After 25 years of teaching and 25 years of students, I can tell you that the lesson best learned was not one I taught, but one I facilitated by finding an authentic audience for my blossoming writers.
I was in Starbucks and my barista said, “Hey, Ms. M, is that you?” She went on to tell me how she remembered my class because she had a book review published in the local newspaper, a book review she wrote in my class and I helped her submit for publication.
Other students have told me that they remember their letter to the editor that was published, winning an essay contest, getting poems published in an anthology, and other experiences of sending their writing out into the world where it found an audience beyond me, the teacher.
Today, with technology, finding an audience for student writing is even more exciting.
Magazines: With publications like Teen Ink and Stone Soup, young writers can submit their stories, poems and essays to be published for others to see.
Newspapers: I wouldn’t overlook writing letters to the editor about a community concern, challenge, or celebration or to respond to another’s letter. This exercise not only gives writers a community audience, but is also an exercise in being an active citizen.
Blogs: Many students today have begun their own blogs. Some blogs are about personal experience and talents such as this one by Jacqueline. Other students have helped with family business blogs, such as this one done by Julian.
There are so many easy, free programs for students to use for blogging, this can be an easy way to gain an audience beyond the teacher, tutor or parent.
Whatever form finding an audience might take, the lessons learned in the public forum about writing and reading are valuable and unforgettable.
Recently my mom showed up to my house with several pieces of construction paper in hand. She handed them over, explaining she was cleaning out a closet and thought I might want them.
One was an art project I made in third grade, a melted crayon mess of a collage. Another was a fill in the blank story I had “written” and illustrated.
Originally I had made these projects as gifts for my mom. All these years later, she was giving them back to me – and what a gift.
But, as children grow older we tend to expect them to grow into healthy consumers and purchase gifts for everyone, rather than make gifts.
As a teacher and tutor for adolescent writers, a favorite project I have students complete is a “House on My Street” book. Using Sandra Cisneros’s book House on Mango Street I have students write short vignettes about their home, their family, their neighborhood, their pets, or whatever areas of interest they feel compelled to write about. Once all the vignettes are completed, we work on revisions and edits, then put the short chapters together in a book form, with the student adding a cover, back cover, table of contents and art for each chapter. Art can be creative, photographs, or some other visual to augment the chapter.
Finally, students dedicate the book to a loved one, and they now have a keepsake present for the holidays.
As parents, a new pair of socks are nice and all, but a creative piece of work from our child is the best gift of all.
I’ve posted a grading rubric below in case you want to use the idea.
You will be writing your memoir much in the same fashion as Esperanza in House on Mango Street wrote hers. Using the Free-writes completed in class as a starting point, you will be writing 15 vignettes on the following topics. Once all “chapters” are in final form, you will be adding art and formatting the book to look professional. Final stage will be binding the book.
Binding (5) ___
Cover (5) ___
Back cover (10) ___
Title page (5) ___
Dedication (5) ___
1: Your Home (10) ___
2: Your Family (10) ___
3: Pets (10) ___
4: Neighborhood (10) ___
5: Favorite Holiday (10) ___
6: Best/worst day (10) ___
7: Favorite toy/game (10) ___
8: Friends (10) ___
9: Traveling (10) ___
10: Clubs (10) ___
11: Songs (10) ___
12: Other relatives (10) ___
13: Your future (10) ___
14: Your choice (10) ___
15 Your choice (10) ___
Pride in Presentation (10) ___
Mechanics (10) ___
Remember that the chapters listed are general guidelines and need not be in this order and must not bear these titles. Be creative.
I love this new article in The National Review, “The Last Radicals”, especially the part where Bob Wiesner reminds everyone that the first “home schoolers” were hippies.
I also appreciate how he points out that home schooled children tend to be free thinkers. He points out that free thinking is not always appreciated by public school teachers. I feel special in that I definitely enjoy the free thinkers in my classroom.
I remember when my son was a toddler and my husband and I were relating a story about his free thinking tendencies. A close friend who happened to be (and still happens to be) an elementary school principal looked concerned.
“Those aren’t qualities that will be appreciated at school,” he said gently.
I was glad my son would not be an easy student. Of course this did not always work in my favor as he grew older and questioned me.
But then, we reap what we sow and I am happy to report that my grown son is such a free thinker that he rarely agrees with me.
The steps any parent or teacher can take to create “free thinkers” include:
1. Always play the devil’s advocate. Make children explain their reasoning and challenge them with counter arguments. Nothing engages a child’s reasoning skills than having to explain their opinions and ideas.
2. Ask lots of questions rather than providing answers. “What made you think that?” “How would that work?” “Why?” The last question is the most fun because it feels a bit like payback from when the child asked the exact same question… 🙂
3. Teach children to accept ambiguities. When I was a kid, my mom had me create Pro/Con lists when I needed to make a big decision. These lists taught me that there was no right answer, only better answers based on my perspective. It helped me to be open-minded and to take responsibility for my decision.
Living with a free thinker is not always easy. There were definitely times when I had to resist the strong urge to answer “Because I said so.” But, in the long run, I know my child is better prepared to face the changing world as an adult.