Education Opinion

The teaching of writing

By Jessica Shyu — April 10, 2007 3 min read
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Monday afternoon. Sitting in graduate school class. Reading Chapter 8 of Vicki Spandel’s “Creating Writers Through 6-Trait Writing Assessment and Instruction.” Feeling slightly queasy from the assignment.

Do you write?
Why, of course I do. In fact, I’m quite good at it, I think.

When you first thought about being a writing teacher, did you picture yourself writing? I didn’t.

You mean writing on my own or with my students?

I pictured myself handing out assignments, being the one with the power (and the red pen) for a change.
Yes, I am very good at that.

At last, I would be the one to decide how long the papers must be, how many days students would have to write, whether rough drafts would have to be turned in with the final copy, whether spelling would count.
Oh… that sounds like this afternoon…

I had not yet learned yet to teach writing, only to assign writing.
Oh boy…

… Teachers of writing, if they wish to be effective, must themselves write (Graves, 1983; Murray, 1985; Atwell, 1987). Almost everyone now accepts this. It’s only logical. Yet, many teachers continue to resist writing with or in front of students—for a variety of reasons.
This is not good…

As I read the first two pages from the text on “Being a Writer”, I began feeling slightly ill. By the time my graduate school classmates and I regrouped to discuss our thoughts on this literacy chapter, I was rather nauseous. Here I am, a former journalist, a current blogger and a self-professed lover of the written word… and I suck at teaching writing.

I never liked to teach writing. I’ve always loved teaching math. I’ve grown to adore instructing reading. But I’ve never been able to wrap my mind or heart around teaching written language. My common sense tells me that language arts isn’t all about grammar and textbook work; rather it’s about getting them to write.

My students in the resource room write constantly. From the first day of the school year, they’ve learned to plan with graphic organizers, write drafts, revise and make final drafts. They respond to inspiring prompts like “Who is your hero and why?” and “If you had $1 million, what would you do with it?” It’s a miserable existence for all of us. To them, it’s painfully hard, boring and practically pointless. As a result, they agonize my life in noisy and unproductive ways.

My failure to expose my students to the joys of writing for fun, for expression, for a purpose, is a failure of me as a teacher, and as a writer. I remember being 13 and realizing that not only could I concoct a nice-sounding sentence, but I could eloquently express my true, sophisticated self on paper in ways I failed to in real life. (This remains true to this day.)

So this the long version of why I now have a new blog titled, Miz Shyu Writes. This is the reason why I decided to write alongside my students.

We began with them assigning me a writing prompt (“If I Came from Terror Mountain...”). Next, I modeled how I, a seasoned writer, need to think, ask questions and do research while planning. I demonstrated how I write. I demonstrated how I cross out. I demonstrated how I scrapped a whole section, messed up on my spelling and had to reread sentences out loud to myself to determine whether they made sense.

Along with a new Big Goal for the last six weeks of school (Students will score an average of 80% or better on all writing assignments!!!), we are revving ourselves up to not only be able to plan, draft, revise and draft again. My students are going to learn to write for fun and publish on their own personal blogs that we’ll set up. They’re going to learn to write for a purpose. And they’re going to learn to write for themselves.

The opinions expressed in On the Reservation 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.