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.