Creating Writers with Creative Writing
The good news about writing as a major function of literacy is that we have heard an abundance about it over the last several years. Writerís workshop, writing across the curriculum, portfolios and writing assessment, and process writing have all become major "buzz" words in literacy education. The bad news is there is still not much writing going on in many classrooms and teachers may be as confused as ever about where to start, how to evaluate writing, and the part it plays in literary development.
To be truly creative, a writing program should take the best that each of the abovementioned writing methods has to offer. Besides being true to research and what we know about how writing fits into the big picture of literacy, a writing program should be "teacher friendly." In other words, to really inspire teachers to inspire students to write, a creative writing program should be sound (in research), simple (in initiation and process), and substantive (have a direct impact on childrenís ability to communicate through written language).
One of the first considerations when implementing a creative writing program is the atmosphere in the classroom. Frank (1995) describes an ideal classroom for writing as one that is a "stimulating, comfortable place that combines sprightly ideas with serious instruction in technical skills" (p. 24). The word "creative" does not imply "fluff." Instead it should suggest that "sprightly" ideas are included instead of "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" for the thousandth time. Also, "creative" does not imply that no grammar or organizational rules apply, only that students may not be as restricted in format as they are with an assignment that directs them to prepare a three page, double-spaced report on the Civil War using three references and mentioning all major battles.
The types of activities that go on in a classroom effect the writing atmosphere. Is literacy applauded? Are students exposed to quality literature during read alouds, in reading centers, and as part of their literacy instruction? Does the classroom provide students access to writing materials like different types of paper, pencils, and markers? Are students given time to discuss, debate, brainstorm, and work together to solve problems? Writing is about ideas; ideas donít flow in silent classrooms where instruction is centered around text-based, worksheet-driven curricula. Conversation and oral communication should precede attempts to write (Jan, 1991). Music and role playing also provide opportunities to involve students in the generation of ideas for writing (http://www.sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/mla/writing2.html ).
Students need to see a model for how people write (Burns, Roe, Ross, 1988). Teachers should use an overhead transparency, blackboard, or chart tablet and "think aloud" as they write so that students can observe the process. Students may not see the relevancy of certain writing assignments. It helps if teachers can explain the real-world application of a particular piece of writing - when people would do this type of writing and how the writing would serve an authentic purpose. Students also need to know that they are in a "safe" environment where they can take risks without the fear of ridicule (Frank, 1995). Teachers can model this as they share their thoughts and feelings as they write in class.
The way that teachers score writing assignments also speaks to the "safe" environment in the classroom. While writing assessment exceeds the scope of this paper, teachers should be provided with staff-development that addresses methods of assessing studentsí writing attempts in a holistic manner that will not hamper writing development. Weaver (1996) suggests several alternatives to the "error hunt" that is prevalent in many writing classrooms.
The following suggestions for a creative writing program are centered around Marjorie Frankís (1995) model of the writing process. Each writing assignment should start with what Frank refers to as the "romance stage." In this stage, students are motivated by the teacher to want to write and are sparked by something that "jars loose the words inside their heads and sets free a flow of ideas" (p. 68). In the next step, students begin organizing their thoughts and constructing a rough draft. After this initial draft, authorís share their work with others to gather comments, critiques, and responses. The mechanics check also takes place at this point. Editing and revising take place to prepare for the final phase, polishing and presenting the completed writing. While all of these steps take place, students wonít necessarily go through each step in order or only once (Frank, 1995). The point should be that students are communicating with writing and that they understand the process that writers go through to put thoughts on paper. Not every piece of writing should go through the entire writing process or make it to the finished "product" stage. Trying to take every piece of writing all the way through each stage will frustrate teachers and students and make everyone dread writing.
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Burns, P. C., Roe, B. D., & Ross, E. P. (1988). Teaching reading in todayís elementary schools, 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Frank, Marjorie. (1995). If you are trying to teach kids how to write . . . youíve gotta have this book! Nashville: Incentive Publications.
Jan, L. W. (1991). Write ways: Modeling writing forms. Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia.
Munsch, R. (1985). Thomasí Snowsuit. Canada: D. W. Friesen & Sons.
Viorst, J. (1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. New York: Scholastic.
Weaver, C. (1996). Teaching grammar in context. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.
Wisniewski, David. (1998). The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books.
World Wide Web. (1999). The writing process. Lingualinks Library: http://www.sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/mla/writing2.html .
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