When I was a student teacher, I remember one veteran teacher saying, “Well, the truth is that some students will never really become good writers. They’re just tone deaf.” As I’ve continued to grow and develop as a teacher of writing, I just don’t buy it.
English is a discussion-based class. I want students to interact with what we read and, ultimately, to craft their own interpretations. The class of my dreams involves discussion, debate, questioning, the great back-and-forth that leaves everyone leaning forward in their seat, their eyes completely alive.
But in almost every class, some students learn to lean back, allowing someone else to grapple with a particular concept or tricky passage. It’s easier, safer to listen. Truth be told, I’m like this too.
In my teaching career, I’ve learned so much about teaching writing—but little of that knowledge came from an educational book. Most of what I’ve learned has been through hard-won experience, through assignments and techniques that bombed and then through tweaking and tweaking until I finally created something successful.
And so much of what I’ve learned about writing has boiled down to this: students must care deeply about what they’re writing.
Caring deeply is relatively easy with a creative piece or poetry or memoir. But with analytical writing, it’s harder. When I started teaching analytical writing, I chose assignments that allowed students to use a highly-structured five-paragraph essay format with prompts like, “Write about three significant symbols in Lord of the Flies” or “Analyze the three most important film elements that the director uses in Of Mice and Men.” Yes, these essays were well-organized, but students rarely cared deeply about them.
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Here’s to that classroom magic.