As the school year closes, I begin the task of having my students do the meta. I see you nodding your head. Yes, we should all require our students to do the meta; the act of reflecting and analyzing one’s learning and thinking processes—metacognition. Here’s the rub: my students are third graders. Enough said! But, do the meta I do. Each year, the children in my school are required to write a letter to their future teacher, an introduction. I take it a step further and require the kids to introduce themselves as readers, writers, mathematicians, and learners. This year was no exception, but the responses were not what I expected.

Aidan wrote:

Dear 4th Grade Teacher,
I don’t know who you are, but if you are Mrs. Green, I am nothing like my brother Jonah.

From a former student:

Dear 4th grade Teacher,
I believe in aliens. I hope you do to.

And then there was Maddie’s letter:

Dear 4th grade Teacher,
I love writing. I think I should be an author. It’s fun. You get to write what is on your heart and put it out onto paper.

I sat stunned as I read Maddie’s letter. “I love writing. You get to write what is on your heart.” What? I taught that? I taught children to write what is on their heart? I know I taught exploded moments, elaboration, claim statements, know your audience—but what’s on your heart? I had to stop and do my own meta. Where did this come from?

In 1993, I was invited to the Summer Invitational Writing Institute at PA Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP), the National Writing Project site at West Chester University, PA. I was invited to spend 5 weeks reading, writing, preparing a professional presentation, and studying with colleagues. Invited to give up my summer. I thought I was spending the time learning how to be a “professional staff developer,” someone who presented at staff development days, and got paid. But somewhere along the way I learned a lot more.

I spent that summer with colleagues writing. At first, I wrote about my boys playing little league baseball and how I was missing it because of ALL this writing homework. I wrote some poetry (or at least I tried), and I eventually settled into a piece about my life as it was at the time; a young mom, with 2 boys who didn’t realize how good she had it until her “fairy godmother” appeared. (Yes, it became a fairy tale—a successful, published fairy tale. In fact, my oldest son wanted to take it to school as a fairy tale example in first grade!) I loved that piece. I decided to revisit it, and as I searched my portfolio, I stumbled upon my institute refection letter—my meta for my summer institute experience.

  • “I’ve come to realize my strength is in reading, reflecting, and then implementing material to fill my needs.”
  • “There are two pieces I might take on—who knows. I know I don’t want to lose them…”
  • “I am empowered by my pen.”
  • “I learned a lot about my own enjoyment of writing ‘professional pieces’ and my need for a good editor and reader.”
  • “—because of this course (institute), I’ve learned to revise, draft again, revise, draft again, etc.—in teaching, writing, learning, and living.”

I stopped. I haven’t looked at this for a long time. I have been busy reading, writing, co-directing summer institutes, teaching, learning, and living. But the words, my words, are still true. I realize because of five weeks one summer, I learned to write. I learned to write for myself and for my students. I learned how to teach children to love to write…and to write what is on their heart because there are no more powerful words than the words that come from your heart.

Brenda Krupp-NWPBrenda Krupp is a third grade teacher at Franconia Elementary School in the Souderton Area School District, Souderton, PA. She is active in her local National Writing Project site, PA Writing and Literature Project, where she co-directs the Summer Invitational Writing Institute. She and two Writing Project colleagues (Judith Jester and Richard Mitchell) blog weekly at Third and Rosendale. You can also follow Brenda on Twitter at @brenkrupp.