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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Setting up the Conditions for Excellence in Writing Instruction

This is my busiest time of year, as I'm sure it is for all of you, so I'll try to keep it short and sweet.

Here are more thoughts from Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children’s Writing, edited by Thomas Newkirk and Penny Kittle.

Graves wrote, “I didn’t realize until I wrote the introduction to Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle that good writing doesn’t result from any particular methodology.  Rather, the remarkable work of her students was a result of the conditions for learning she created in her classroom” (58, my underlining).

In a later essay in the book, titled “The Enemy is the Orthodoxy” (1984), Graves identifies nine made-up rules teachers create that hold thinking back.  For example, “Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are unimportant” (204).  He argues that when we set arbitrary maxims about writing in stone, we create “substitutes for thinking” that “clog our ears.” 

I love these two quotes because they remind me that there's no silver bullet to excellent writing instruction: there's no one portfolio method, graphic organizer, rubric, or five-paragraph essay that makes it easy to teach writing.  

Rather, we need to create the conditions: lots of good models, a good sense of humor, an abundance of flexibility, clear criteria for excellence, and have students write and write and write until they find their voices and effectively communicate.

Now, back to writing syllabi and preparing for summer reading assessment . . . 

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