Students or Authors? Or Both?

Most of my blog readers realize that I’m a middle school teacher. No matter what the academic subject, writing is an important part of a child’s development. Learning to express feelings, thoughts, and information in the written form is something everyone, young or old, should be able to do. Whether they “like” to write or not, today’s kids ARE writing. They communicate through written word multiple times every day, whether it’s a Facebook status update, a text message, or maybe even their own blog. Call me old fashioned, but I think kids should be able to actually spell the words “forget”, “today”, and “be right back”, rather than always short-cutting them with texting lingo like “4get”, “2day”, and “brb”.

It’s no surprise that writing is a big focus during the very impressionable middle school years. Many kids end up with a “bad taste” in their mouth for writing, and that is something I want to combat! Writing should be something personal and fulfilling, and this week I’ve been trying to make my students see that.

This week we watched an interview with an American musical composer, and watched/listened to a performance of one of pieces by a symphony orchestra. After viewing the interview and performance, we discussed the creative process of composing music, the desire of the composer to create a “picture” or an “image” through his music, and the way that music can be used to express a variety of feelings and thoughts.

At this point I gave the students four writing tasks from which to choose. They could write a poem, compare composing music to painting or sculpting, or put themselves in the position of a musical composer and discuss the challenge and satisfaction of writing their very own piece of music. The first reaction I got was a collective “yuck” accompanied by eye-rolling.

So I stopped, and had an honest and frank discussion with the kids.

I explained to them that there was a big difference between ACADEMIC writing, where specific information is required in order to for the writing task to be “correct”, and CREATIVE writing, where the writer has choice and freedom and the focus is on the thought that goes into the writing.

Academic writing is, of course, necessary in many instances. I’ve written my fair share of research papers and answered a gazillion essay questions. It’s part of learning… part of the education process. But as I told the kids, with creative writing you are the AUTHOR, not just the “student”. You get to choose. You get to express yourself. And the results were pretty positive. Most of the students ended up with some very thoughtful and insightful pieces of writing that were full of their own ideas and feelings.

Maybe that’s where I’m headed in my attempt to help students learn to express themselves through the written word. Kids who are learning to write need to think of themselves as AUTHORS. They need to embrace the creativity, the freedom, and the power that comes with writing. And perhaps, with this new perspective, my students will discover the joy of writing, the way I did when I was their age.


  1. Oh, Amy! I'm glad those kids have a teacher like you. Technology nowadays creates so many shortcuts for our children when it comes to grammar and creative thinking, but it's refreshing to know there are teachers out there who still strive to teach our future generations that writing can be so much more than emoticons and abbreviated text lingo.

    Big Props!

  2. I've written since 3rd grade but the best time in my life was Middle School. I wrote a soap opera in 6th period study hall and everyone in there read it as I finished each page. Even the teacher. When I look back on that I laugh. I'm sure she was thinking "Gosh what an imagination!" It was a cross between Dark Shadows and Shenna. Ha. I'm glad to see you trying to inspire your students Amy.
    You go girl!

    Teresa R.

  3. I hated writing with a passion until college. My days in public education were overshadowed by the Kentucky Education Reform Act. (Remember that nightmare?!) We had to write about everything from Chemistry to Algebra and I HATED it. Every month we had to drag out the ol' portfolio and go through the tedious process of rewriting, editing, and so forth...

    After high school I went to college and that meant two required writing classes. I mentioned to my writing professor that I enjoyed the discussion portion of class but despised the writing assignments. She told me that she was truly surprised because she felt that I had a lot to say and that she always enjoyed reading my papers. After that experience of "finding an audience" my whole outlook on writing changed. I just needed someone to tell me that I had something worth saying.

    In regards to the abbreviated language used by the tech savvy crowd, well, please don't hate me, but I think it's essential. I rely on my phone's texing capabilities far more than I rely on it's actual talking capabilities. There would be no way to effectively use texting if shortcuts weren't a part of our common knowledge base as a society. (It's important to note that I use texting not only personally but also professionally. Not to mention... I've used Instant Messaging in every job I've had for the past 10 years.) In today's world moving forward a person needs to be fluent in both formal spelling and virtual spelling. On an every day basis I am using my bluetooth while browsing the net on my iPhone. Skyping. Tweeting. Facebooking. Blogging. Emailing. IMing. And I'll be doing whatever comes along next...

    Language shortcuts (virtual) are also very helpful when learning to communicate using hyper text markup language (HTML) and CSS, as well as, all the other languages used code. Today's students need to have at least a basic ability to communicate on this level or they'll be swallowed alive out in the professional world.

    Short cuts are here to stay and they will become more accepted, however, the ability to write well will always set a person apart from the rest. Kids that can't write aren't getting into Harvard and that won't change ever.

    Great job Amy!! I'm currently editing a Grad student's thesis based on the philosophy of inspiring students not requiring them to do their work. Looks like you're already incorporating those ideas and seeing success. You rock! If I had a kid in middle school I'd send him or her to you!! :)

  4. I use texting abbreviations all the time. And I agree they are necessary for texting and IMing. Technology is here to stay! However, with that knowledge that the world will continue to be more and more tech-savvy, I think it's up to us to show kids that there are appropriate times and instances for those sorts of abbreviations. They shouldn't show up on tests or writing assignments. Kids (and adults too!) should be able to use those texting abbreviations when texting or IMing, but turn them "off" when they are actually writing. Or even typing!!

    And I agree about finding an audience. When a teacher finally recognized my love of writing and my ability and said "you are good at this", my writing blossomed! When someone actually WANTED to read what I'd written, even though I was only an 8th grader, it validated something inside me. And it made me want to write more!

    Hopefully, as we become more technology-dependant, we can educated kids on the "whys" and the "whens" of those abbreviations, and teach them to use REAL language in other situations!

  5. Hey! I just found your blog-I'm a passionate reader-sci-fi, classics, mystery, epic fantasy...and YA. Read the post YA books: Artemis Fowl, The Graveyard Book, Nicholas Flamel, The Giver, Unwind (probably for more mature kids, awesome read), Stormbreaker, Inkheart, The Thief Lord, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Narnia Series, LOTR, Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, Everlost, Runrmarks, Neverwhere...