I have been reading Writeaerobics: 40 Workshop Exercises to Improve Your Writing Teaching by Tommy Thomason. The book is loaded with lessons for teachers all about the ends and outs of writing. At the end of each lesson, it “assigns” the teacher a way to practice what has just been taught. The best part of the book is at the end of each lesson, it also shares how to teach this same idea in writer’s workshop with your students.
The very first lesson in the book is titled, ‘I Teach Writing, But I Don’t See Myself as a Writer’. The opening paragraph is powerful.
How do you explain chocolate to someone who has never tasted it? Or a rainbow to someone who has never seen one? Or personal freedom to someone in a repressive dictatorship who has never experienced the exhilaration of being able to speak and write freely? Or the value of being a writer to a teacher who has never written?
He goes onto to explain that writing is a skill. It is perhaps the only skill taught by non-practitioners. When you want to learn how to swim, do you go ask someone who swims to teach you, or do you choose someone who understands the principles of efficiently moving a body through water? Would you prefer to ride in a car across country with an experienced driver, or a fifteen-year-old who has read the book on all the rules of driving, but never had to apply them?
“We have been led to believe that we can teach a set of writing principles, guidelines, and rules, which, if followed, produce writers. Does it work? Would you take non-swimmers and teach them a set of principles, guidelines, and rules of swimming and then throw them in the deep end? To teach swimming you have to get wet–you teach swimming in the pool. And if writing instruction is to be effective, it has to be taught by people who themselves practice the craft.”
The assignment at the end of the first lesson is to confront how you feel about writing, to write your feelings about writing–whether you love it or hate it or something in between. We are to be honest on paper. He ends the assignment with these words, “If you don’t like to write, chances are the reason has something to do with your experience in school”
Here is a little poem I wrote in response to this lesson.
Red, red, red
Red pen across the paper I had covered with tears working towards elusive perfection
No explanations–just circles
Sometimes a comment was dashed across-
An after thought, its meaning vague and unclear
My heart was never heard.
My conventions were over analyzed.
Who would hear me?
Who would look past my comma splices and incomplete sentences?
Who would pause and hear my voice trying to find its way amid the tumble of words?
When we, as teachers, do not have good memories of writing to draw upon, we are apt to accept our students’ resistance to writing as a given. When we assume that writing will always be a dreaded activity, we spend all our time pushing, luring, motivating, and bribing.
What are your memories?