I will be using this platform to attempt to put my writing program down in a form where I can finally, after nearly twenty years of teaching English 6,8,9, and 12 put it “all together.” Eventually, I hope to include a discussion of the need for vertical articulation through as many grades as possible. Also, eventually, I will include actual student work, exemplars and examples. I will not attempt, at this time to provide a logical sequence of how I teach 8th grade students to write analytically; I will select lessons and ideas that have worked best in my classroom and patch up any holes as I go. I’ll, eventually, actually talk about the pieces of literature I use.
Perhaps, first, a word on my philosophy of education.
As it is for those of us who not only teach our subject but also attempt to teach the children themselves, I will attempt to communicate how I reach the child. Not just to mold his thinking process but her very view of herself as a student. Socrates is quoted as saying, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” That is my job. Not to lecture, to rant, to spew, to talk incessantly, hoping that sheer volume will somehow make a student a better thinker. To sit next to the child, to shut my mouth, to read, and to listen. Then ask questions. Not point out failure. Not bleed red with my correcting pen. Not shoulder the child aside and rewrite to show them how it is done. No, no, no. The teacher must ask the questions of the writer in such a way that the student is able to ask and then answer the very question that he is unable to articulate. That is what must be done when one teaches writing. That is why Socrates is still remembered today. Now there is an example of a powerful teacher. He is long gone, but his pedagogy remains.
Any attempt to teach a child to think is a failure from the start if I cannot build a relationship with him. I cannot hope to ask a child to put themselves out there as a writer if they do not trust me. Sitting next to a child, looking them in the eye, acknowledging her work, asking questions is how to do that. The power of a question. The inherent respect and offer of power that is in a question. You, as a reader, want to know more. You desire to hear more of what the writer has to say. You are eager to learn from the student who herself is then given the power to teach you, the teacher. The adolescent loves to talk about herself. There is no more fascinating topic. There is nothing that she is better qualified to talk about. It is simply a matter of turning that conversation to writing, to what has been read. Listen and the child will talk. Talk and the child may listen.
In the hundreds of conversations I have had with teachers about writing, one or two may have discussed how much we are asking of our students when we ask them to write. When a person writes, and attempts to write with meaning and purpose, he is, in some form, confessing. Baring a piece of the soul. A very personal act. To write is to share, to share is to invite to criticism. We have to acknowledge this. A child who knows how to “play school” will write for any teacher, no matter how he feels about the teacher. But this writing will offer little of the writer. Little that is original and thoughtful will be offered.
Anyone who has spent a hour with an early adolescent knows that criticism cuts deep. It must be prefaced with love and understanding. To return to my earlier point, one way to show this love and understanding is to listen; not just to the spoken word but to the written. I hope to make this philosophy clear in the lessons I will share in future postings. I attempt to teach my students to work with each other in a similar way-open ears and closed mouths.
I am not tech savvy but I do know how to teach a early adolescent how to write and write well. My proof is the the feedback from teachers, parents, and students. Again, I will attempt to put up some examples and exemplars and any readers, however, few and far between they may be, can tell me otherwise. So forgive any clumsiness in my approach. And forgive my off topic wanderings. There may be many.