Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Why I taught creative writing in my peculiar way

on 1993 February 1

I work with seventh grade students on writing this to record my methods and teachers. creative writing, and I am discoveries for other teachers.

My circumstances are perhaps unusual: I volunteer one day per week in a public school, and work with three whole classes, out of the five seventh-grade classes (100 students) at the school. My goal was not to work with 20 students at a time, but maybe 10; however, I was only given the option of all-or-nothing. The school I work in, like most, is in a funding crisis. Their classes are segregated both by academic strength and language (Hatian and English).

My method centers on learning to write through practice and feedback. Basically, they write something each class period, and then have the chance to share it and get feedback in two ways. First, they may read it aloud or have someone else read it aloud (or to themselves) during the last ten minutes of class. Or, they may turn it in and I will read it and possibly write a comment about it in response. I encourage them to give me everything to read unless it is just too personal, and they usually do.

My comments are quite restricted: I do not allow myself to point out negatives, to suggest improvements, to correct grammar or spelling mistakes, or to write on the student’s paper. I usually type on a separate sheet, and try to name all the especially positive things or noticable or unusual things about their work. I respond both to their style and to khat they are saying, often explaining how their style, choice of words, structure, etc. contributes to the meaning that comes across. I list what I liked about it, never pretending to be an authority on overall quality.

Normally I leave their paper just as they wrote it, in order to respect their intellectual property even if I don’t like it. In certain cases, I make suggestions or correct errors if I know that the student wants this. Students learning English probably appreciate corrections since they are actively learning the language, but native speakers may take the correction as a sign of having a deficiency or feel judged or guilty about it. Native speakers often use grammar that is different from textbook English. Although they should know that speaking textbook English may help them in situations such as getting a job, their own language is appropriate for creative writing.

I have several rules:

  • be quiet
  • write something
  • do not write about other people in the school without permission

The first rule – be quiet people in the school w/o permission is difficult to enforce because creativity inspires expression, often verbal, and responding with punishment may stifle with seventh graders creativity.

The writing is always open to their ideas, but usually I help with a writing topic suggestion at the beginning of class, and/or by reading a selection from a book or something I wrote. In addition, there are specify: exercises I use. A1l these ideas are listed separately following this article.

The purpose of teaching creative writing is to give the opportunity for students to release their internal sources of ideas, views, information and identities from the repressive fabric of their lives. I believe that each person is capable of directing their own life from a deep personal sense of what is right, and that each person ought to have the chance to do this. Unfortunately I find it almost universal in this place and time that children are denied the respect that is required to grow into an independent and psychologically healthy person. My view is that most people eventually adjust to some way of life that works, but few are strong enough to be prepared for physical adulthood when they reach that age.

By writing freely without judgment or grades, but with encouragement and feedback, the student may experience something like Freudian therapy. The therapy’s is not usually about some big problem in their life, and it doesn’t try to fix anything. It just stimulates positive growth. The essential element in the feedback is honesty: as the teacher, I must honestly explain how the writing struck me personally, and try to explain why I think it struck me that way. (In other words, exactly which words or other qualities were responsible for my getting the impression I got from it?) From this information, the student can see how they are, and infer who they are. The benefits of non-judgmental comments are specifically:

  • What the student says is taken seriously, so they may feel more dignity simply for that reason. (Often, teachers do not grade on ”content” so they don’t even take note of it, as if their only goal is to teach certain writing forms and grammar.)
  • What the student says is reflected back so they can see what they said, and they can tell if they are making any sense or if they meant to say what actually got communicated. They can then adjust their self-perception or communication to be in greater control of their expression.
  • The action of writing and later reflection of it may free up other associated ideas from the repressed state.
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