How can I teach students that their voice matters?
The simple truth of the matter is that at some point, everyone has to write. Maybe it’s writing a paper or a dissertation. Maybe it’s a blog post. A letter. A grant proposal. A journal entry. A note for a roommate. Everyone has to write something at some point. Therefore, everyone has to know how to write.
It sounds simple enough. Put words together. Use correct punctuation. Share thoughts. At its very most basic level, that’s what writing is.
The truth of the matter though, is that writing is a lot more complicated than that. Sometimes there are a lot more rules.
So how does one teach writing?
The decision can be made to use mentor texts. These are texts that are in the style that is being taught that can be shared with students. They’re model texts. They show how one can write a poem or a personal narrative or a short story. They help to familiarize students with what they’ll be doing. They show different ways to set up the structure or use point of view or use figurative language. They can be a huge tool in a writer’s toolbox.
Break writing down into manageable chunks. Have students use planning sheets or create outlines. Have them put their piece of writing together piece by piece rather than all at once.
Make sure that students have checkpoints and deadlines, otherwise a piece of writing can be wildly out of control, and it might be too late to fix it. Have days where students and teachers can touch base. Have deadlines so that writing is making forward progress and isn’t stalling out.
Make writing accessible and something students can connect with. Writing in any form is about sharing stories. It’s about connecting with other people. Don’t make writing something that seems so academic students aren’t interested and can’t connect with it. Let students tell their stories. Set parameters for the form students should be writing in, but let them soar and tell their stories.
I don’t think there’s one right way to teach writing. Everyone uses different processes to write and be successful at writing. I think one of the most important things is giving students the space they need to find their voice.
Everyone has different writing styles. It’s part of what makes the world such an interesting place. No two people tell the same story the same way which I think is important. The world would be boring if everyone had the same writing style.
My writing style is vignettes. I like fitting different vignettes together and creating a story or essay that way. It’s what I’ve found through trial and error and a lot of writing works best for me. This isn’t the writing style I’m always able to write in, but it’s my preferred style and the one I naturally gravitate towards.
I talk about this because I believe that each and every students has their own unique writing style. Unfortunately, the school environment doesn’t always allow for students to discover and explore this. Writing in middle school and high school often has a lot of rules and structure surrounding it. Students are expected to write in MLA format, to write 5 paragraph essays, to learn the rules, follow the rules, and never ever break the rules.
Don’t get me wrong. The rules which often surround writing are important. Knowing these rules is important. Following the rules is important.
But they aren’t the be all end all of writing, and sometimes I wonder if these rules stifle creativity. It can be really difficult to always follow the rules of writing and they don’t allow for a lot of creative freedom. They don’t allow students to develop their voice, and everyone should at least have the option to develop their voice. Maybe we as teachers need to look for a way to provide more creative opportunities.
It’s just something to think about. Academic writing is really important and lays a good foundation for all future writing. I just think it’s also really important to allow students some time for soul searching and discovery through writing.
I like journaling. I think it can be a really powerful and important tool for students. It teaches them the power of words and writing, and it gives them a voice they may not have known they had. I also understand that free writing can be difficult for students, can get them off task or off topic, or simply might lead to results you never wanted. That’ where journal prompts enter the picture.
Here are a few things that are great about journal prompts:
- They give students something specific to write about.
- They allow you, the teacher, to control the conversation.
- They can lead to really great discussion.
- They’re a great entryway into class and what the lesson will be about.
Chances are, I could ramble on and on about why using journal prompts in your classroom is a good idea. I could certainly expand upon each of the prompts I just mentioned. But sometimes brief is the best way to go, the way to get the point best across.