Coffee, Books, Reflection
In this post I will be responding specifically to Donald Murray’s 1972 essay “Teaching Writing as a Process Not Product” found on pages 1-5 of the book The Essential Don Murray by Thomas Newkirk and Lisa C. Miller.
“There are no rules, no absolutes, just alternatives. What works one time may not work another. All writing is experimental.” — Don Murray
This quote stuck out to me in Murray’s work. It is Implication #10 in his list of things a writing teacher must believe to teach the process of writing and it makes the most sense in the classroom. During the haze of the school year I feel myself and my colleagues gravitating toward the “easy fix,” a solution that will work this time and every time. In writing this is impossible. Writing is a fluid, flexible process for those who are most talented at it, so we must hold the same expectations to our students. As a teacher of writing, it is our duty to provide students room to learn through writing. Murray goes on to point out that nothing about this type of writing requires special training, lots of new resources, or a reduced teaching load. Instead, it requires “a teacher who will respect and respond to his students, not for what they have done, but what they may do; not for what they have produced but for what they may produce, if they are given the opportunity to see writing as a process, not a product” (5). So, what does this mean for teachers? Well, to me it means making some changes to the classroom, starting with the ideas below.
1. Teachers must acknowledge the need for prewriting and percilating ideas and provide time for students to accomplish this. I can do this by providing in class time to work and taking a change to model my own idea-generating methods and writing process for my students at the beginning of the year and spend the rest of the year writing while they write while maintaining an openness to chat with them about ideas. Speaking of chatting…
2. Teachers need to provide a place for collaboration that challenges. Ideas are best after they’ve been bounced around a little. By giving our students a chance to talk about what they are seeing, thinking, and writing, it allows them to hear the opinions of others and it gives them a stage to solidify their own opinions.
3. Teachers need to spend less time thinking and talking about writing and more time writing. As Kelley Ghallagher points out in his book Deeper Reading, how can we expect our students to do something if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves?
So, this year I’m going to close my mouth and write. Hopefully it will be one way I can lead by example.
The views on this blog are mine alone and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
Kari teaches English I to 9th graders (!) and other electives in rural Iowa. Her husband is also an English teacher, and their friends have sworn to never help them move again because "even libraries don't have that many books."