When I think back about why I wanted to become a teacher, I remember an ambition I had to make a difference in the lives of others. A want to share my passion for the books that I loved. A desire to help people express themselves in new and powerful ways. These are ideals that I still hold after twelve years of teaching, amid different political landscapes and ever-changing initiatives.
So, when I asked our blog editor for some topics to write about, I was taken aback by one of his suggestions: Can beautiful (or good) writing be taught?
Of course! I immediately thought. What kind of a reading and writing workshop teacher would I be if I didn’t believe this, deep in my heart?
Practice and Feedback
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
– Vince Lombardi
I believe that the first thing you need to carve out and protect in your classroom is deliberate writing practice, coupled with feedback from an expert. An expert, as Penny Kittle reminds us, need only be a teacher who is a little bit better at writing than a student.
Logging practice time in writing is important and necessary for getting all of the ideas out, but it is only the first step; teachers are only as good as the feedback they give to student writers, and feedback in the moment of writing is always the gold standard.
“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
– Raymond Chandler
Teaching and encouraging revision are also necessary components to the writing classroom. Modeling revision in your own writing shows students how to mine their writing for rocks, and how to polish these rocks into gems.
Penny Kittle talks about taking photos of your writing work, which shows students the revision process in action. This also helps students to recognize that it is in small changes to our writing that we learn to get better.
Learning through Mimicry
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
– Charles Caleb Colton
Recognizing, naming, and even copying good writing are all important pieces in the quest to shape good writers.
Using mentor texts is one way to help students read like writers. Another way is to look at student writing samples, select the best as models, and then go through a process of naming what is good in that writing, as Ron Berger from Expeditionary Learning suggests.
A paramount exercise for any student is to notice an author’s craft and imitate good writers. This can mean inviting students to “copy change,” compose sentences, or keep a notebook of favorite lines from books they’ve read.
Practice, Practice, Practice
“The writer’s secret is not inspiration – for it is never clear where it comes from – it is his stubbornness, his patience.”
– Orhan Pamuk
Student writers need to realize that good writing comes less from talent and more from repeated practice. And teachers of writing need to remember that good writers can be guided with deliberate practice and teacher modeling.
Caroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for twelve years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent literacy consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She has a BA in English from Michigan State University and a Masters in the Art of Teaching Reading from Oakland University. She lives in Berkley with her husband and their two year old daughter.