Most people consider writing boring and hard work. As somebody who has always loved writing, I have always found this puzzling. For me writing is like breathing, a way to express myself, therapy. So why do others think of it as something they avoid like the plague?
When I became a teacher I quickly found out why—or at least I found a working theory. I was shocked by the way writing was being taught in school. I am an elementary school teacher and back then writing was still considered an important skill. Not that “back then” was that long ago; I’m speaking about a little over ten years ago. With each passing year, writing has regretfully become an area of educational neglect. It has had a slight resurgence in the past three years or so in the area of non-fiction or functional writing.
For the first few years of my teaching career, writing instruction consisted of learning how to use some kind of organizer and then write the infamous five-paragraph essay that would be required at the end of fifth grade as a standardized test. Children were given “prompts’ and then told to write, share with peers, edit and revise. Needless to say that the writing was not good and the motivation to write was nonexistent. However, students were at least able to write somewhat creatively. This has now vanished from our schools. Nowadays children are being asked to write only functional text as reading responses or short answers to questions. Creativity is not a factor.
Don’t get me wrong. Functional writing is very important and should definitely be taught and cultivated. However it is the very rare person that is going to be excited about it. Sitting in a full classroom being told to fill in a graphic organizer about why your bedroom is your favorite place to relax in is NOT fun, not even to a die-hard writer like me.
After a few years of this mind-numbing writing instruction and a constant wave of teachers’ complaints about how the students hated writing and how impossible it was to teach something everybody hated (including the teachers in many cases), I decided I was going to try something new; use the kids’ own imagination to build a fictional story.
We worked on a group writing first. I started the story with just a few sentences and then asked the children to help me add details. After we did the writing, the editing and revising, the students got to illustrate their group story. Now that they had a “model”, it was time for them to get excited about their own characters. They got to draw them and answer a short “character interview”. Then, they were able to get into their characters’ skins and tell others about them. They “designed” the setting and shared it with the other kids. Finally they started writing their story while I hounded them with questions that produced more content, more interesting details. Were these stories amazing? Maybe not. But the kids loved the process and were extremely proud of what they had achieved in the end. So much so, they begged to come with me and write more. If nothing else I succeeded in fostering a love for writing in those few students.
Since then I have found other ways to get the most reluctant of writers excited about writing (I may even share them here another time) including using art to tickle their imagination, but that year will always be one of revelation to me. What an amazing and rewarding thing to see bored children become excited about their own work. How amazing to see the power of writing magic at work!
*cover picture “The Power of Imagination”by Marcinha at http://marcinha-jp.deviantart.com/art/The-Power-of-Imagination-555809518 *