Thursday, September 14, 2006

The power of personal writing

  A well designed example of a year 8 student's work.At this school all students develop a journal that they take home at the end of their time at school.Something to be proud of. Posted by Picasa

I have always believed that personal writing is one of the most important activities in a classroom if teachers want to develop an insight into students out of school lives.

If it is done sensitively the process allows teachers to develop open trusting relationships with each class member. If it is to be successful the teacher really needs to value the ideas of his or her students otherwise it becomes just another imposed activity which students will soon tire of.

The most important reason of all lies within the students own consciousness by developing, in their minds, a strong sense of identity and self worth – and hopefully an identity as a writer. If done well students will come to appreciate the power of writing as both a means of expressing important ideas and to gain the respect of others.

A simple process to use could be:

Ask the students to think of an event in their past (or the weekend) that made them laugh, scared, delighted – a good story. If this is new process for the class share some small event that attracted your attention and share with them. You might like to share something with the class from your own childhood or simply a small observation you might have noticed in the environment.

The point you want to make is that you want from them is a few thoughts about a small felt experience rather than another long boring story. This is a chance to develop the idea of quality or excellence in their minds.

Before writing anything get the students to list ( or 'mindmap') a few possibilities for stories and then to select the best one. Get them to think about what they were thinking, what exactly happened, when the events selected occurred. Possibly get them to share their stories orally in small groups.

This might be all you can do on day one – the ideal is to produce a finished copy by Thursday for sharing on Friday.

Before students start to write you might discuss some ideas to keep in mind (I guess called criteria today).For example: pretend you are back in the situation and to write as if you were there; start with a powerful sentence not, ‘Last week’; use words to make good 'word picture'; or think of a title for your writing before you begin that does not give the story away.

Students then draft out their ideas while the teachers go around (to students in most need first) helping students to value their own ‘voice’ by asking questions about what happened etc. Students have to learn to recognise a 'good story'.

When drafts are completed the finished copies can begin, either by hand or on the computer.

If students have been taught how to developed ‘focused’ illustrations these may be added (or even digital photos). Children can study illustrations in school journals for inspiration and also to develop page design ideas.

When finished students can share their writing in groups and the teacher might like to ask selected students to read their stories to the class. It will be important for students to know that they have the right to keep some of their more personal stories to themselves and only to be shared in confidence with the teacher. Teachers might also like to share ‘minor excellences’ that students have written that might otherwise be lost in the total story.

Teachers should select work to be read that celebrates the diversity of student 'style and voice'.

One a term, or so, students can choose work to be compiled into a class book to be sent home to share with parents. Work can also be published on the school website.

Over time a community of writers will develop and some stories will become class favourites. And the process of writing will also contribute to reading development – reading their own writing allows them to see themselves as authors. Sharing adult stories during language time is another way to provide inspiration.

Best of all the students will appreciate the power of story telling and writing.

Some students may even become writers.

The process is outlined on our website and, as well, there are themes to inspire students.

A process

For young students



Anonymous said...

Personal writing is, as you say, an important aspect of a true child centred classroom.

Sam Grumont said...

I loved the journal.

I think the key to success with assisting students to write well is to provide the 'just right' amount of support, usually called scaffolding. I often use a similar process to the one described with students and one thing we do is write three opening sentences and share these to get feedback on which one works best.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Greetings Sam

Great to get some feedback from Aussie! Helping students as you say is the ultimate creative act - - 'providing just the right amount'.

Anonymous said...

All learning is about power - the power of writing is one such power. Good stuff. At school many students learning power is diminished or subverted.