxious. I’d like to highlight some of the stories and quotes that spoke to me as both a teacher and a foster mom.
Ruth helps us understand how children from hard backgrounds are impacted. She helps us know that children who appear to be willful and disobedient are likely reacting in fear. We’ve all had those students who tell us that they don’t know what to write about or don’t have a pencil to write with and little writing gets done. Like Ruth, I used to have kids leave a shoe by my desk if they needed to borrow a pencil. I wish I'd known then what I know now. Children come to us giving us the best they can give with the resources they've got. It's up to us to meet them where they are, because they may be doing their best to just keep safe. We need to remember that "they aren't trying to cause problems; they are doing their best" (p. 21).
In the second section of the book, Ruth cheers us on to be writers ourselves and reminds us of the importance of writing workshop. On p. 61, she says, "...writing workshop is essential to education. Not because every child should grow up to be a writer, but because we all must learn to communicate our stories, our beliefs, our knowledge in order to make the world a better place." I believe with all my heart that we need to provide spaces for our children to tell their stories, especially the hard stories. Sometimes it is only through writing that the stories can be told because they are too hard to say out loud. Our children need to feel empowered knowing that their voices matter.
Part 3, Moves to Entice Students to Write, is chock-full of ideas to help even our most reluctant writers put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I love her "celebration mindset." I recently shared a video clip with teachers in my building by Matt Glover. In it, he was talking to parents about the subtle difference between nudging our young writers and pushing them. He tells the story of his son going out on the dance floor and his wife teaching him to dance, one step at at time. She acknowledged where he was as a dancer and she gently nudged him one dance move at a time, instead of pushing him by giving him all 15 steps at once. Ruth's philosophy is the same. She reminds us, "Instead of focusing on the things students don't do well, consider the things they are almost doing as writers" (p. 82). Oh, this is so true. We all know what it's like to sit down with young writers. There are a million things we could talk about with them. But, we need to remember that our writers are children and they are going to write like children. Their writing won't be perfect. If we help them pick out the gems, the things they are doing well and find one thing that they are almost doing, we can give them specific feedback that gives them that little nudge to move forward.
I hope this brief introduction to Ruth's book "entices" you to go out and get it. I've only touched on a small part of all the things I loved about this book. My copy is dog-eared, underlined, highlighted and filled with notes. I know that I will go back to it over and over again. This is a book with heart. It's so much more than a "how to teach" book. The stories woven throughout are poignant and important. Many of the stories made me chuckle, while others brought tears to my eyes. I could relate. We need to erase the stigma that comes with these mental health issues and move toward helping others understand what early trauma does to a child.
Thank you Ruth for this beautiful book.
In case you missed other stops on the blog tour, you can check them out below. Thank you to Stenhouse who is giving away 2 free copies of Ruth's book. Please leave a comment about this post by November 30, 2017 by 11:59 EST to enter. Winners will be chosen by a random number generator.
Ruth is also offering free registration to her new course Enticing Writers Book Club if you purchase a copy by November 30th. Just forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org for a free registration. The course begins in January.
1/13 (M) Clare & Tammy http://assessmentinperspective.com/?page_id=45
11/15 (W) Michelle Nero http://literacyzone.blogspot.com
11/17 (F) Leigh Anne Eck http://adayinthelifeof19b.blogspot.com
11/18 (Sat) STENHOUSE FB LIVE at 1:30pm (CST) with Shawna Coppola and Stenhouse FB Page
11/20 (M) Mary Helen Gensch https://booksavors.wordpress.com
11/22 (W) Jen Vincent http://www.teachmentortexts.com/
11/27 (M) Julie Johnson http://www.raisingreadersandwriters.com(November Newsletter -Write About https://www.writeabout.com)