Astonishing Quietude: Reflections on a Middle School Writing Course

By on July 3, 2017, in Uncategorized

I sit at a table with six middle-schoolers who are writing intently. It is absolutely quiet, except for the scritch of their pens and the softer sound of pencils flowing across paper. They are here for a journaling intensive in my home writing studio. There is a quality of absorption in these youngsters that I was not prepared for. Indeed, I am astonished.


I’ve tended to timing in many classrooms, gaging the level of engagement with writing exercises. Each group is different. Mostly I work with adults, although I taught Language Arts in a Waldorf high school for five years. I have rarely experienced this level of sustained concentration. I expected kids this age to be more distractible.


It started on the first day, when I gave the students time to spread out and choose a place to write –on the deck, at the dining room table, in the living room or in the studio. I expected that twenty minutes would be a long stretch, and planned to build up to it, adding time each day. But twenty minutes came and went and still, each kid was completely focused on the page before him or her. I let them keep going. After half an hour, I rang a bell and announced that it was time to wind up what they were writing for break time, but they had more to say. I added an option of writing through the break. No one budged. Ten minutes later, they were still writing.

These eleven to thirteen year-olds have been invited to write whatever they want, however they want, for themselves only.. They’ve written about the past and the present, about who and how they are, about their worlds, their dreams, their hopes for the future, about the animals they love (pets emerged as a theme). They’ve looked outwards to observe the room around them, and inwards to explore their mood. I’ve adjusted the timing for writing to be longer, and each time, these journalers are content to keep writing. A spell of forty-five minutes has not induced a squirm or wriggle. “Spell” is the right word here, each one seems entranced as they write away.


In the face of these students’ natural ability to be present to the page, I realize how this quality is often missing in other classes. I am grateful for each of them for exemplifying concentration. I want to capture this gift of devoted attentiveness and bestow it on others who struggle with becoming restless, whose will is disrupted. May these six young ones be safeguarded as they write their way into the future. May their purity of intention, their sense of wonder, and their honed focus continue as pages open before them. May they trust the value of what they have to say and say it.