Some writing teachers are a whole lot better writers than they are listeners. The more experience I gain as a teacher of writing, the less confident I am about what I think I know. If someone had clued me into this reality when I began teaching over twenty years ago, I might have been discouraged. Now I know enough to embrace the uncertainty and to listen to my students.
This revelation humbles me in ways that keep me young, and it ignites my curiosities as well. I’ll never be an expert, but I’m learning how to seek them out, and the discoveries I’m making have a profound effect on my teaching.
Following are the five most powerful things I’ve been told about my practice by the only experts I’ve ever met in the field: the writers I strive to teach. These statements have made me ponder the impact students can have on all writing teachers, if we just ask them what they think.
5 statements for writing teachers
1-Today’s mini-lesson wasn’t helpful, but I’m afraid that revealing this will offend you. Trust that I know what I need and that your curriculum may not be delivering. Don’t take it personally when your assumptions about this are way off-base, either. Respect me enough to ask for my input here. I’ll respect you much more in return.
2-Your constant praise feels a little condescending. Your feedback lets me know that you’re really thinking about my work, though. This makes me feel like a writer. I know you work hard to improve your lessons. If you improve the quality of your feedback and make more time to talk with me, I know this would matter more.
3-Your prompts are kinda lame. Writers need a variety of catalysts, and we to need discover them on our own. Rather than giving me a prompt, invite me to live like a writer. Show me how to see the world differently. Encourage me to argue and play, to use my senses in unexpected ways, to take risks and do things that scare me a little. Help me find my voice by asking me to share my opinion about controversial things that really matter. Show me how you are living a life worth writing about rather than assuming that I don’t.
4-Drafting helps me brainstorm, but you never let me start this way. My process isn’t linear. It looks nothing like that cute poster you downloaded from the Internet, and my work suffers when you teach it this way. I’d love it if you would simply watch me closely as I dive into a new project. You’d learn a lot about how I write best. Ask me to draw or describe my writing process some time. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.
5-I know you hate paper, but that’s how I prefer to draft. I like markers and sticky notes and white boards too. I like to map my stories across a table. I like to doodle too. My friends have their own preferences. Some like to sit and type quietly, but others like stand and move and talk. I’d love it if you gave all of us some time to show and tell about the materials and tools we prefer to use rather than telling us what’s best. We could learn a lot about ourselves by listening and watching one another.
These statements from students help writing teachers reflect on their practices, which makes them better which, ultimately, makes young writers better.
Have you asked your students to open up about your instruction? How did it change you? Be sure to let us know.
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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.