top of page

The more I teach and the more I read the more flexible I become as a mentor of students...the more I prioritize their learning over everything else--including judgment-based assessment. If a student fails or struggles, they get to keep trying even as others may move forward or in a different direction for now. I can't misread their failure, confusion, or frustration with laziness or not wanting to succeed.

When I struggle, it is often a colleague or a mentor who protects me, supports me, and encourages me.

All of our students should see and experience learning in their school in the same way.

Making conferring has become the greatest shift in my practice because I learn something, each time, to help that student grow. Infinitely more helpful than reading their work with the intention of assessing it, conferring leads to an attitude of mentoring. And when I started mentoring I became a more supportive, encouraging teacher.

I am more aware of mentoring and supportive environments even in my reading life. I'm fascinated by the creative partnership of Lennon and McCartney. But I was unhinged when I read Judd Apatow's book Sick in the Head. For me, it read like a series of writing conferences between Apatow and dozens of comedians. Each person spoke to the critical component of encouragement and mentoring in their lives--often coming from people already accomplished in the craft.

And Apatow phrased his approach as hanging around other comedians. Isn't that what we do with our writing conferences? (I do.) Apatow also used a wonderful phrase (part of a tribe) that is often in the back of my mind when I make decisions in the classroom: "One thing I took from these interviews is that these people were part of a tribe."

I notice that my students (slowly) want to become a part of the tribe of readers and writers when immersed in an environment of readers and writers who read and write for their purposes, their curiosity, their enjoyment. Not mine. Not yours.

The sooner we can help students help us create a tribe of readers and writers (with an attitude that we learn from one another not just the teacher) the sooner we can transfer the behaviors of learning from great books. While reading for pleasure and joy, it is possible for students to learn how to notice how the writer did what he/she did. It is possible for students to ask questions when we do not know how to identify what the writer is doing. It is possible to unlock the door of a lifetime of mentors who will help students on their journey especially after they leave our classrooms.

Janet Emig's early anecdote (particularly the quote above from a teenager) in The Web of Meaning (1983) contains so many rich words as phrases worth exploring as an educator: never remember, inspired, rewrite (rather than revise), only, and technical.

Among that short list of words, my "favorite" to examine and reflect upon might be only.

When I read The Web of Meaning several years ago (purchased for under five dollars from Amazon), I began to dismantle and examine my philosophy of teaching and learning, my philosophy of reading and writing, and my philosophy of growth. Part of the autopsy included a hard look at how editing marks and an attitude of correction underserves the teenagers in our classrooms.

Not only am I not convinced that an attitude of correction helps people grow as writers, I believe it chokes out the possibility of growth. If all we do is correct papers, if we all we do is emphasize a weeding out of errors, then all we do is spray unchecked pesticides on acres and acres of stunted environment.

bottom of page