Friday, December 28, 2007

Writers as Writing Teachers

I have always thought that teachers who were writers would make better writing teachers. As writers teachers would understand the difference between writing to a prompt - something that they had to think about on the spot - and writing from their heart about something they feel or remember or know lots about. As writers they would know, as author Jodi Picoult says, that you can edit something that is bad, but you can't edit a blank page. As writers, they would understand that if you just get started, the words do begin to flow. As writers, they would understand the sheer joy in editing something and making it sound like music. The problem has always been how to get teachers to write, if they were not already writers. As a literacy coach, I've done all the normal things, like giving teachers journals, or reading something that I knew would emit emotion and then having them write their responses or having them respond in a journal to a question and then asking them to read their response to a partner and sharing so that they would understand how it felt to their students. Teachers that already enjoyed writing loved these sessions and were usually proud of what they could write on the spur of the moment. Teachers who didn't really write hated them. Oh sure, sometimes they surprised themselves and wrote something that they liked, but mostly they just dreaded the professional development days when they were required to write. I never really turned a non-writer into a writer with those well-thought out professional development sessions...

Finally, I think I have found the vehicle that makes teachers really WANT to be writers, a way for them to get feedback, and a way for them to write for a real audience - blogging! Take Maria Mallon, for example. Maria is an exceptional Kindergarten teacher in every way. This year she decided to blog and she writes an entry several times a week - usually a single picture and an explanation of why the activity is important or the fun the children had. It's an on-line journal of the community life in her classroom. Her kids read it every day. Her kids' parents read it every day. The kids' extended families all over the world read it every day. Her peers read it every day. I read it every day! I can't wait to see what's going on in Maria's room. It's a benchmark for me to make sure I'm moving along with her. Of course, I drop by her room all the time, but the blog entries tell me even more - things I might not have seen when I drop in. But more than that, Maria's own writing gets better and better. She may have already been a good writer before she started blogging, but now she knows she has a limited space to get an important message across. Her entries are thoughtful and entertaining. They teach. Through blogging she has really found her voice. Over this holiday break she wrote our Florida Congressmen because there has been talk of eliminating National Board money, and she believes going through the National Board process made her a better teacher. Would she have written that letter if she had not had so much success with writing on her blog? Would she have had the same confidence? I don't know, but I know that as I read her letter, I could clearly hear her remarkable voice. She is doing all that I would ever hope that a writing teacher would do - she writes. Blogging may not be for every teacher but it certainly is a way for teachers of writing to enter the international conversation...

2 comments:

Mathew said...

I think you point to the problem with teaching writing which is that most teachers don't think of themselves as writers, even despise writing.

I'm a guest host for a blog feature called "Day in a Sentence" which asks teachers to boil down their week or day in just a sentence. It's not intimidating, it's fun, and yet it gets teachers to practice writing.

Please visit my blog on or after 1/2/08 to participate.

twowritingteachers said...

I think blogging has revolutionized my teaching, especially my teaching of writing.

--Stacey from the Two Writing Teachers Blog