Otherwise, what's the point of writing?
Why does anyone write anything? The answer is simple- To be read by someone at some point of time. Put more simply, to convey a message to someone who reads it at a later point in time. The target audience could be oneself or someone known or someone unknown.
Do children look at it as a means of conveying something or do they look at it as something that is going to get a hopefully joy inducing response from an adult? Imagine what it would feel like to be a child who is waiting for an adult to read and comment on the mistakes, completely missing the effort that has gone in to create a message in writing. What if, we can give this whole exercise a new perspective? Write to be understood. The teacher isn't looking for mistakes per se but is trying to understand the intended message and could use the child's help to understand the message better. The child could be told to help by making edits in the parts that seem to be confusing the teacher. Making it a collaborative activity with the teacher to fix the confusing parts, makes children look at writing as a means to communicate rather than an evaluation tool.
7 year old Randy, in his story about an elephant and a treehouse, introduced a wizard out of the blue in the story. He referred to the wizard as "The wizard..." the first time he made reference to this character. The teacher was confused as this was the first time she was coming across this character. She first thought that she had probably forgotten an earlier reference and went back to the earlier versions of the story but did not find any reference. She decided to ask Randy for "help". Randy confirmed that he was introducing the wizard for the first time. The teacher asked him if he could give a little background to this new character who seemed to have sprung up all of a sudden in the story. Randy explained that doing that would occupy at least half a page that would disturb the suspense in the story that he had so carefully developed. The teacher listened to his predicament and suggested another way. She said, "How about saying "a wizard", thus making him a random wizard with no specific reference to any one in particular instead of "the wizard"". A random wizard wouldn't necessarily need background info, thus resolving the confusion in the reader's mind as well as solve the writer's predicament with writing a background at a junction in which he wanted the story to move and not drag. Randy liked the idea and went ahead with it. In this process he also learnt about the power of small words such as "an" and "the".
Making it a collaborative activity with the teacher to fix the confusing parts, makes children look at writing as a means to communicate rather than an evaluation tool.
Early stages of writing as a skill- Writing for self and for the teacher
When a child first learns to write, they probably will be only ones who understand what they have written. Gradually with help, they learn to write in such a way the teacher is able to understand and evaluate them.
Intermediate stages of the writing skill- Writing for a known audience
As they move to higher grades in schools that encourage collaborative work on projects, they write for their group to understand. Writing for a teacher is somewhat simpler as he/she has raised a question that in most cases has a direct answer. Write the answer clearly, and the task is done. Writing to contribute one's thoughts/views for instance needs to be original, clear enough for anyone to understand right away and react as required. Writing in these contexts could even be short texts in a discussion pertaining to planning for a project, volunteering for roles and posting updates. Some situations may even require some amount of persuasive writing as the other members may have a contrary view point.
Writing to think
Book reviews generally involve writing summaries of the book read. As a school assignment it is obvious that it has been assigned for the purpose of evaluation and ofcourse to check if the child has actually read the book. This typically happens after the book has been completed. When young readers begin to use the writing skill to note down inferences or notes from the book while he/she is reading it, for future reference, it enables them to observe the nuances in terms of plot and writing style with a lot more of ease. Does the book make the reader think, ponder, become curious to know more? Writing to think in these lines, leads to connections being made and recorded. This makes the reading process a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling.
Writing down thoughts to contribute in group discussions: At the Young Readers' Club we were reading the book Sir Cumference and The First Round Table. The book is based on geometrical shapes and how Sir Cumference solves a problem for King Arthur who has been trying to work out a defense strategy with his knights. The problem is that the table available to them for discussion is not conducive for many to easily participate in a group discussion. There is a lot of trial and error that happens in the book until the final solution is found. One of the readers responded in a group discussion based on the group by saying, "Why go through so much trouble when all the King had to do was to command the knights to do his bidding?" This young reader did not simply absorb the whole book and deduce the moral of the story. Instead he chose to take a step back and think. What would have been a more efficient way to solve the problem instead of wasting so many resources in the process of trial and error?
Writing his response down and sharing it with his peers set the wheels moving for a thought provoking discussion about the book. This was no test but an attempt to think in multiple ways.
High school presents a new additional writing requirement: writing running notes during class
In addition to the writing needs that intermediate school makes necessary, high school adds more to the list. It is impossible to copy every word a teacher says. Being able to write short notes that summarise what is being thought, requires listening, comprehension and precis writing abilities. Being able to write precise running notes enables easier absorption and better retention. This is particularly essential considering that volume of information to be studied and remembered is only going to rise as children move to higher grades and to college. This process tends to lead to connections and questioning- a skill that builds on the 'writing to think' aspect highlighted in the previous paragraph here.
Essay Writing Abilities:
Apart from writing for one's own reference, high school students write to be evaluated at school and potentially for college admissions. Writing by now has become second nature for many students. This is true of those who have been practising different forms of writing for a long time. A gap between these proficient writers and those who haven't had the chance to practise their writing tends to be wide at this point. Sadly, the latter rarely get help at this stage as time is a huge constraint. There is no time to add a new writing habit to their already crowded schedules.
A gap between these proficient writers and those who haven't had the chance to practise their writing tends to be wide at this point. Sadly, the latter rarely get help at this stage as time is a huge constraint. There is no time to add a new writing habit to their already crowded schedules.
Research based written work: Talking about plagiarism.
Assignments in high school begin to become more research based. That implies reading large amounts of information and making inferences. Students who have been reading and writing from early on adapt very quickly to this new requirement. They are used to absorbing information and writing in their own words. Some others find it extremely hard to decipher information and instead choose to copy verbatim out of the fear of losing marks in these assignments. If this tendency goes unchecked, it becomes a habit which could have disastrous consequences later on in life.
Some others find it extremely hard to decipher information and instead choose to copy verbatim out of the fear of losing marks in these assignments. If this tendency goes unchecked, it becomes a habit which could have disastrous consequences later on in life.
Pulitzer prize winning reporter Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post was suspended for three months after it was learnt that she lifted paragraphs from another newspaper for her article. That's not just 3 months of suspension but a big blot on her career which is hard for anyone to forget easily. That article for which she copied, got her the prize and glory only to left with none of those and much worse- a big stain on her reputation. She apologized for her mistake but her experience teaches us loads about taking pride in our original work rather than bank on someone else's hard work to get recognised. Reenforcing that plagiarism is illegal is crucial, something that may or may not be done in a conscious manner across homes and schools.
In sum, we write sometimes for self, sometimes for a known audience and at other times an unknown audience. The situations these writing applications occur could be significantly different thus making it important for children to consider the audience they are writing for and write in such a way that their intended message is easily understood. It is a communication tool, a skill that takes years to develop and get refined. Steady and regular practice allows students to gradually move up the levels, take pride in their original work and what's more, learn to appreciate various writing styles and make inferences for self improvement.
At Talking Circles, we understand the need to experiment with a variety of writing prompts in order to allow sufficient room for experimentation. The core question that is common across writing prompts is, "How best can I convey the message that I want to convey to the reader?" Keeping this question in mind, members of the Young Readers' Club (8-12) age group work on short writing prompts that allow them to freely express their thoughts in writing. The members of the Young Writers' Club (13-15) write more complex writing applications that vary from concise ads, stories, poems to argumentative/persuasive essays. Both programs are designed to have verbal discussions as well based on the written word thus providing students with opportunities to express themselves in a variety of ways and in the process, build confidence together.
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