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Thursday, January 30, 2014

 

Teaching Writers

I'm a writer. I'm also a teacher.

It doesn't make teaching writing any easier. It creates a lot of questions about the how and why of writing instruction and even more questions about applying that instruction to my writing life.

Here's what I mean: how much should a student write every day? What types of writing should students master? How will finetuning the writing process help them succeed today and in years to come?

For example, two of my children were lucky to have the same kindergarten teacher. She taught the girls the five basic steps of the writing process, and even though my girls couldn't always spell a word correctly, they could verbalize a story that had exposition, rising action, climax and resolution. As the year progressed, both girls wrote narratives, informatives, expository...they just did not know those were the types of styles they were experimenting with.

In this kindergarten classroom, students wrote every day, beginning with a journal prompt first thing in the morning, along with language arts writing (mentioned above), as well as writing in core content areas, like math and science.

It was one of the finest examples of language-based education I've seen!

When I taught high school English classes, I taught those same types of writing, expanding on each strand (or register, the current/hip educational term) so students had a wide variety of writing experiences.

My students also wrote every day in class, beginning with a journal prompt, along with writing instruction - breaking down the process, step-by-step. The basic 5-paragraph essay had been mastered by seventh grade, major research projects by freshman year, and when the students hit that final year, they were formulating a hypothesis, conducting research and writing papers similar to the ones I penned for my grad studies Intro to Research class.

Unfortunately, time didn't always allow for in-depth studies in the art of revision or the intricacies of a thorough edit (and yes, there are major differences between revision and editing), but students knew enough to revamp a paper, if necessary. They were trained to take the writing instruction they'd received and apply it to life outside the classroom, whether they attended college or went directly to work.

I'm wondering about all this for a couple reasons:
  1. Not every student receives the type of writing instruction mentioned above.
  2. The Department of Education in the state where I live is restructuring its language arts standards, hoping to boost writing instruction and how it's taught. I'm in favor of that because we, as writers (parents, grandparents, teachers) should want to teach and encourage all types of writing and the process of writing.
  3. As a writer, I wonder how many of us continue to learn about the process, finetune our skills. For example, I think I'm good at revision but only average when it comes to editing. But, what do I do to sharpen my editing skills? 
  4. Every child/writer learns in his/her own way. By structuring writing, are we stunting a student's creative process?
Are schools restructuring the way writing is taught so students succeed on a standardized test? Or are they restructuring writing education because communication - whether written or spoken - is one of the most important life skills a student needs to succeed?

I want students to be able to have the writing skillset that will help them find success, no matter what direction they choose after school.

But that's just the writer and teacher in me.

How has your writing education (grade school, high school, college) prepared you for real-world writing experiences?

by LuAnn Schindler

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3 Comments:

Blogger www.havetotewilltravel.com said...

Thank you for your story. As a parent of twin sixth graders, I can say that the level of writing instruction depends solely on the teacher. Of the four middle school teachers in our grade, only one cared enough about developing good writing skills. Luckily, my girls benefited from this teacher who insisted on journaling, thoughtful essays and the art of revision.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Margo Dill said...

I think a lot of the writing instruction is being revamped because of standardized tests. Although the reason--standardized tests success--is not the greatest, the result is that we hopefully raise better writers and communicators. I enjoyed your post very much and can really relate. I taught just writing to kids K-5 (like an art teacher but a writing teacher) for 2 years. It was quite an experience, but a great one!

9:18 AM  
Blogger Sioux said...

LuAnn--I'm a third grade teacher, and the best "schooling" I got as a writer was when I took the National Writing Project's "Summer Institute." There are NWP sites all over the country--teaching teachers of writing--and the intense five week summer class reveals each participant as a writer...which better equips them to work with student writers.

Thanks for the post. The more we talk about the teaching of writing, the more others will understand...

8:45 PM  

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