Saturday, March 29, 2014

Finding Their Voices

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in! 

Yesterday I talked about how the best part of my job as a teacher of reading is helping students find the right book. The best part of my job as a teacher of writing is helping students find their voices.

I had a parent tell me the other day, while we were working on our short stories in Pre-AP, that her daughter had been begging her the night before to read the story she was working on, that there was finally homework her daughter wanted to do. Her daughter told her I was the only one who ever let them write something creative.

I didn't assign that story for homework. They had all week in class to work on it because it was testing week, and I wanted them to be able to work on something meaningful but that wasn’t “work.” This is not a student who likes to write, not a student who sees herself as a “good” writer. But this is a writer who was working at home when she didn’t have to because she wanted to write.

My students come to me at the beginning of the year with a formula for writing. They are used to being assigned a writing task with a specific purpose and not given much choice. They struggle when I say, “Write what you want.” They often have no idea how to craft a response without being told how many paragraphs, what content to include, and how to choose the words to best express their exact meaning. Most of all, very few of them have found their own voice.

For the first marking period we do “Meaningful Mondays.” I give them a quotation and ask them to respond. I comment on their quotations, but this free writing (which used to be Free Write Friday), tells me more about them as writers and people than any prompt or interest survey could. I gather a lot of formative data from these pieces. I watch how long it takes them to start writing, and how long it takes them to finish in relation to how much they wrote. I can look back over the nine entries and see how they choose to approach the quotations…personally or impersonally…and whether that change depending on the quotation. I see where their areas of need and strength are, and use those to drive mini-lessons and form revision partnerships. The content of their responses usually give me clues to what they consider to be important, how they feel about themselves in relation to the world around them, and what their life has been like. Fifteen minutes a week, and a wealth of information gained that helps me to drive my writing instruction for the rest of the year.

Formula writing has its place. There are rules to writing that must be followed in order for others to be able to extract meaning from a piece. But I believe that, much like we are duty-bound to honor student’s reading choices, we are also required to help students find their own voices when they write.

My students may not all come back advanced on the state writing test or be as prepared for their ninth grade teacher as she would like them to be, but I think most of my students leave my room having found their voices because I ask them to give me more of themselves rather than a "correct" response.

No comments:

Post a Comment