HAVING THE “WRITE” STUFF
It may not be the problem that’s the problem. Rather, the problem might be the tool I’m using to try and solve the problem.—Craig D. Lounsbrough
Have you ever noticed how in movies and TV shows, a guy will walk into a bar he’s never been in, he’ll order a beer, and the bartender will bring him a glass and a bottle, or whatever’s on tap, without asking the guy what kind of beer he wants?
I don’t imbibe adult beverages, but I’ve watched enough beer commercials to know that people can get pretty picky about their brewskis.
For the discriminating connoisseur of a good cold one, a beer isn’t just a beer.
And writing isn’t just writing.
Yet I’ve seen it taught as if it’s one genre.
“Use the five senses,” teachers will tell their students. “Be sure to include the five W’s.”
“For which genre?” I ask.
“What do you mean, for which genre? All genres. Writing is writing.”
Or as the old Wendy’s commercial used to say, “Parts is parts.”
Writing comes in almost as many genres as there are beer brands: stories, personal narratives, anecdotes, diaries, letters, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, essays, poetry, plays…the list goes on. Each genre has its own set of rules and framework, and what works for one might not work for another.
There’s a joke floating around the internet: I bought my friend an elephant for his room. He said, “Thanks.” I said, “Don’t mention it.”
The elephant in the language arts classroom is that many teachers have weak writing skills, which is why they rely on gimmicky strategies they picked up at a workshop, or they found on the internet, or they saw a colleague using.
School districts must acknowledge that this problem exists and rethink their writing programs. Instead of sending teachers to another training session on how to use graphic organizers, thinking maps, bubble maps, anchor charts, writing traits, flipbooks, foldables, and sentence strips to teach writing, they should develop writing courses, where teachers can brush up on whatever skills may have slipped past them. This type of workshop would benefit teachers and students more than what’s currently being offered.
Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no short cut.”
So until your school district provides you with a refresher writing course, if you’d like to improve your skills, follow King’s prescription: read a lot and write a lot.
Pull books off your shelves and scan through them. Notice how authors draw in their readers with unique plots, how they create believable characters, how they write dialogue, and how they set up and resolve conflicts. Study how they use a mixture of short and long sentences to form a rhythmic flow in their writing. Analyze essays and editorials in newspapers and magazines to see how writers introduce their topics and develop their ideas, how they transition from paragraph to paragraph, how they construct sentences with specific words and phrases, and how they write conclusions that leave their readers with food for thought.
While you’re at it, write lots of narratives and essays to cultivate your writing proficiency. Do this and you’ll know, first hand, that every tool you give your students actually works.
“But I don’t have a talent for writing,” teachers have told me.
Who said anything about talent? According to author and editor, Jerry Cleaver, writing, for the most part, isn’t an inborn talent, but an acquired skill.
Based on how I became a writer, I’d have to agree with him. Look at our schools’ music programs, for example. Students don’t join the school band because they’re talented musicians. They become talented musicians because they joined the school band.
The same holds true for writing. Authors don’t write because they’re talented writers. They become talented writers because they write.
By reading and writing regularly, you’ll soon have all the tools you need to become a successful writing teacher. Who knows? You may also discover you have a knack for writing, one you’ll want to turn into a second career. I happen to know a former classroom teacher and instructional reading/language arts coach who did just that.