Taken from a painting of Kapiti Island at Sunset.
by Sonia Savage.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lost - One Red Pen.

Once upon a time... I was bored out of my brain by the tedious writing students in my classroom engaged in.  I thought I had to read every word they wrote - because that's what good teachers did. Right? Wrong!

Once upon a time... while I was reading every piece of draft writing I sat there with a red pen and proofed all their writing for them - again because I thought that's what good teachers did.  Ouch!  Of course in some classrooms you may still see this long line of students all waiting to meet with their teacher, waiting for the red pen to do the work for them.

Over time my approach to writing has changed, and mainly I think it is with the advent of technology that this has come about. Firstly because of the tools it provides for students to use and secondly because of the professional development available online through places like Twitter and teachers sharing their ideas in their blogs or websites.  Today I came across this idea on @dogtrax's blog of the six word sentence summer memoirs he did with his class- love it. I am filing that idea away to use, probably at the start of next year.

I am the kind of person who often buys books to glean more ideas on writing. I buy too many and should really buy less and read more in depth the books I do buy - but that's another story!  At the moment I am reading 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know by Jeff Anderson. I found out about this book on Twitter and Goodreads and so of course I wanted to read it!  I have read the first chapter now and really liked it.  For a start I love all the little quotes that pepper the margins.  Jeff Anderson's ideas in the first chapter actually are quotable as well.

His first chapter is titled Motion.  That's because every writer needs to get going.  On Friday I stopped beside a student who was looking somewhat distressed about what he might write during Daily Five.  I chatted with him but we didn't come up with any acceptable ideas - to him.  Eventually I said to him for today how about making two lists: one of all the things you love and one of all the things you hate. An idea I had used once before as a writer's notebook prompt in 2011, an idea gleaned from Lori Jamison Rog in her book, Marvellous Mini Lessons for Teaching Intermediate Writing, Grades 4-6.   I got a smile and the eyes began to show life and I knew by next week we would have some things he might develop as a writing piece.

Jeff Anderson shares some ideas for power writing and I look forward to trying them out with my class.  
He says - "If we start spilling words on the page or computer screen, magically, writing gets completed. We have only to move our thoughts from our mind to the page".  (Page 9)  He offers power writing as one way to facilitate that sense of freedom with words.  I want to have my students excited and happy to write, not seeing it as an exercise or chore.

As Jeff Anderson states writing has the power to explore our thinking and it can enable us to be heard - truly heard.  The writer needs to believe that what they have to say is unique and valuable and that as  we explore, make mistakes, develop our skills we are building writing muscle.  I think that's partly why I no longer mark or even read every piece of writing of every student in my class.  However what I do read, firstly I respond to the message.  I want to honour what they have written and respond to that.

Oddly enough I rarely get to read boring writing these days.  If a student is taking a piece of writing through to publishing I expect them to have thought about it first themselves, discussed it with a writing buddy and then come to share it with me.  I like to sit with my eyes closed and listen as they read it to me.  The red pen is gone!  We then discuss the writing and decide what might happen next with the piece.  With many of my students they do their own editing and proofing.  There are some who I need to sit down with and guide them through the changes they need to make if they want to make it understandable for their reader.

In this first chapter the author points out the importance of positive feedback, it is so easy to put a writer off.  I often think of a toddler beginning to walk, we encourage and applaud and smile at every effort. So why not when they are learning to write as well?  He gives 7 tips for providing feedback and one I particularly like is, "Model what you want them to do as writers, rather than correcting what you don't. For learning, positive trumps negative. Period."  In other words don't put them off the joy of writing.

Sitting down and starting does mean you are highly likely to end with a piece of writing! As Jeff Anderson says at the end of this chapter, "And sometimes all we have to do is begin and the words keep coming."  I can agree with that!  I have a post to publish.

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