Saturday, February 1, 2014

Creating Conditions--Beliefs about Teaching Writing

This week, my co-teacher, Jenny, and I asked the students in our Teaching Composition class to begin to envision themselves as teachers of writing, to establish their own “writing territories,” and to begin to formulate some thoughts about their future classrooms and the young writers who will grow there. 

We gave them this prompt: “On your blog: Post your own statement on what you think is important to the teaching of composition and how you foresee your own writing classroom.”

Of course, asking them to think about these things brought me back to my own notions of teaching writing. I often find myself referring to my experience as a teacher of high school English in order to help my students now, who are mostly pre-service teachers. Drawing from my awareness as a teacher and learner can provide insight and contextualize theory and research and can add an accessible voice to the conversations generated by the experts we read in class. My thinking about this prompt sent me into one of the many binders stowed away from my days in the high school classroom, and in it I found a version of a handout I gave to writing groups every year. The purpose of this handout was to introduce students to our classroom procedures for writing workshop, and, more importantly, it allowed me to articulate my beliefs about writing—in writing—for my students in a way that could frame instruction in my classroom.

 When I distributed this sheet to my classes (most recently in 2008) I believed—and I still believe:

Writing about a subject helps us learn and motivates us to learn
Writing about what we study has a practical payoff
Writing about what we study will develop all language skills
Writing about what we study will help us develop thought and educated opinions
You will be expected to write every day about a variety of relevant subjects
You will be given guidance and guidelines to follow
You will have helpful responses to your writing
You will be expected to provide helpful responses to others’ writing
You will have ample opportunities to share and publish your writing*

Looking backward and forward after having internalized years worth of research and reading (and having completed a dissertation about writing), I would add this:

Writing helps us know who we are and how we think
Writing gives us a way to find and articulate what we know
Writing cultivates a sense of awareness, observation, and wonder
Writing centers us deeply in the world

Calkins expresses that teachers in writing workshop create conditions for learning, and that “Writing can help those conditions by encouraging students to ask questions, to notice and wonder and connect and inspire,” and “to stay wide awake in life” (1986/1994, p. 484). The effective writing classroom, then, is a process space in which relationships grow, in which ideas grow, and which people grow together—and writing is a part of that growth process. Were I to go back to the high school classroom, these are the conditions I would hope to create, idealistic as they may be. For now, however, I will co-create them with other teachers, cultivating their growth and my own, writing and learning together.

*As a footnote, I should mention that these beliefs grew out of my own student experience in a teaching composition methods course taught by Dr. Gwen Rosenbluth sometime around 1999. Dr. Rosenbluth’s class changed fundamentally my understanding of myself as a writer and teacher of writing, and introduced me to the National Writing Project, which in turn shaped me more—from teacher to practicing writer and learner-leader.

Our students’ blogs, with their own writing statements, can be found on our motherblog.

Calkins, L. (1994). The art of teaching writing: New edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. (Original work published 1986)

1 comment:

Brooke King said...

This post puts words to the practices I've experienced in your classrooms. I think that for me, rich and meaningful writing only comes about when it has been fostered carefully and thoughtfully. I experience this whenever we write in your class.