Teaching Teachers of Writing…

This seems like such an easy task–interacting with educated people who have the same goals and love kids and the work they do. But, as I plan the summer workshops I’ll do with a group of teachers I keep getting stuck.

It’s not that I don’t have the content at my fingertips. Planning writing workshops, making sure that all aspects of grammar  and writing conventions are addressed in the course of actually allowing kids to write is not the problem.

But on paper, it’s flat and lifeless. The art of teaching writing is in bringing content that’s so easily laid out in black in white to life with and for the kids.

To make writing meaningful, so that all the stuff that kids are tested on actually matters to them in their lives requires the intangible stuff. Teachers have to find a way to love what they’re doing even if they don’t. Writing isn’t easy for adults. Staring at the blank sheet or monitor can be intimidating for anyone. How do I teach adults to love writing, themselves, to share their writing life with the students as part of the process?

Well, part of the solution is to engage the teachers in writing. I know these people, but most of the work I’ve done with them so far has revolved around reading instruction with only spurts dedicated to writing. I have no idea if any or all of them write for pleasure, hate writing, see it as a useful tool to be mastered and tracked with check lists, if they are poets or can’t get enough time to write nonfiction, or if the extent of what they compose can be boiled down to lesson plans. And believe it or not, that matters in terms of instructing others.

So, as I help them shape instruction for the students–I’ll have to find a way to sell the idea that they need to write, to model real writing, their writing, and that in the end the students will find magic in the process and maybe they will too (maybe they already do).

I’m not sure I’m that good.

But, I think I can do it. 

And so we’ll see.

4 thoughts on “Teaching Teachers of Writing…

  1. Good for you, Kathie, and good luck on this! I had to teach writing once, though to non-native speakers of English. It was hard work keeping them within the parameters of grammatical expression and still encouraging them to be creative and play around with language. Some of the compositions they came up with were priceless, and I kept copies of them for years.

    Where are your knees? I came here in search of your knees!

  2. Hey Mary, my knees are on hiatus…maintaining weight loss, no more, but no gain, and no pics because I’m completely swamped with out of office life stuff–meaning kid stuff with no babysitting…will have knees soon and thanks for asking!

  3. Maybe because I work in the technical world, but where writing is required I’ve always gone with “stream of conscience mode”. I don’t think you can really teach creativity per se, be it writing or design, but you can ground them in the fundamentals. Their being teachers makes it all the harder; “who is she to tell me how to teach?”.

    Is it just me, or has your blog become a spam magnet of late?

  4. Kathie:

    This is Justin (the Untalented Writer, Becky’s husband) and here are a few suggestions if it isn’t already too late to do any good.

    Walk the teachers through several of your all-time writing exercises. Teach them by way of example, but most importantly, teach them that writing is vital by having them write.

    I love Peter Elbow’s “Free Writing” where you force them to write for fifteen minutes with no preparation, no specific topic. The only rule is they have to keep writing. Play some music while they write. About every five minutes urge them to write faster and faster, begin to neglect grammar and neatness—just get as many words down as possible. They should even write “I don’t know what to write” over and over if need be. After, have them count up their words. Have them circle phrases and ideas they liked. Spend time developing those thoughts into something coherent no more than a page.

    After, have them do the same for their students. For writing students, it will prove that the number of words is really an imaginary road block.

    Another exercise is to have them tell a story from their past. Letthem write at their own pace for 20 minutes. After, have them count up the words. Then they have to write the same story with half the words they used in their first draft. This exercise is an immediate way to get anyone to focus on editing.

    A third is really fun. You’ve all had the assignment to write your own obituary, right? Tell your teachers to have their students write the teacher’s obituary. Teachers have to have a thick skin about this one, but this one opens up the imagination like crazy. Students love making fun of their teachers, and if given the chance, will come alive.

    If you want to talk strategy, let me know. Teaching writing is always a bear, and teaching how to teach writing is even more difficult.

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