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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Pyrotechnics on the Page!

By Peter DeWitt — August 04, 2011 3 min read
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Atheism is a non-prophet institution" (Fletcher, 2010, p.43).

I’m a huge fan of children’s literature. Some of my friends get star-struck when they see celebrities but I get tongue-tied when I meet children’s authors that I admire. I met Tomie dePaola at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference and couldn’t speak. I love cracking open books written by Phil Bildner, Mark Teague, Loren Long, Emily Arnold McCully and Moira Fain, just to name a few.

In Albany, where I live, I am surrounded by awesome nationally-known children’s authors such as Coleen Paratore, Eric Luper, Peter Marino and Daniel Mahoney. All of these authors visit classrooms and spread a love for writing and reading. As much as we may get caught up in high stressed educational reforms, there is nothing better than an author visit to brighten up the day.

I love visiting classrooms and reading to kids. It’s as much of a treat for me as it may be for them because it brings me back to my favorite time as an elementary school teacher, which was reading children’s literature to my students. I spent hours with the school librarian picking out the right books. I love authors who use a unique play on words and illustrators who create illustrations that you can stare at for hours.

Recently, one of my reading teachers gave me the book Pyrotechnics on the Page by Ralph Fletcher. She promised me that it was a quick read. If you’re anything like me you have a pile of educational books on your desk at school and at home that are all “quick reads.” The other day, I decided to pick it up and look through it. A few hours later of pure reading pleasure, I finished it. However, I know I will reference this book many times in the next year, and wanted you to know about it.

In these times of high stakes testing and the constant concern of teaching to the test, Fletcher’s book helped me regain my faith in the writing world. He provides examples in each chapter about letting go of the constraints around you and having fun with writing. At the end of the book he offers examples of oxymorons, expressions and idioms.

I can clearly see, even the most struggling of learners find something inspiring in this book because it doesn’t have to do with grading, it focuses on having fun with words. “Words and sentences are as malleable as play dough. Rules are meant to be broken. You can pretty much do whatever you want” (Fletcher, 2010, p.29). It’s a book about bringing the creativity back to writing and not at all about performance writing.

When children are writing for fun they can make their own rules. Inventing words, using puns, slang, jargon and allusions are some of the tools they can use to make writing fun. Hey, it worked for J.K. Rowling!

We have clearly been given the message that we need to be innovative. Writing is such a great place to start that innovation. For those of you who have read The Global Achievement Gap (2010) by Tony Wagner you know that he talked a great deal about the seven survival skills that our students need for their future. The seventh survival skill is curiosity and imagination (Wagner, 2010, p.38). Writing can help children explore that important survival skill.

Whenever I speak with students about writing, they mention that it’s hard. Sometimes that just means that they are concerned that what they write about is not good enough. I think it’s time to bring back the fun of school and encourage students to have fun with writing. Although I’m sure teachers already do this on a daily basis, Fletcher has such good ideas for creating writing workshops in the classroom. It was nice to refocus on the real reason we entered education, which is to teach children a love of learning.

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Fletcher, Ralph. (2010). Pyrotechnics On The Page: Playful Craft That Sparks Writing. Stenhouse Publishers. Portland, ME.

Wagner, Tony. (2010). The Global Achievement Gap. Basic Books. New York.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.