Slice of Life: Finding Words that Fit

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I’ve been knitting for about 15 years or so. Hats, scarves, mittens; you name it, I knit it. I love the sense of accomplishment I get from creating something soft and warm out of beautiful yarn. I don’t tackle patterns with a lot of technical stitches or color patterns, but I can adapt patterns and usually knit my way out of any messes I might get myself into.

So I was pretty frustrated over the weekend when the hat I’d spent a couple of hours knitting didn’t fit. I reread the pattern to make sure I hadn’t missed a step, but I hadn’t. The hat just didn’t fit.

What to do? I really didn’t want to tear the whole thing out, although there was no pressure to finish this hat. I decided to try making the ribbing longer, but that didn’t work.

Now I’d spent about four hours on this hat. My irritation was mounting. I knew it was time to put this project aside for a while before I made a decision about tearing everything out and starting over.

I stewed over the hat through dinner and while I cleaned the kitchen. I thought about the pattern, the yarn, adding on to the ribbing. All of these choices were guided by my knowledge and experience. I’ve spent years reading magazines, studying patterns, and talking to expert knitters. I’ve played with different weights and textures of yarn. Yet this seemingly simple hat pattern got the best of me. This fact was frustrating, but not the end of the world. I’ll tear the hat out and try again. Maybe I’ll adjust the pattern so it will fit, or maybe I’ll use a different pattern altogether. I have lots of options.

This whole experience got me thinking about what we expect of our students when we ask them to write. We expect them to make decisions about words and structures, details and sentence length. I know we think we’re supporting them and giving them the practice they need, but are we? Or has the pressure we feel to get everything done by yesterday caused us to make decisions we know aren’t in the best interest of our students?

Have we given them the time they need to pore over books, to study how authors put sentences together, and really talked with them about the power of our words? Or have we judged every word choice and sentence structure? Have we made them change their words to conform to our vision of what their writing should be like?

These questions are really a reminder to myself. I know the conditions kids need to grow and succeed. But I also need to remember what it feels like to have a vision that’s just out of reach. It may be that I need a cheerleader with an encouraging word to keep me going. Or maybe I just need time to figure it out. And that’s what kids need. They need time, lots of time, to play and experiment until they find the right combination of words that are the perfect fit for them.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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13 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Finding Words that Fit

  1. Time is so important, I agree, Catherine. What a wonderful connection you’ve made here. Examining more texts is helpful, but time to slow down and think about them too is critical. It’s always such a choice, of how to manage all those minutes! Thanks for the good reminder! And good luck with the hat!

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  2. Very powerful!
    I am a crocheter and I totally understand the frustration. Crocheting circles and I don’t get along, but it might be time to try again.
    Thanks for the things to think about!

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  3. You are so wise. I find whenever I get frustrated or feel like I’m failing, it’s a perfect time to reflect on how it is to be a struggling learner.
    I love this idea, “creating something soft and warm out of beautiful yarn” and so wish I could do such a thing. But I won’t try for fear of failure. Could that also be the stance our students take when they face something that they “know” they can’t possibly do.
    Makes me think of what I ask of students.
    Thank you for the beautiful reminder of what I need to do.

    Julieanne

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  4. Catherine, I love the line “It may be that I need a cheerleader with an encouraging word to keep me going. Or maybe I just need time to figure it out.” It is such an important reminder in the busy, busy of my high school day. You made me think about how I have been responding to students’ writing, especially timely as my students are writing about their reading this week. Thank you! Learning to knit is on my someday list. I love the language you use–it read like an insider’s code.

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  5. This is a perfect analogy! Kids need to have a repertoire of “craft moves” available to them. They need to have cheerleaders. They need to have times to go away from their writing and puzzle over it and come back. And we as teachers need to place ourselves in situations where we are learning new things, so we know what it feels like. Thanks for this important reminder!

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  6. I love this, Catherine:
    “I also need to remember what it feels like to have a vision that’s just out of reach.”
    We tend to forget this with our kids, don’t we? Thanks for this wonderful reminder!

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  7. Hi, Catherine. I’m a knitter too (socks are my favorite things to knit). It’s amazing how knitting works as a metaphor for so many things. That may be why us knitters love it. I agree with Tara on this line: “I also need to remember what it feels like to have a vision that’s just out of reach.” With children also, we hold the image of the person before us and in our imaginations exist the people those children are becoming.

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  8. What a great analogy! What struck me is how much past work and experience and the time to play guide our current efforts–in knitting and in writing. And as usual I’m reminded how much we teachers feel the “pressure to get everything done by yesterday” and how this negatively impacts our students. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. I’m a knitter too, so this made perfect sense to me. My path as a writer and as a knitter has had ups and downs. I have given up and I have been passionate. We don’t allow for students to have the give up part. The give up part doesn’t mean they won’t come back but they need time to come back on new terms. Thanks for the reminder.

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