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Look in the Mirror, You Might Like What You See

[Editor's note: Mr. Foteah is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where this post originally appeared.]

Recently, I took the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before. I brought out the students’ writing folders, with all their published pieces from the school year. I called their attention to their non-fiction writing, and I asked them to pick the one they thought next year’s teacher should see. This forced some serious consideration and observation. Students were, maybe for the first time, attending to a tangible representation of how their work has evolved for the better since September. They recalled each book, and I was amazed at their ability to read them almost perfectly.

Most pleasant for all of us, especially me, was the way they reacted when they reached the very backs of their folders. There, they could see a writing sample from the very first day of school, replete with summer rust and lacking many conventions. The simplest words that they take for granted now were misspelled. People were drawn as sticks, some with legs coming out of their heads. For some students, a single letter represented a word. For others, pictures did all the storytelling. They could not believe the difference between September and June.

For the first time, I gave students a chance to reflect on themselves. It was so much easier for them to do this when they had a big picture to look at (they find it tedious when doing so after publishing). Pride was evident on their faces and in their voices, the way they eagerly clamored to show me and their friends just how different their September writing was.

Now I’m wondering how I’m going to make students more reflective next year. It’s got to be part of my push to help them foster independence. At least I learned something today: contrary to what I’ve believed before now, they can do it. They can reflect and take stock of their own work. I need to make this part of the routine next year.

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