Developing Our Student Writing - Challenging Our Thinking
Last week I put out some questions around student writing that hopefully challenged and probed your thinking around what is good practice for setting up successfully student writing.
This week I promised to respond to this by offering some thoughts around each.
Should students be allowed to sit or go anywhere to write?
In short the answer really should be no. There are of course limits in a learning space. Students share a space with others, at times there are multiple activities going on that require specific space and supervision of students is always necessary. But in saying all of this, different people are more comfortable in different positions and environments. A good work environment is essential for anyone - and what that looks like changes depending on the person. Some like to use desks, some like to sprawl, some like to stand. For long periods of time, posture is important too, but this often relates around the ability to change position and find a position of comfort. So yes - students should be allowed to sit or go anywhere to write - or almost anywhere anyway.
Should students be allowed to borrow ideas from other writers?
Of course not! That’s plagiarising! But if you think about it, some of the greatest stories that we know of today have been born from the tales of the past. We learn how to write well from the writing of good writers. What ideas are there that are truly unique? This point has raised some debate on staff and so we have agreed to change the wording: Students should be allowed to be inspired by other writers! And more than this, they should be.
Should students be allowed to pass when it comes to sharing their work?
Another hard one! How can a student get feedback for their work if it is not shared? How can a teacher assess their needs? What is the purpose of writing if there is not an audience?
So there needs to be a balance - and for the teacher to feel this balance and lead it.
All writing comes from the person so it is personal. You open yourself up when you share your words and they are left bare to scrutinize. So allowance needs to be made for some writing to be left private. There are ways in which writing can be reflected on though not shared. One of the greatest learning skills is for a student to be able to successfully self-assess. Some writing is pre-known to warrant sharing. And also, sometimes the audience of a text is the author themselves alone.
Should drawing and illustrating be an important part of learning to write - even for our older students?
Absolutely!! As a bias illustrator myself, I will happily raise the drawing flag as something of importance. But being more objective, drawing is one of the very first ways in which children communicate. They make sense of their world by recreating it in drawing. They can tell a story in a picture - and then talk about it. This helps them get their ideas and words together. We have grown up with the idea of illustrating a text after it is written, but often we should draw first and then write. Illustrations add to text. They provide a different medium of communication which supports and builds on the text as a whole. As a school, we teach children to read illustrations as much as read the words.
Should students be given free choice between pencil and paper and using technology?
This is probably the most difficult question to answer. Our children for many years now have lived in a world of IT where text is online. This is a skill that needs to be learnt. And yet, writing is also dynamic and handwritten text provides the author with a freedom to roam a page and edit and create in a way that technology largely does not. I could be the best writer in the world but if my handwriting and spelling are poor, my ideas will be judged on this. But I also need to develop skills in efficient technology. So the diplomatic answer is that a balance between the two is needed. So should students be given free choice between pencil and paper and using technology? No. Not free choice anyway. But certainly the opportunity to develop the skills for success writing in both.
Over the holidays, sit in the sun and write something.