The writing process is a five step cycle outlining what students do when they write. It is a cyclical activity and rarely linear. For example, students brainstorm during prewriting, write a draft then brainstorm again during revising.
Prewriting is used to generate and develop ideas to write about. Questions to answer are what is the purpose and who is the audience? A young child might draw a picture. A university student might write ideas on post-it notes that could be reassembled on a page. Brainstorming could take the form of a mind map. Looking online for inspiration or talking aloud to a classmate are methods to generate ideas. In Structure and Freedom by Casey and Hemenway it is recognized that ‘children can write, but they must first learn to be careful observers of their surroundings.’ In Creech’s Love That Dog the teacher supported Jack’s writing by giving him examples of poetry to use as a model. One of the poems given in class was Arnold Adoff’s Street Music. By reading good examples of literature, and brainstorming his own observations of his street, Jack created his own poem about the street he lives on.
Drafting is the process of getting ideas down on paper. A drafting exercise might look like an ink shed where the author writes for number of minutes without stopping. Drafting does not need to be in the student’s own handwriting. A student could dictate to another student or teacher or could speak into a voice-recorder. In Love that Dog, Jack’s initial poem about a blue car was used as a draft. For his next poem he revised hid original blue car poem by adding the sound and rhythm or “tiger sounds (8)” of William Blake’s The Tiger.
Revising occurs when the students are able to refine ideas in their drafts independently or by conferencing with their peers or teacher. In Structure and Freedom, Page in grade three compares revising work to “combing her long, snarly blonde hair…and once [she’s] done combing it, or once [she’s] done writing [her] story, it’s fun and [she] feels proud of [herself] and [she] gets lots of compliments.” In grade six she laments that that there is no time to revise and that editing has taken over.
Editing is the final polishing of the written work; it is combing through and pulling out the technical errors. Page, in grade six, writes for the teacher rather than for herself. Essays have become formulaic and written merely to satisfy requirements. Instead of revising a draft, the steps of editing such as ‘[correcting] run on sentences or bad English (71)’ have taken over. The metaphor of smoothing over the top layer of hair instead of combing through the tangles and knots was used to compare editing to revising.
By reading aloud, printing student poems and stories into books for a classroom’s ‘local’ library, submitting work to newspapers and competitions or posting on the class bulletin board, students benefit from the publishing of their writing because they begin to see themselves as authors. In Love that Dog Miss Stretchberry types up Jack’s response to the poem dog by Valerie Worth. When Jack has the opportunity to see his work printed he recognizes his work as a poem and begins to take ownership of it. He makes suggestions of how he would like to see it printed.
“Teacher’s create a community of learning in their classroom” (Tomkins et al, 37.) There are certain strategies such as peer conferencing, modeling and giving plenty of uninterrupted class time, which teachers can use in the classroom to help students have positive ELA learning experiences. During peer conferencing students read and critique each other’s work. Students give positive feedback to what their classmates did well and give constructive criticism to what could be done differently. Students can learn and be inspired through each other’s work. Jack really liked the tree poem by another anonymous student in Love that Dog. Students can encourage each other when work is displayed in class. Peer conferencing is often less intimidating than teacher conferencing, especially when students are trying out a new writing form or technique. When a student sits in the author’s chair and reads aloud a draft for revision, it is another opportunity for students to realize themselves as writers.
In class we are often give the example that if a student is expected to write good emails, then show them good emails. Modeling good literature gives the student a goal to strive for and an inspiration to work from. In Creech’s Love that Dog Miss Stretchberry gave students a number of poems to model. Jack was given a concrete poem about an apple and he was excited because he recognized that poems could take on a new form. Jack created a concrete poem about one of his favorite subjects, his dog. Jack was able to enhance his writing by applying his ideas to a form that already exists.
Miss. Stretchberry gives Jack time to develop as an author in Love that Dog. Every entry is about six days apart. More importantly the teacher supports Jack when he does not want to write ‘because boys don’t write poetry (1)’ and gives him time to discover the writer inside of him. She gives him time to develop and raises her expectations to challenge him as he is ready. Class time is very important. From my own experience I never enjoyed writing in class because I became anxious when I felt limited by time. Instead I did a just enough of the project to show the teacher some in-class effort and read or worked on math and then took the assignment home to work on at my own pace.
Students learn to write by writing. I hope my classroom will be student centered and experiential. My classroom will have a writing center where all the tools they need to brainstorm while pre-writing, such as large pieces of paper and markers, are available. Magnetic words will be available so learners can play and explore without any stress of fitting meaning into form. Tools such as dictionaries and thesauri will be at the student’s fingertips. I want student writing up on the wall so they can be proud of their work and learn from each other. I hope this writing center can be teacher supported but student lead.
I want my students to have authentic writing experiences where they can write for themselves and not only for their teachers. By allowing students to have choice in topic and opportunity to publish their work they take ownership of what they are writing and learning.
British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2006). English language arts: Integrated resource package. Victoria, BC: Author. URL: http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/irp_ela.htm.
Casey, M. and Hemenway, S. (2001) Structure and Freedom: Achieving a Balanced Curriculum. The English Journal, vol. 90, pp. 68-75.
Creech, S. (2001). Love that dog. New York: HarperCollins.
Tomkins et al. (2011). Language Arts: Content and Teaching Strategies (5th ed.). Toronto: Pearson Prentice Hall.