Friday, December 16, 2005
The neglected power of language
Teacher sharing student's writing. And in a room that celebrates student creativity
Until students realize that telling stories, and writing them out, is about power and personal identity, why should they bother? It is just too much like hard work!
As a result today too many students really like to write for writings sake. It is something they only do if the teachers ask (or really makes) them do. And I can’t blame them, as writing is at best, a laborious job - that is, unless you get something out of it. No wonder we have so many students who do poorly at reading and possibly worse at writing.
This is a shame because all students have countless stories to tell and love sharing them – that is until they realize that the teacher is not really interested. All too often writing is just a task given to students while others read. And, as a result, many students lose the opportunity to appreciate the power of their ‘voice’, and the importance of their own experience. As a result the stories they hold in their heads about themselves, that make them special, are lost.
When teachers really value the thoughts and feeling of young children they then unleash an amazing source of power. Such teachers teach students that their ideas ‘count’ and that they are unique.
And , as a result, students, who profess to be non writers, become ‘born again’ writers. And they are soon keen to learn, with a little help from a sensitive teacher, how to make their writing even more expressive.
For young children thoughts can be ‘scribed’ out for them by adults who need to do their best to capture the feelings the children are expressing. Often, with reluctant writers, a few guiding question help students develop more powerful ideas. With experience, they soon want to write their own stories by hand, or to use the word processor, and because it is their work, they learn to appreciate the need to sort out spelling and grammar. As a bonus their vocabulary expands tremendously as they learn to love the sound of words.
And, of course, they want to read their own writing to enjoy the attentiveness and appreciation of their peers. Sharing writing with parents makes it even more powerful and, if placed on the school website, it is available for everyone to read. At this point students also become aware of aesthetic design and see the need to include their very best hand drawn illustrations to make their writing even more impressive. They, with encouragement, will soon become connoisseurs of the illustrations in children’s books and school journals.
And as for reading, once they see their own lives celebrated, and see the connection between their writing and that of ‘real’ authors, reading is just something people do.
Now there is nothing new in all of this, but it is more than ‘whole language’, or ‘child centred learning’ – it is ‘personalized’ learning. Teachers are not ‘teaching’ reading, writing and spelling through ‘themes’ but are focused entirely on helping each learner to realize their potential as an authentic writer, reader – and proof reader.
As mentioned, there is nothing new in such personalized learning but with the current obsession with reading achievement it is time to reintroduce it again. The work of Elwyn Richardson and Sylvia Ashton Warner led the way in New Zealand in the 50s. Creative teachers have since continued their focus haven’t fallen into the trap of low level centres of interest, or teaching reading divorced from the need to write, or worse still phonics.
There are several articles on our site which elaborate the process.