6 Things to Consider at the Start of the Writing Process

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Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/8s4PDi

It’s 5:15 am on a Tuesday morning, and my day is beginning in its usual fashion–quietly. Everyone else is still asleep. I relish this part of my day. I’m tempted to open my email inbox first but instead I sign into  Twitter and scroll through the updates from educators I follow there.

Several people are sharing their thoughts about how the writing process is changing, wondering why it’s happening. They are sharing how their own practices are changing as a result. Or not. My head is full of new questions, and I share a few as I take the few last bites of my breakfast.

Before I close the page, I catch this tweet: “Is it possible to teach writing well if your students aren’t aware of what’s possible now? If they aren’t publishing online?”

I start to reply, but I’m not quite sure how to respond.

The question continues to follow me around all morning.

It’s 12:30 pm that same afternoon, and I’m sitting beside the members of the Kenan Arts Council in Lockport, New York. They’ve asked me to join them for lunch and talk with them a bit about the WNY Young Writers’ Studio, a writing community I founded.

Some of the people in the room are retired teachers, but most are not. Many of them are parents, like me. Some are even grandparents. They want to know more about technology. They are excited and intimidated by the possibilities.

“Tell us some stories about what kids do with computers at Studio,” one of them presses; so, I do.

“What if teachers don’t care about these possibilities? Whatever happened to pen and paper? Does that not matter anymore?”
I tell them about Dan, about how he hated school, hated writing, and hated that his mother made him come to Studio. I tell them about the stop motion video he made with another friend. I tell them how I didn’t teach him how to do this, but that he learned what he needed to from another Studio fellow who was three years younger than Dan.

“That kid also hated school, hated writing, and hated that his mother made him come to Studio,” I grinned. “They’re happy to be hanging out with us now though,” I assure them. It had nothing to do with me.

“They taught me that storytelling isn’t just about text anymore,” I suggest. Then, I show them what I mean

“This is Sam,” I continue, projecting the first slide of his digital story onto the wall. They giggle in response. His story is about an alien. He chose to play the part himself and design his own costume. His pictures are compelling. His story doesn’t have any text, though.

It doesn’t need it.

“Sam does not like to sit still, and when we make him, he tells us that he has a hard time concentrating. So when Sam came to Studio, we made sure he was never sitting. The first thing that he wanted to do was write this digital story,” I explain. “Then, he invented a game that can be played inside the arena here at the Kenan Center. He’s publishing this game now. We’ll be playing it at our writing celebration this spring, and he’ll tape it. Then, he’ll share that video and the game with others who want to play it too.”

“How?” someone asks.

“On the web. His teacher uses Twitter in the classroom.”

Their eyes widen. Some are smiling. Some are not. Everyone is listening though. Nearly everyone has a question, too. I invite a woman on my left to speak. Her hair is white, her smile is kind, and her eyes are filled with skepticism.

“What if teachers don’t care about these possibilities? Whatever happened to pen and paper? Does that not matter anymore?” she asks, her voice laced with just the tiniest bit of disdain. “Isn’t it possible to teach writing well even if kids aren’t publishing online?”

Déjà vu.

“Ironically, I’ve been thinking about that all morning. I don’t know how to answer your question,” I admit. “As a writing teacher, I guess I’m wondering if that’s even the right question for me to be tangling with.”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Well, I guess I rarely think about technology when I begin to teach. I don’t think about the computer at all, in fact. Is that bad?”

“Well, what do you think about then?”

“The kids, what matters to them, and the difference they hope to make.”

I ask myself questions like the ones below.

Six Things to Consider at the Start of the Writing Process

1. Who are the writers you serve? Some may be athletes. Others, artists. Some may love Minecraft. Others may love baking. Get to know them, and inspire them to write about what matters to them.

2. What kind of difference do they hope to make with their words? Will they write to entertain? To inform? To advocate for justice?

3. Who is their audience? Classmates? Community members? Global readers?

4. Which modes and tools will help them reach their audience most efficiently? Should they publish a letter to the editor of the local paper? A blog post? A short story, within an online forum?

5. Who has already published something powerful in this arena? Their work could serve as mentor text.

6. How can I position myself as a facilitator rather than a leader of the learning? How will inquiry play a role?

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but it is representative of the questions I find myself mulling over most. Strangely enough, they often bring me right back to where I began.

Is it possible to teach writing well if kids aren’t using the web to amplify their voices?

What say you?

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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.

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