Noelle: Your energy—I just loved watching you
explode with energy and enthusiasm. So what I'm hearing you say is,
first, get the process out of the way because the main part about
writing is agency and voice. And if you're training them and getting
them to really understand that metacognition behind structure and within
the craft, then you're proving that empowerment can happen in the
earliest of ages, which means then they want to speak up for themselves
and be heard. Do you have a writing project that you do every year?
LaNesha: Nope. That's the interesting thing about
it—is most teachers that I know, or most schools that I've worked in, we
have either a writing curriculum or we have a program that we have to
follow, or we just follow the standards. And that's what I've been doing
more recently. And in the primary grades, really the writing standards
aren't all that intense. In kindergarten, it's literally use words and
pictures to tell a narrative story. The end. That's open to a lot of
interpretation. And it's the same thing for a persuasive piece and for
an informational piece. And so, we would just have to take those
standards and make something happen. And I feel like in the past, before
I really led with the writing process, it was just a frustrating time
where I would show them something and model it, and then be like, "Okay,
it's time for you to go."
And then one kid will be like, "I can't think of anything." And the
next kid would be like, "I'm done." But literally, they're popping up
all over the classroom. And I'm thinking, “I can't help. Okay, let me
call all the ones who need an idea. You come sit here.” And then I'm
working with them, but then what's going on in the—you know what I mean?
And it just was a nightmare. And the reason I get so excited is because
nobody ever asks me about writing. Anytime I'm on a podcast or on
Instagram Live, it's always about social studies, or it's always about
social justice or anti-racism. So I'm like, “Yes, someone's asking me
about writing.” Because those other things are passions of mine, but I'm
an excellent writing teacher and reading teacher, and no one ever asks
me about that. So I'm very grateful to you. So that's why I'm really
So, no real big projects or anything. But just even in the mundane, I
have seen such amazing pieces come out of just writing an informational
piece. I had a student who was my most reluctant writer, and he would
not write anything for me for so long. And we got to an informational
unit. And I had been harping and harping about, "Okay, boys and girls,
we are going to be writing. You have to tell me something that you know
all about. It can be cars; it can be motorcycles. I don't care if it's
nail polish. I don't care what it is. Just something that you know all
about. And you can give me some facts about that thing."
And he just sat there forever. “I don't know anything. I don't know
anything.” And then finally, one day he said, "The only thing I know all
about is cuss words." And I was like, "Great. Go get your idea sheet
because we're going to write this book about cuss words." And I'll tell
you what, he wrote the best book of that entire unit. It had a table of
contents. It had glossary. I mean, it had diagrams so you knew which
finger was the middle finger.
Noelle: I'm sorry. I am cracking up laughing because that would have been the student that I would be like, "Can I live with him?”
LaNesha: Oh, I loved it. I loved it. I mean, so I
called his mom and I told her the whole thing. And I said, "Listen, he's
saying that the only thing he knows all about is curse words." And the
funny thing was his curse words were like stupid, and they
weren't even real curse words. And he was like, "That's the only thing I
know all about." And I was like, "That's fantastic. We're going to do
this." And we sure did. He wrote the best book. And I mean just labels
and diagrams, and all of the things to teach other people all about cuss
words. And it was fantastic. He didn't get to read it out loud, of
course, but he let me keep a copy. It's so good.
Noelle: I would have wanted to keep a copy. And I
would probably have tried to find somewhere to get this published by a
kindergartner. Because to me, that could go truly viral. I applaud you
LaNesha because to me, that is what I love about teaching, is finding
those moments where you don't shut it down. Because he finally was like,
"I'll tell you what I know about." And then had you been like, "Well,
sorry, that is a big no,” you would have been an out. And to me, he now
has met a teacher, his kindergarten teacher, who has already given him
But to me, LaNesha, a child has to know by third grade that a teacher
has loved them and has seen them. And that's also so critical in those
moments. I know if I was in your classroom, if we were all in your
classroom, all of us can imagine your classroom is a system of
organization. Color coding, ways to know how to use your environment for
that agency and being self-sufficient, which means you have a plan. But
I also have a feeling that if I was ever had the privilege of watching
you in action, that your plan happens also in the moment because you are
absorbing all of their energy and curiosity. So when was the last time
that you were following your plan, and one of your little scholars asked
a question, you're like, "You know what? That's a really good question.
Everyone, put this aside; let's jump right into this." Are you
comfortable with that?
LaNesha: Oh, yeah. 100%. You described me perfectly.
I've been very fortunate to work at schools with administrators who
don't really micromanage. And they trust (you), as long as you're
getting it done. I tend to know the target. I have to do the learning
board and that whole thing. I've got the success criteria to target.
That's fine. But I do. I get in there, and I try to be very responsive.
It actually just happened. Currently this year, I'm teaching virtual
kindergarten, and there were 40 students in my class.
LaNesha: Forty. Yeah. I'm serving 40 families. We
just had some flip back. So now it's down to about 30. But it just
happened. We were doing a reading lesson, and it was a story where I was
having them do a very basic skill—identify character and setting. But
we had defined character as the animals, or the people, or the objects
that do the talking and the thinking and the feeling. So that was their
standard for what a character is.
And the story we were reading was called Mango, Abuela, and Me.
And it was about a little girl and her grandmother. They spoke
different languages, and it was about becoming bilingual. And at the end
of the story, there's a parrot that they buy to help with the speech.
And the parrot was talking. She would say, "Buenos dias," and he would
repeat, "Buenos dias," whatever. So we're going through the lesson at
the end, and I'm asking students to identify a character via Zoom. And
they're like, "Grandma," or "Abuela." Sure. "The little girl, her name
was Mia." Great. And then somebody was like, "The parrot." And another
kid was like, "That's not a character. That's just a bird."
And right there, I was like, "Well, wait a minute, though. Because
what did we define a character? They have to be in the story, they have
to do talking and thinking and feeling or whatever." So I let them go
back and forth. And they had this little mini-debate going on on whether
or not that parrot should be qualified as a character or not. And that
wasn't in the lesson plan. And that wasn't something that I thought was
going to come out of that conversation. I was just supposed to be
hitting character and setting. And we went on for about five minutes
trying to figure it out. Because technically the parrot did talk. Did he
have feelings? And the kids were like, "You don't know. You don't know
how he feels." And so that sort of thing happens all the time.
And I feel like that's what I live for. I don't know how I could teach
and not be allowed to go off on tangents like that occasionally. I don't
do it all the time, but occasionally that's necessary.