About Writing, Teaching Writing

Creative Expression

I have always had the need to express myself creatively. I drew and colored and wrote stories, and later tried every art or craft I could. It was more than fun. My very soul demanded creative expression. I even remember making up stories in middle school and passing them off as truth–like how my mother wanted to buy me a horse but I refused because she wanted to deck it out in an absurdly fancy stable. I even  wore a friendship ring for awhile that purportedly came from a boyfriend living in Canada. Creative expression.

Writing stories began in third or fourth grade. The earliest story that I still have is about pigs. It’s done on that cheap lined newsprint they used to give elementary school students. Every letter is carefully written in a different color crayon. Not only the story (which is pretty bad) was creative that day! Today my drive to write is still strong, and my finished novels give me a parental thrill.

Leatherwork is another outlet for my creativity. I draw the designs, then carve and stamp them into the leather. The finished panels are sewn into purses, portfolios, or tote bags. I enjoy going to art fairs where people exclaim over the beauty of my work.

Gardening is another way to create. The color of flowers and texture of foliage decorate my yard. I week and clip and plant and feed all year. In the summer, I sit in my yard and watch butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy my garden.

Cooking, although not always successful, is another form of creativity I enjoy. I’m mostly a recipe follower, but I love trying new things. I cook dinner six nights a week even while I’m working, and I live for large family gatherings like winter holidays and summer barbecues.

Cleaning house, now, is not creative. I hate cleaning more than anything else, and I avoid it desperately. Someday I hope to earn enough money from my creative endeavors to pay a housekeeper!

As a teacher, I strive every day to motivate students. When I find students with no creative drive, it still stuns me. I understand not being artistic–I’m not musical at all, and I can’t draw well–but no desire to communicate creatively at all? It’s as foreign to me as a PhD trying to teach kindergarten. We all have energy inside us. My energy wants me to create something to express it. When I do, it makes me happy.

Most people can learn to be creative. In my classroom, I show this with writing. When they enter my classroom, students usually groan when asked to write anything. In my class we write a LOT. Students participate in NaNoWriMo, writing short novels, and they write arguments and essays. As with sports or music, practice improves performance. By the time they leave my classroom, students’ confidence and pleasure in their writing has increased dramatically. Does that mean I’ve turned them into creative people? Maybe not all. But for those that do continue writing, I know their lives will be much more creative!




About Writing

Should We Teach Narrative Writing?

Recently some colleagues and I were discussing the teaching of writing for elementary school students. The general mood of the discussion was frustration with expecting students to perform well in an on-demand setting. (see On-Demand Writing) I was shocked to hear a respected colleague question the teaching of narrative writing. “After all,” this person said, “no one ever writes narratives as an adult.”

Silence fell and everyone looked at me.

“Well, most people don’t,” this person admitted with a grin.

I laughed it off, but the comment stayed with me. Is the purpose of elementary school to teach only what a child needs as an adult? Who decides what skill set they need? I’m quite sure that the skills I use every day are very different from the skills of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking or NFL star Vernon Davis or supermodel Cindy Crawford. And when Stephen, Vernon, Cindy, and myself were in elementary school did our teachers know what we would be? What skills we would need? I don’t think so.

As teachers we learn to teach children with differing abilities and learning styles. Some can only study with music. Some need to move, or see instructions written down, or interact with something to learn about it. A good teacher balances investigations, lectures, visual presentation, and written directions so as to reach everyone.

Within that class are children with varied interests that include sports, art, drama, math, science, reading, and, believe it or not, writing. Anything that interests a child can be used to instruct them. Math facts can be rapped, P.E. can be the latest dance, art can be a Social Studies project. Writing stretches across the curriculum. Students learn summaries, response to literature, research reports, persuasive writing, and how to write short answer responses on tests. And they learn to write stories and poems.

Tompkins (1982) lists seven reasons creative writing should be included in the elementary school classroom. Here are those reasons, with my thoughts.

1. to entertain Stories and poems entertain the reader as well as the writer. Of course while students are learning it is as agonizing as those first weeks of violin lessons and as frustrating as learning to do a layup in basketball. With practice, the end product improves and so does the enjoyment.

2. to foster artistic expression Creative writing is just that–creative. Every child has stories within them (see Everybody Has a Story), and most have an innate desire to express themselves in words. With encouragement, teachers can use writing as an artistic outlet as well as drawing or music.

3. to explore the functions and values of writing   If my elementary school teachers had focused on reports and functional writing, I would have felt cheated once I discovered narrative! How can students be taught the different purposes of writing if you don’t teach all types of writing?

4. to stimulate imagination Today’s students are often caught up in video games, or in the stress of giving the teacher enough to get good grades. True imagination must be stimulated. It’s the adults with imagination who innovate, who can see how life can be improved. Those with imagination will someday cure cancer and AIDS, solve the world’s hunger issues, and neutralize the greenhouse effect. We can never achieve the solutions if we can’t envision them.

5. to clarify thinking Students often write about what is troubling them.  In journals or personal narratives they can act out their anger or frustration and test out different courses of action. By role modeling on paper, they can choose the best course of action for real life, or indulge their fantasies and get rid of that bully once and for all!

6. to search for identity By exploring narrative genres, students can be the bully and the princess, the athlete and the nerd. Some roles will feel odd to them and others will settle on them like a familiar coat. Success at creative writing can, in itself, give a student an identity in the classroom.

7. to learn to read and write Students who read are better writers. Reading shouldn’t be taught without writing and vice versa. There are many students whose creativity shines in narrative, so stories are an enjoyable way to practice communicating with writing.

Narrative writing is hard work, but it can be immensely rewarding for both teacher and student. It absolutely should be an important part of every elementary school day, whether the children are going to write narratives as adults or not.

Hmmm, I don’t use algebra every day. Maybe we should stop teaching THAT. 🙂

What do YOU think?

On my Kindle: Shaxoa’s Gift by DelSheree Gladden