English Language Arts teachers are faced with a massive challenge: to engage students in reading and critically thinking about the things they read as well as equipping them with the functional and lifelong writing skills that they will need throughout their lives. In the late 20th century, English Language Arts largely adopted the process-driven writing approach championed by such giants as Donald Graves, Donald Murphey, Nancie Atwell, and Lucy Calkins; in this approach, “students are writing more; they have a definite image of themselves as writers; and most teacher-directed plans for the product-oriented, five-paragraph essays… fossilize in some landfill” (Schweiker-Marra, Broglie, & Plumer, 1997, p. 16). But with the advent of Common Core standards and standardized exams, many teachers have more recently drawn back from this approach, hoping instead to focus on the formal writing skills and genres that students were found deficient in from national test results (Goldstein, 2017).
While I believe it is crucial that students do learn to write a five-paragraph essay and are adequately prepared for their standardized exams, we as English Language Arts teachers cannot develop tunnel vision. Yes, students need to understand the difference between independent and dependent clauses and how to develop a coherent thesis, they also need to learn to enjoy writing and creating in English Language Arts—and they can only do so when they have ownership what they produce in the classroom. Hales (2017) wrote of students who were disengaged from writing because they felt their writing was not “guided by their decisions” (p. 15)—instead, they were given concrete guidelines by their teacher, and their teacher was their only audience.
And so, for my TED Talk, I want to focus on how we must expand our definition of writing in English Language Arts by introducing concepts of making and makerspaces as well as provide a regular space in our curriculum in which students can create imaginative projects that go beyond writing (or typing) on a page. I believe there is a need for this especially in secondary school; as students transition out of elementary school into the demands of middle and high school, too often the creative projects (and creative writing) fall by the wayside. I believe this can result in students re-engaging with writing, developing more positive attitudes toward English Language Arts, and feeling more ownership and purpose in their writing.
To help model this vision, I hope to turn to some projects I have done with students as well as efforts by other educators. For example, McGlynn and Kelly (2019) offer the example of an educator who “threw a collection of supplies that she already had in her classroom (i.e., index cards, craft sticks, modeling clay, markers, chart paper, and sticky notes) into a storage box that her students could use to create prototypes for their next written pieces” (p. 22). This practice can replace the basic pre-writing map or chart that so many English teachers use and instead lets students model their thinking in a way that makes sense to them, whatever form that might take. I am also inspired by Angela Stockman, who developed a Young Writer’s Studio in Buffalo, NY in pursuit of this vision and who provides a toolkit and guide for teachers looking to do the same in their classroom.
Goldstein, D. (2017, August 2). Why Kids Can’t Write. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/education/edlife/writing-education-grammar-students-children.html
Hales, P. D. (2017, January). “Your writing, not my writing”: Discourse analysis of student talk about writing. Cogent Education, 4(1).
McGlynn, K., & Kelly, J. (2019, September). Making it work: Incorporating design thinking into all areas of instruction to fit the needs of unique learners. Science Scope, 43(2), 20-25.
Schweiker-Marra, K., Broglie, M., & Plumer, E. (1997, October). Who says so? Ownership, authorship, and privacy in process writing classrooms. The English Journal, 86(6), 16-26.
Stockman, A. (2015, February). Makerspaces for Writers: Three Layers of Design. Retrieved from Angela Stockman: http://www.angelastockman.com/blog/2015/02/22/makerspaces-for-writers-three-layers-of-design/