As I dusted off my despair at her exclamation, I knew that I had no choice but to agree with her. More often than not, by the time students swing open the doors to middle school their desire to express their thoughts on paper has been squashed. Compulsory insipid prompts, micromanaged writing formats and feelings of failure caused by minute line-by-line edits are three of the causes.
In the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery’s character, William Forrester, shared his philosophy on writing with Jamal Wallace who was struggling to create his opening free-writing sentence when he said, “First write from the heart, then from the head”. Those few words that I paraphrased became my classroom mantra every year, every time my students wrote, be it free writing or an assignment, and every time they wrestled with pulling out those thoughts and ideas, wedged like impacted wisdom teeth in the crevices of their brains.
Although the How Students Say It (spelling, grammar and usage, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.) is quite important, it should be secondary to the What They Say. Writers will always have time to clarify, focus and spellcheck their thoughts, but they have to get them on paper, first.
Writing is a way for children to show ownership of their thoughts, their ideas, and their own
Students should not smother writing from the heart with the misconception that finely-honed writing skills are so important than ideas.
Students’ writing proficiency and the underlying bureaucratic threat behind their not reaching this benchmark should not become the means and the end to writing lessons.
Students should not be told, “No that isn’t right,” because their thoughts differ from their teachers' interpretations.
Instead, teachers should instill confidence in their students:
by explaining that every opportunity they have to express their thoughts and ideas in their pieces, they will learn what works and what doesn't.
by focusing their editing on three to four content and grammar areas only, not every single misplaced comma, misspelled word, etc.
by answering questions about the length with words such as, "Write until you have fully explained your idea."
(Note: a minimum length should be required, but never a maximum. Teachers may address students writing verbosity during conferences.)
Are they stuck on Downton Abbey or another television show? If so, parents, ask their children open-ended questions that would generate a discussion about plot, characters, filming techniques, and casting, just to name a few conversation starters. Why talk about a TV program? Because with every tête-à-tête, young people are learning how to express their thoughts clearly. They will remember this and use these same techniques when they have to write a critique or an analysis of a literary piece.
This will ward off the Dreaded Literary Demons, too. If academic dialogs evolve from engaging discussions where students and teachers reveal elements that intrigue them or where they feel free to explain why the author’s words move them or how they create word pictures, students will learn how to write with the same passion and technical prowess that they use verbally. They will develop the faith that they can proficiently identify and evaluate, in writing, examples of themes, figurative language, or any other literary facet they may be asked to explain.
Young adults should not be forced on the prison march of writing about a topic for which
Children should be given a multitude of chances to write from the heart without worrying about being told their ideas are wrong, their writing style has no style, or their spelling is atrocious.
Children should be allowed to feel the flush of excitement when they string plain words into Kodak moment word pictures.
Children should be allowed to hold onto that love for writing they had when they were eight and the thoughts bubbled from the word fountain in their souls so they can open the floodgates to this very same passion when they are eighteen.
Oh, for the love of writing.
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