My Theory of Writing Instruction

The story nearly bursts out of its confinement just waiting to be told. To be heard. To be understood. To be interpreted. To be retold and reinterpreted. The untold story nearly dribbles off of lips but is sucked back into the soul of the storyteller. The story is formulated but is never uttered. It is planned but never penned. It exists but is never whispered. If the story is never told, it will be yet another unheard story among the many, buried beneath the soil of the mind. The untold story crescendos to a yell; the story must be relinquished; the story must spew from sealed lips…from the tightened fist…from the underprepared soul. The story is finally written and never before has the soul felt so free.” – Kelsey Empfield

The Ten Commandments

of Writing Instruction:

1. The five paragraph essay will not create lifelong writers.

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2. Writing for expression and inner peace is vital.

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3. Writing is for everyone; everyone is a writer.

people4. Writers need feedback, not grades.

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5. The writing process is as unique as a fingerprint.

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6. To get better at writing, one must both write AND read.

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7. Writers thrive in a collaborative and supportive community.

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8. NEVER use a red pen.

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9. The teacher is another writer and learner in the classroom.

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10. The writer’s notebook should be a daily ritual.

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FREEDOM

Everyone loves wild aces because they are free to do as they please. They are free-floaters in rigid card games. Wild aces are just as important in writing, too. Writers need freedom. Author Andrew Smith says that he wrote Grasshopper Jungle for himself. He was free to write what he wanted to write and when he shared his piece with others, he became widely successful.

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(If you haven’t read Grasshopper Jungle, you should definitely pick it up!)

Being forced into writing is like when I’m forced to cook supper. It takes all the joy away from it. I ain’t no Betty Crocker when my parents are yelling at me to brown the hamburger. Anytime I’m forced to do something someone else’s way I resent the enforcer and the task, especially when I write.crocker

A composition syllabus should outline objectives, guidelines, and rules but it should also give freedom to the writers in the class. This is a fine line that many educators face:

What is too much freedom for students?

Many teachers I’ve experienced are so afraid of approaching the line that they completely withdraw and give no freedom to their students. That’s unfair to the writers.

I feel free when I can write what I’ve been thinking about – what is on my heart and weighing on my mind. I’ve written my best pieces in the midst of emotional situations, when I feel strongly about a topic or an experience. The best writing surely comes from freedom. Soon, my students will also experience this freedom I enjoy.

Throughout adolescence, teenagers need to grow and mature and learn about themselves – writing is the perfect outlet for doing so. Students can share their stories through writing – stories that need to be heard.

There will never come a time in which there is nothing left to write. There will never be a time when every possible combination of sentences and paragraphs exist. I read to understand the lives of others but I write to understand my life. I want my students to learn that they can do the same.

STRUGGLING

writer's blockWriting is a process that takes time to develop. Many people dislike writing because they struggle to put their thoughts into sentences and paragraphs. Struggling is normal and even required but with perseverance, anyone can write. The goal is not to ever struggle because struggling is inevitable and expected. Struggling writers grow and mature and eventually they make small improvements.

Writing is difficult.

If it were easy, everyone would be Shakespeare. I must help my students realize that struggling does not mean failure. Struggling simply means effort has been exerted. My writing workshop will not shy away from the struggle; we will learn to embrace it.

LIFELONG WRITERS

lovewritingWhen I teach, my top priority is for my students to become lifelong writers. I want to open literate doors for them while encouraging them to explore different writing genres and write what they feel passionately about. My goal is not for one or two students to learn to love writing; my goal is for all of my students to find pleasure in writing. Although there may be resistance, I believe that everyone can write. Furthermore, everyone can learn to enjoy writing.

Treating each student like a writer is crucial for student success. I must take my writers seriously if I expect them to read and write seriously. Everyone has profound thoughts that should be remembered and, as a writing instructor, it’s a matter of getting writers to realize they have significant thoughts. My writing class will be a place for remembrance, growth, experimentation, and self-discovery.

CONFERENCES AND COLLABORATION

One-on-one reading and writing conferences will be the lifeline to my writing workshop and a chance for each writer to improve. Personal writing conferences are a chance for me to offer feedback and advice to writers. Conferences are not a place where I will be marking up their papers with red pens. Instead, it is a chance for writers to talk out their ideas and see how their piece effects another person.

In my classroom, the time I have together with my students will be used to learn about the craft of writing. Together, we can share ideas, spur one another, and create a classroom conducive to collaboration. The workshop will be a place for writers to generate ideas and lean on one another for support, including peer feedback as a way to support personal revision and editing. Writers must wear their hearts on their sleeves and be brave to share their thoughts with others.

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I recently wrote about how I’m afraid of sharing my writing:

I want to write my innermost thoughts but it’s hard because once it’s written down it can’t be unwritten. And that’s mortifying. What if someone reads it that shouldn’t read it? What will happen? Well, my life will be spilled out onto pages, an open book, and everyone will be able to read it. I don’t want to give my whole self away like that. It’s too intimidating for me to even comprehend.”

The classroom must support all writers because writing is scary. Sharing is scary. But once students feel passionately about their pieces, courage will follow.

INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING & PROJECT-BASED LEARNING

Both inquiry-based learning and project-based learning will help students take ownership of their writing. While students develop a project that they feel passionately about, they work to help to solve a current problem in the world. Their projects will be too great to contain and publication will be a necessity.

My students should not only educate their classmates, they must also educate the community. Project-based learning is a platform for students to become global citizens and to become aware of the problems that exist in the world. Moreover, project-based learning teaches students to become a part of the solution to the problem.

Writing is for everyone and I cannot wait to help create generations of lifelong writers.

Writing never gives up. Writing never maxes out. Writing has no limits. Writing has no restraints. Writing is freedom. And that’s why I write. That’s why I write enthusiastically, willingly, and freely. Writing is an irreplaceable art and I wouldn’t feel as fulfilled if I did not have the option to write.” – Kelsey Empfield
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