A student working on a piece of writing asks, “What should I do? I don’t know if I should explain that Tom is my boss and my uncle right here at the start, or if I should leave it out until closer to the end.”
Or maybe it’s a more mundane question about punctuation, “Should I put a period here, or would it be better to use ‘and’ to join these two things?”
Well, of course I have an opinion, and I can back it up with reasons why one option would be better than the other. I might have time to explain my reasons, too, after I give my advice. But there is no joy there, for me.
Instead, I start by saying, “Both are correct. You can’t go wrong with either one.” This lets the student off the hook, in case he was stressing over not knowing the right answer, in case he was thinking there was only one right answer.
Then I open the door to the joy.
“Which way do you think would work for you here? Why don’t you read it to me both ways, and we’ll listen to see which way sounds better.”
He reads, and in the few minutes it takes him to make a decision, I hear many things that delight me: snippets of previous lessons that show me he has been paying attention; statements about the purpose of this particular piece that move me in a way the actual writing doesn’t; the satisfaction in his voice as he decides one way or the other; his growing confidence in his ability to make the appropriate choice for his own purposes.
There we are, both of us engaged, not just me engaged in giving advice and trying to use that moment to impress on the student something about why my way is better, while he sits passive, waiting to be delivered from his dilemma. He is engaged in the process of writing, I in the process of facilitating learning.
Isn’t that why we both came to be in this place?
That’s where I find the joy.