Writing for Real Life

The girl in the back row refuses to work on her multi-genre writing project. I’ve tried reasoning, begging, and pleading but she still won’t cooperate with me. Sure she’s been sassy all semester but it’s the end of the year and she has checked out.

She twirls her hair around her index finger and noisily distracts her surrounding classmates. With an exasperated sigh she utters the sentence all teachers dread,

“Miss Empfield, when are we EVER going to need this in real life?”


She has officially challenged me in front of the entire class with a fair question.

I don’t ignore her.

I don’t play her question off.

I look her straight in her dark brown eyes and begin….


You’ve faced this question before, haven’t you?

When a student would ask this question, the teacher’s response would either make or break my view of them.

If my teachers ignored the question, I would comply and finish their assignments but the material wouldn’t translate into my life. I thought that if teachers don’t have a great response to this question, then why should I try to discover the purpose of their class for myself?

As a teacher, I am looking forward to this very question. My philosophy of education focuses on translating writing and reading to life outside of the classroom; I am prepared to tell my students exactly why they should develop strong reading and writing lives.

As I study the history of writing, I can only think of why my students should care about their place in the history of writing.

While the history of writing is not always as dramatic as a Kardashian…

kim k

… there are key concepts that I use in my writing life today.

Moreover, aspects of the history of rhetoric, writing, and writing instruction can also be useful for my students. The history is broken down into four time periods:

      1. Antiquity
      2. Medieval
      3. Enlightenment
      4. Modern


Antiquity is the most challenging periods to take away from because so much has changed. No longer do we write on scribes or with ad hoc symbols.


In today’s world we write virtually and we write with emoticons. Hardly anyone has a stamp-seal and our students don’t care about ancient preaching manuals.

However, Antiquity shows two main ideas of the purpose of writing:

  • Writing is Power

Only educated people had the opportunity to become scribes and in some cultures scribes were revered with the utmost respect. Writing has a sort of unspoken influence over people.

Those who write to persuade get what they want.

Those who write to capture memories make people remember.

Those who write to invoke emotion force people to shed a tear.

Basically, if my students know how to write well, they will be able to write to change the world. By writing with persuasion and emotion, my students will be equipped to articulate what they want, why they want it, and how the world will be better once they get it.

  • Writing is Different for Everyone

Ancient cultures had different purposes for writing. Likewise, there was a colossal variety in the philosophies of writing.

  • Isocrates
  • Quintilian
  • Corax
  • Isegoria
  • Plato
  • Aristotle
  • Cicero

All of these philosophers had different views on what writing should be. I want to walk my students through the endless possibilities of writing so that they can develop their own philosophy of writing.

While I may write to sort through my emotions, a student may want to write to express logical mathematician arguments. And that’s why writing is so wonderful.  


This second time period of the history of writing is the teenage years: awkward and all over the place.

Medieval times were the limbo of the history of writing. Literacy and education were not yet available to everyone. Philosophers of this time studied the philosophers of Antiquity to develop their own philosophies.

Even the three arts of writing, a popular notion of the time, were all over the place. The three arts encompassed the art of: preaching, letter writing, and poetry…not quite a unified category of “art.” 

  • Poetry

Medieval teachers would teach poetry as a way to open their students’ minds to writing. From poetry, teachers would springboard into prose and letter writing and other longer pieces.words

I plan to use poetry in my classroom like the medieval teachers did. Poetry is a gateway to wonderful writing tactics: concise writing, wordplay, imagery, etc.

Teachers can also use writing as a gateway to relationships. Relationships are king and poetry exemplifies how we relate to one another. Moreover, poetry must originate from inner feelings. I wear my poetry on my sleeve and my best pieces are my most personal poems.

  • Revere Education

diplomaIn a first world country, many of us take aspects of our everyday lives for granted. I don’t jump for joy every time I flush a toilet or watch TV. I especially don’t thank God every time I have a homework assignment due…but I should.

In today’s society, not everyone is privileged with the gift of education and in medieval times, even less people enjoyed the privilege of education.

To show my students the value of education, I would love to have students do a PBL unit on the gift of education. The medieval period is a great time in history for students to study how exclusive schools were. For instance, English grammar schools were popular but not all people could attend. Females especially had to find alternative ways of education during this period in history.


Variety in the methods of writing instruction overcame this time period.

  • Grammatical Study

Although I don’t believe in traditional grammar study (i.e. worksheets and correcting bad grammar sentences), grammar will be studied in my classroom, just in a different way.

Teachers of the Enlightenment viewed grammar as a foundation for all reading and writing. I want to have students know about the grammar of our language. To do so, I will implement grammar study in my everyday classroom activities.

Writing conferences are perfect for teaching about grammar. I will also provide grammatically exceptional sentences during mini-lessons.


The heart and soul of my writing instruction will be derived from modern philosophers. Peter Elbow, in particular, exemplifies how writing will be taught in my classroom.

  • Freewritingwriting

As an expressionist, it’s no wonder that Elbow loved freewriting. To instill a love for writing, I want my students to also mimic expressionists by freewriting in their writer’s notebooks.

In my writing life, the majority of writing I do is freewriting. I love the fact that I am writing for an audience of one. No other eyes will be on my writing which means no one will be able to critique it.

No grades.

No evaluation.

Just writing.

  • Self-Reflection

learn moreMy students will work to develop portfolios throughout their year in my classroom. At the end of the year, students will be able to see their improvement from piece to piece and they will have a personal anthology.

Reflecting on their year as a whole will be important, as will reflecting after writing each piece. Besides, self-reflection is a great practice for all sorts of other activities, too.


From Antiquity to Modern, writing as a whole has transformed. Just as the history of writing has changed, my personal philosophy of writing will also undergo revision throughout my years of teaching writing.

However, I always want my students to know how writing translates into their time and place in history. So when a student asks, “Miss Empfield, when are we EVER going to need this in real life?” I am armed with responses.


Herrick, James A.. The History and Theory of Rhetoric. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. Print.

Murphy, James J.. A Short History of Writing Instruction. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.