Friday, August 29, 2008

The Writing Process at Work

Whew. This first week of teaching has been rough. Too many changes--new room, new principal, new kids, new lesson plans!

I promise not to bore everyone with the details of teaching life, but I can't resist here. My mother found almost 100 art prints from around the world. I gave one to each kid (I teach sophomores), and after teaching them about common symbols and the basics of world geography and religion, I had them write a story based on the picture using the setting and culture of the area from which the painting originates.

Students today very rarely get the chance to write creatively. The focus, even in (especially in) English classes is analysis writing, not creative.

At first, the students just looked at me. They could write about anything? Anything, I confirmed. They could make up a story? Yes. Like out of their heads? Of course. And it didn't have to be real? Nope. Could they write about anything they wanted? Anything. Really? Yup.

Once they got the basic assignment, the creative-killing questions came. I told them that the five-paragraph standard was crap (imagine their shock). I told them that grammar counted--just because they were allowed to make a creative story didn't mean that grammar could be creative, too.

And, slowly, they started to write. The girls made fairy tales with pictures of Saint George and the Dragon. The boys wrote stories about war with the Greek statue photographs. And then they really started getting creative...

A girl with an illustration of a Babylonian garden wrote a story where the birds in the garden were competing for the love of the peacock. Another who had a photograph of an elaborate gold pocket watch wrote a story about a stolen family heirloom and the quest to recover it. One student wrote in the first person using diary entries.

It killed me that, even when they got started, they still felt like being creative wasn't "allowed." They asked if dialog was OK. They wanted assurance that they were allowed to have plot. They still didn't believe they could write about anything and make up the story.

This may be the only creative writing assignment we have time for in my class. There are state tests that have to be passed, whether they are worthwhile or not. But, for a few days at least, my students realized how creative creative writing could be.
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