Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Do People Need to Learn to Write

Last week, Ruth Ayres wrote a thought provoking post over at Two Writing Teachers. At the same time, I have been struggling with where I want my Creative Writing classes and English 9 classes to go.  I can see in my head my ideal classroom, but the reality is ugly. We're not there. And I'm not sure of the road I'm taking. So, the questions Ruth asked got me thinking and questioning myself and exploring and writing. The results, my beliefs about writing, will be here, in a series of posts.

I learned to write by writing. Sounds simple, doesn't it.

But it's not that simple. I really believe there is much more to it.

People need time to learn to write. A dedicated time in their day where the focus will be putting pen to paper---or fingers to keys--and they write. And how do I know this? Because I haven't been making that time. I find all kinds of other little time suckers and I haven't been writing. Not like I used to. And in my classroom, I sometimes just need to step back and let my kids write.  Conferencing is good. Mini lessons are good. But sometimes, those are time suckers too. The other day I asked my students if they needed me. Did they need me to conference? Did we need to talk about ideas some more?  Or did they just need me to shut up and get out of the way. They just smiled and told me they were fine. They just needed the time to put fingers to keys and get those thoughts down.

People also need time to play and practice.  This semester I been more intentional about sharing mentor texts and sharing my own writing.  It seems to have freed up my students imaginations. Before starting their own pieces, we play around with the mentor texts.  We use them as templates. We write from prompts I have intentionally chosen (most of the time) for the type of writing we are doing. All before they actually choose what they are going to write.  By the time I finally turn them loose, most are begging to get started.

People need freedom.
Freedom of choice, most of all. The freedom to choose what they will write about. The freedom to choose how they will write. While I try to have all my students write the same type of text, such as informative pieces or fiction pieces, HOW they write it is up to them. Right now my students are writing fiction pieces. I've read drafts of children's stories, ABC books, short stories and stories in verse.

People need the freedom to choose NOT to write at a particular time, choosing instead to think, to stare off into space, to listen to music until something lands in their brain that begs to be written. I have students who sometimes just need to think. And, I understand that. I do too. The writing of this post is taking several days.  I need to process my thoughts. I need to figure out my words.  So do my students.

People need effort.
Their own effort. Writing is hard. Harder some days than others. Some days it is so easy to leave the writing behind and get caught up in those time sucking tasks. But in order to write something worthwhile, something relevant, something heartfelt, a writer has to give their best effort and they have to sustain that effort. I think sometimes that is the hardest thing for my students---sustaining effort (who am I kidding? It's the hardest thing for me too.). Beginning a piece of writing, working hard on it for 40 minutes and then leaving it, only to return the next day, makes it difficult to sometimes to sustain that effort. Momentum is lost. I constantly struggle with how to help them come back to a piece with the same intensity and effort that they left with. In the end, I think it has to come from inside the writer.

People have to be willing to fail spectacularly.
I know. That sounds odd coming from a teacher. We aren't supposed to let anyone fail. But, I don't mean to fail the class or the assignment. People need to try new things and write in new ways. And while they are writing in these new ways, they have to know that what they write may not be perfect. Their audience may not like it. The words may not come. They may fail.

And it's OK. Because a writer can go back and fix their failures.  A writer goes back and tries again. A writer goes back and tries a new way to say things. A writer goes back.....


  1. Beautiful, Deb. It's all right, & at different times for different students, too. I hope you can find time to write more yourself. You have such a voice that I enjoy hearing! I imagine that your students do, too! Happy Thanksgiving week to you!

  2. Oh yes Deb, you say it so well! I found myself nodding my head in agreement with each point. I look forward to more posts of your thinking and stories from the classroom.

  3. If you can say this:By the time I finally turn them loose, most are begging to get started....then you are really doing something awesome in your classes...Bravo!

  4. Thank you for opening up your process and findings. I agree with every point from what I am learning about good teaching.

  5. It's hard to share these ideas with students sometimes, but writing is a thinking tool and it's recursive and oh so messy. In the best ways. Sometimes...thanks for your thought provoking post.

  6. I love your list and am humbled to inspire it. I agree, we learn by writing...and failure is an important part of the process.

  7. I am floored by your ability to reflect within the moment. It is not easy to capture your beliefs on paper (screen) like this. And you have done it eloquently: People have to be willing to fail spectacularly. Well said. I also like the way you point out the need for momentum, the difficulty of getting into a flow for 40 minutes (or 20 minutes) then stopping until the next day at the same time. I think have been struggling against this without having identified this is the problem. I can't wait to read more of your thinking.

    Ruth's post has been rattling around in my brain over the last week too. I just started a Penny Kittle's Quick Write style writing group for teachers at my school in response to her message about writing "just because."

    If we can't work across the hall, I am at least thrilled to be across the virtual hall from you!

  8. Thanks for sharing your list - I can relate to each item. It's difficult deciding what to write, then actually putting it down on paper/computer, re-writing, editing, re-reading, putting it aside for another day. Allowing myself to fail (not an easy thing for me). The more we write/share/practice, the better we become.

  9. What a list! I wish my photocopies weren't done for the presentation I was leading tomorrow because I really want to tuck in your post. Great stuff Deb!

  10. I wonder how this post came about. You express your thoughts clearly and coherently. Your words speak to me.

  11. This has a powerful clarity and simplicity that makes sense. The question is why it seems so challenging sometimes to do...

    Issues I'm reflecting on a lot. Thanks for the way you've packaged your thinking here, Deb!


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