Pre Writing -Removing The Cold Starts
I find it increasingly re-assuring to witness teaching practice in the writing workshop that recognizes the importance of the pre-writing phase of the process. I see fewer and fewer cold starts where the topic is presented to a class of students and they are immediately instructed to begin writing.
This cold start writing was a common practice during my primary school days, -just after the dinosaurs were cleared from the playground. Sadly, it has not been totally extinguished from the pedagogical practices in some schools. I remain hopeful of its eventual extinction. Assisting students to' get ready to write' lays the foundation for producing an improved writing product.
Pre-writing involves that critical time when thoughts are transformed into meaning and begin to be integrated into the writer’s action plan. It is the gestation period for writing ideas. James Britten says, ‘It is during pre-writing that the past experiences of the writer serve to colour facts according to the writer’s point of view.’ Sorting out, gives the writer a sense of direction.
So, what should be happening at the early stage of the writing process? Well, questions are critical. The writer needs to reflect on the purposes of the proposed writing piece. At this point the teacher assists the writer to think about the purposes for this new writing they want to launch into:
What do I want to say here?
Why is it important to write about this? (the so-what factor)
How should I write this?
Who is my audience and what do they need from me?
Pre-writing also benefits from listing and brainstorming to further tease out ideas for consideration. First, you try to create a wealth of possibilities, then you play around with those possibilities to determine what are the best parts to work with, moving into the first draft. With such strategies, the intention is to move from quantity to quality.
Research indicates that in situations where students are allowed to draw as a pre-writing activity writing, outcomes are enhanced. The writing produced in the research by those students who drew prior to writing was generally superior to those students who just wrote.
We should never underestimate the power of talk and discussion as a prelude to writing. Talk assists the writer to identify the real purpose and direction for their writing. Talk is a clarifier. It removes the fog of indecision that may initially surround the writer. Talk is an integral part of the pre-writing phase for developing writers. To deny this, endangers the quality of the writing that eventually emerges on the page.
Another pre-writing action might involve some ‘fast/speed writing to activate prior knowledge. These fast writes could then be put away and revisited at a later date to allow the writer a fresh perspective on their chosen topic.
Pre-writing can involve looking at an experience from a different perspective. The writer might consider an alternative view point or purpose, audience or angle.
Pre-writing may involve experimenting with different leads, different genres, and different structures. Once students have had the opportunity to explore or consider different ways to organize their writing, they are better positioned to choose the form that best suits their individual writing goal. Time invested in pre-writing allows the student writer to make more informed decisions about their writing projections.
Alerting students to text structures and features of a particular genre and charting such discoveries is a pre-writing action that raises the writer’s awareness of the pertinent aspects of a particular form of writing. Sharing models of writing provide the writer with greater certainty regarding expectation. This allows the writer to see real evidence of the type of writing they are about to attempt in their own writing.
To know that there are choices when undertaking a writing task is empowering for the young writer. Being placed in a position where student writers are able to select is what shapes creativity.