Writing should be magic. Magic that we all have inside us. Magic to transport and magic to transform.
But, by week 9 in an incredibly busy school year, that is not what it feels like to me, or to my students. Instead, for many, writing has become a cage of rules and restrictions. They believe it is their weakness rather than their strength. They have become paralyzed by red ink and rubrics.
I can’t help but feel that at least part of this is my fault. Or the fault of our current state of education. In the past several weeks I have torn apart my AP students first rhetorical analysis essay and have started prepping my 10th graders for a mandated 5 paragraph essay.
This is certainly not the only writing that we do in my classroom, but when our students are judged on their SAT writing scores and AP Exams, it sometimes feels like the powers that be think that academic writing is the only kind that matters. For the first several years of my teaching career, it was the only kind of writing that mattered to me as well.
I’ve realized, though, that all writing matters for my students. I want them to leave my classroom with a breath of new life from writing, rather than feeling exhausted by it.
My classroom has been transformed by mentor text writing and imitation pieces. My AP students have imitated pieces like “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid and this Huffington Post piece by Emily Mandel. We analyze and imitate sentences several days a week. And, although these tools can’t always make their way into our formal academic writing, I have seen their style and voice shine once again.
This week, for the national day on writing, I decided to put away my red pen, and instead rekindle our love of words.
We started off with this quickwrite: What is the importance of language? Is reading valuable? Is writing valuable? Why? What are your meaningful experiences with reading or writing?
We talked for a few moments about writing. What we loved, what we hated, and what we missed. We talked about the stories that we wrote as little kids, unafraid of grammar, or of plot holes. We talked about the days that we had gotten lost in stories.
We searched through #whyIwrite on twitter. We looked at eloquent and simple statements about the power of writing in this article.
My next challenge was for my students to write their own #whyIwrite tweet. Their statement could be no more than 140 characters (old twitter rules provide a good challenge for brevity). It had to be concise, clear, and creative.
Here are a few of my favorites written by my students this year:
“I write to breathe, I write to love wholly, and I write to discover myself.”
“Writing empties my mind, it allows me to feel at peace. I write to remember.”
“I write to escape. I write to remember. I write to forget.”
“I write to feel. I write to feel like myself again. I write to love. I write to love who I am.”
“I write to ease the pain. I write to find a purpose.”
After this discussion and short assignment, we spent some time reading and discussing a few mentor pieces.
I started off with “Someone is writing a poem” by Adrienne Rich. This one was a bit of a challenge in its complexity, but her language was worth it. We discussed all of the things that writing is not, as well as what it is.
Rich writes the following in her essay:
“I can’t write a poem to manipulate you; it will not succeed. Perhaps you have read such poems and decided you don’t care for poetry; something turned you away. I can’t write a poem from dishonest motives; it will betray its shoddy provenance, like an ill-made tool, a scissors, a drill, it will not serve its purpose, it will come apart in your hands at the point of stress. I can’t write a poem simply from good intentions, wanting to set things right, make it all better; the energy will leak out of it, it will end by meaning less than it says.”
Writing is incredibly personal, yet incredibly social and Rich captures this so well.
Then, we took a brief look at a simple piece from Thought Catalogue. Biakolo’s piece offered tools of repetition. Her statements offered some thoughtful, down to earth insight about why we choose to write.
After spending two days re-embracing the power and beauty of words, my students wrote a 300-word reflection about Why they wrote. They used tools from our mentor pieces (Rich, Biakolo, Salfia, and me) and got “in the feels” about being writers and readers.
I always love the results of this assignment. Some write a sad treatise on how much school has destroyed their love of writing, but many share beautiful stories of how words have changed them. They tell me of mom reading a bed time story, or of their favorite summer memory of writing and doodling for hours. Given, a few are simply appealing to their English teacher audience, but I have to think that most of their words are real. They remember the magic.
Jailyn W finished her essay with these sentences:
“See, I don’t write for others, no I write for myself, but I sure do hope that along the way: someone cries the same tear that I wrote, someone laughs the same laugh that sparked my paragraph, someone looks out for the same monster that made me write page 37 in my journal, and most importantly, I hope that someone along the way writes for the same reason that I write”.
Maybe writing is still magic after all.
WVCTE is wondering, what do you to rekindle love of writing? What are you doing for the National Day on writing? Reach out to us on Facebook or on twitter @wvcte.
Jeni Gearhart is a member of the WVCTE Executive committee and has been teaching at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County for the past 7 years. She is a graduate of Grove City College in Western Pennsylvania. Though not a WV native, she loves to call this place her home, especially since recently becoming a first-time homeowner. Currently she teaches AP English Language and 10th grade Honors. Jeni loves books and coffee and exploring new places. If given a million dollars, it would probably be spent buying more books, or perhaps a pet unicorn.