Sunday, July 12, 2009

Writing for the World

Notebooks and backpacks are already on the racks in seasonal store displays. Summer is speeding toward the start of a new school year. With summer quickly coming to a close, literature and writing teachers around the country are busy putting together lesson plans for the coming school year. Then, as quickly as the semester begins, it will close, and as teachers we hope that we have prepared our students well for the task ahead – writing well for their next new teacher. However, our ultimate goal as language and literature teachers is not merely showing our students how to ace an essay test or how to quickly complete a research assignment; it’s not even to prepare them for the work force or college. Instead, as writer and teacher Lesley Roessing suggests, when we teach literature and writing, we are helping our students find connections to the larger world. As Roessing so eloquently states, it is through their writing that students discover “there is seldom them; it is more commonly us.” Therefore, the teaching of writing and reading should call us to put our greatest energies into the endeavor of helping our students understand themselves and their relation to the world around them through writing. This is especially critical in a World Literatures classroom like the one in which I teach. The language arts classroom is one in which students discover and shape who they are. This process begins with appreciating literature and extends to writing it.

As teachers we do not enter the practice of teaching writing as the formality of handing down some sort of “expert” knowledge to our young students. After all, there is no one correct way of learning to read or to write as evidenced by the hundreds of books written on the theory of writing, each one either contradicting or adding to the last. Instead, we must help our students see themselves as writers from the beginning and provide for them a safe place in which to bring their personal understandings and expressions into the classroom. As Pamela Gay suggests in her text Developing Writers: A Dialogic Approach, as teachers we must create opportunities for our students to be writers at work instead of victims of their prior writing instruction and backgrounds. She goes on to suggest that as teachers we must encourage our students to “play an active role in their own development by first locating themselves historically as writers.” We need to help our students think about their personal writing histories in order for them to continue to grow and learn from their writing experiences. We must enable our students to first think of themselves as writers.

In the coming weeks, this is a theme that I would like to explore more in depth and welcome your thoughts and feedback. How do we create authentic writing experiences for our students? How do we encourage students to explore and find their voice in writing? How do we encourage students to think of themselves as writers?
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