Student/Classroom Spotlight: Becoming a “Recursive” writer

I’ve been spending my time at the Upper Dublin high school in an AP Language and Composition classroom. The students in this class are motivated to do well, and to do whatever it takes to get an A. The biggest challenge facing this class isn’t motivating them to write. It’s not getting them to behave. It’s not many things, but it might be to challenge them with writing, to take what they know about writing and make them better at it. 

I had no idea what to expect as I walked in to class the morning I wanted to interview one of the students. The student I interviewed, let’s call her Emily Dickinson, was an honor student. Emily is an EMT, a former firefighter jr going into nursing and she loves to write. She always has. She’s a poet and a fiction writer. She loves it because is allows her an escape, a place to vent, a level of freedom that she can’t get many other places. Even though school has generally been helpful to her writing, there have been times of clashing. Five paragraph essays. Remember those? Well, just as they were the bane of my existence, so too they really negatively affected Emily. She still remembers the acronym RACE. Restate Quote, Analyze, Cite Quote, Explain. These traditional methods of composition made it difficult for the student to adjust to her tenth grade English teacher who told her to “write what you want,” giving her the freedom to be creative and to generate ideas. Her high school writing experience varied from one teacher to the next, some were more focused on writing while others were not, some giving more leeway than others. Currently, she says, “so far this year I have questioned my assumptions about writing because now I have learned that the first draft isn’t the final draft.”

The first draft isn’t the final draft. Kirby and Crovitz, in their book Inside Out, say this about writing, “Not all writing goes well…Any first draft may be halting, awkward, or a bit chaotic. The novice writer needs to know that this feeling of hesitancy and chaos is natural, that even the best writers experience it.” (22) Emily is learning what I’m learning at the graduate level because she’s in a classroom focused on writing. The strategies that this class have been working with are being proven effective. “Walking the walk” in terms of not only saying editing is important but also going though draft after draft has made students comfortable with this idea of writing as recursive and as process.

I asked Emily what she thought about being in a class that writes as a method of learning and what were some things that she thought were unique about it. These are what she mentioned:

  • Warm-ups are great because they prepare her for class, but she doesn’t experience them often in other classes.
  • Going without a syllabus has kept her on her toes, which make her more able to be creative and spontaneous.
  • Much of her best writing actually comes from the warm-ups, which she then uses to create a larger piece.

Fun Facts about Emily:

  • Emily likes writing with metaphors because “they make the reader have to re-read her writing and because it also leaves a little more to the imagination.”
  • Emily’s non-fiction work is primarily biographical in nature. 

If you’re a writer that’s what you are, there’s no other avenue to take.  -Emily 

Just for fun

Check out National Novel Writing Month and begin your 50,000 word novel TODAY! 

 

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2 thoughts on “Student/Classroom Spotlight: Becoming a “Recursive” writer

  1. I hated the five paragraph essay for the exact reason you stated. When you HAVE to do an essay and you don’t have the freedom, where does the creativity come from when you GET the freedom! I absolutely hated assigning my students five paragraph essays. They were mandatory and I tried to get my students to be as creative as possible, but when there’s a limit it’s so hard. This is one reason why I love observing the classroom because I’m learning how to make something that I could possibly have to go again, fun! It seems Emily will have a really great future in her writing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sky–
    The line, “The biggest challenge facing this class isn’t motivating them to write. It’s not getting them to behave,” really stuck with me. I’ve noticed a similar dynamic in the Honors classes I’ve sat in on at Cheltenham. I’m used to having to put most of my effort into these two things: rounding everybody up and getting them on the bus, so to speak. But what do you do with a group of kids who are pretty much on board already? The challenge is figuring out where you want to drive!

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