This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Who Gets to be a Writer?

I always wonder how babies know to instinctively move their bodies to the rhythm of music.  I am also surprised that as soon as a baby starts to dance we don’t immediately start criticizing his footwork.  We do not expect everyone to become accomplished ballerinas or competition ballroom dancers.  We are all expected to get up and respond to the music, have fun and make fools of ourselves.  Dancing is a way to show feelings, express ourselves, however clumsily.  So is writing.

If writing is putting our thoughts into words and transcribing them on a permanent surface to preserve, to share and to propagate, then we all have as much right to write as to dance.  We may not all become published authors and go on book tours.  But we all have a right to scribe. 

So who gets to be a writer? If you have a thought, you can be a writer.  If you have feelings and opinions you are entitled to your own piece of paper and pencil.  My job as the teacher of writers is to help you learn the craft writing, just as a dance instructor does with dancers.  I coach you in getting better at articulating your thoughts and feelings in a way that moves others, convinces them or informs them. 

When I was eight years old, I started taking ballet classes.  One day as I was chasseing across the floor, my teacher admonished me to not bob my head like a pendulum.  Needless to say I did not dance for long.  When young writers come to me to show their work and I find myself reacting first to the missing period, the lack of the capital letter at the beginning of their sentence, the crooked f or the misspelled words, I am afraid that they won’t write again either. 

Katherine Bomer says:

“Learning language follows a developmental course from ‘fluency’ to clarity to correctness.  Writing begins in meaning making, and until students feel ‘fluent’, that is comfortable, strong and at ease with putting their thoughts on paper, they cannot work well on the quality of their own writing; they cannot move toward ‘clarity’ (organization, logical sentence flow) or ‘correctness’ (grammar and punctuation).”

As teachers and curriculum writers we have a choice:  Spending the first few years of early literacy helping our students find their voice, articulate their thoughts and opinions and make a connection with their audiences or drilling conventions and rules.  The consequence of the first choice may be young writers that will have something they will want to say.  They will attempt to publish their work.  They will type it into a word processor that will tell them where their errors are and even help in correcting them.  The consequence of the second choice is a stack of writing with perfect grammar and punctuation that are graded, returned and promptly recycled because they are of no value to the teacher or to the student himself.

When I read the confessions of today’s most accomplished writers, I am even more convinced to just let them write!  I am so glad that Gary Paulsen or Gabriel García  Márquez did not stop writing because they were bad spellers, because the world would not be the same without their stories and their words.

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