From the classroom...

Writing Style

As a teacher I have heard (and said) that students need to “improve” their writing, but struggled to give them the tools really to do so on their own. Twice today I came across lists of what not to say in good writing: the first is directed to adult writers from the Washington Post (brilliant) and the second is directed to developing writers from buzzfeed

Both articles (in one day!) made me think a lot about “improving” writing skills.

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Why do children write? Because we tell them to? As a child I wanted very much to be a writer, and yet was regularly disappointed with my own limited abilities. Early on I gave up the idea that I would ever write anything good and decided to find a real job instead – my early attempts at writing were awkward, wordy, long winded and completely unedited, and I had no idea about how to improve. I really thought that I just wasn’t going to be as good at writing as the many authors I loved to read. Has our teaching of writing really improved?

A few months ago I attended a teachers’ writing workshop that encouraged real, direct, explicit teaching of writing skills – sequential and cumulative from emergent to developing writers. I was so inspired by the possibilities for the students in my school, particularly those already facing academic challenges: for them the idea of “improving” can seem totally out of reach.

Once I started thinking about emergent and evolving writing expectation I excavated a few writing starters from the archives…

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Magazine poetry

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Silent, loud, forever

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Lessons from my (mother…)

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Fortune cookies – barely writing, so poetic!

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If I was not me, who would I be?

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Things I am grateful for…

Good writing (all writing!) needs inspiration, honesty and, at the end of the day, revision. We can inspire kids to write with exposure to great writing, or to great music or art, but it is the act of listening to their own voice that will really help them excel. I often ask students to read their writing out loud – to themselves, to a friend or partner, to a teacher or buddy… It is hearing their own voice that makes it come to life.

Revision is the hardest, for children and adults too. The secret often is to schedule separate time for revising. The act of creating is exhausting! Take a break and come back to it later or the next day with fresh perspective and energy… What was a chore becomes a new and interesting task.

Above all, good writing must have something to say. Look around. See, hear, think, feel, and then share those thoughts and what they mean to you – at the end of the day “improving” your writing only means making it say more about yourself:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” (Roald Dahl)

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