Some Advice for Allowing Your Young Writers to Flourish
By Sr. Margaret M. Langer, IHM
It was an early summer morning as sunlight streamed into a classroom where four sets of enthusiastic young eyes met the eyes met the eyes of interested teachers almost double the number of students. This would be a daunting environment for most young students, but not for the talented young writers that sat before us. We neared the end of the Maryland Writing Project’s Summer Institute; this was the day we, fellows of the 2009 Maryland Writing Project, would have the opportunity to learn from student writers. I sat with a list of questions before me – the answers to which I hoped would give me an insight into the makings of young writers. As I listened to the writing they shared, I observed their enthusiasm, reflecting upon the answers they provided to the questions I posed as well as those of my Maryland Writing Project fellows. The responses of these young people were truthfully shared and they gave me an insight into the mind of a developing writer. It was that experience on that summer day that compelled me to write this letter.
Young writers enthusiastic about developing their skills want both direction and freedom in their learning experiences. They know that hidden within their young lives is a wealth of ideas that can grow from a simple object or daily routine of life. The young writer want to develop the idea when it feels right but realizes that sometimes it is hard to get started. That’s when the writer wants you to be close by to assist in the initiation of the writing. Ask the student questions. Provide some direction but give the child freedom to develop an idea as a truly unique author. If your students get started and then find trouble along the way, be there for them to jump in and help them out of their difficulty. Don’t stifle their thoughts or try to make them match your thoughts. Young writers need to make choices from the very beginning of their experiences in writing. They need to take the responsibility for their choices and for the writing that flows from them. Allow yourself to be surprised by what they produce! Find the valuable seeds in their work and nurture those seeds carefully.
We all know that a curriculum is a very important guide. We know that it exists as insurance that each student will receive an education encompassing the skills deemed necessary by state and/or local school districts. It can build upon a student’s experiences and broaden the students or it can limit the learning experience to expected outcomes. In the teaching of writing, the important key is you, the teacher. If you adhere to a planned curriculum without any creativity or individual adaptation, the young writer before you can become frustrated and abandon their interest in writing. But if you can use the curriculum as a map and expand it, broaden it, modify it according to the needs of each student, your young writers can grow and ripen their skills. You will have given each of your students an invaluable gift! Find ways to be faithful to the expectations of your school district while allowing your students to write what they like. Set up tasks enabling the students to work with partners if that will help your struggling students. Do whatever you need to do to cultivate the interest of the young writers that sit before you. Be attentive to the individual needs of each one. Use individual conferences to instruct your students in their next steps.
Young writers are little people with open minds, ripe to learn. They are confident that if you get them started and give them some basic guidelines, ideas will pop up/ They need time to develop these emerging ideas and to explore their skills. They want and need time to practice this craft that can appear very overwhelming at times. A daily free writing opportunity is one way to give them the time they need!
How fortunate we are to be able to initiate students into the world of writing! How awesome is our responsibility to encourage these students as they begin their journey of becoming authors! In the months ahead, I encourage you to get in touch with your own inner voice through writing. Notice what you like about writing and what you shy away from as you write. Use your own experiences to better understand your students. Adapt your lessons to their needs and their learning styles. Young writers desperately need you to provide just the right blend of support and freedom as they set out in search of their own inner voice. This newly discovered treasure is a unique gift that has great potential. Trust yourself, trust your students, and trust the process of writing! Watch your students’ abilities unfold as they practice the skill of writing. It takes time to develop good writing skills but you will not be disappointed. Your contributions to your students will be priceless!
Sincerely, A Fellow Teacher
Sister Margaret M. Langer, IHM, is auditory teacher to students who are deaf or hard of hearing at Rock Creek Valley Elementary School, Rockville, MD.
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