The Importance of Allowing Student Writers CHOICE


I am re-posting this article on CHOICE (originally published February 6, 2012) with a few modifications.

 Next week I am presenting at the Australian Literacy Educator’s Conference in Darwin and I will be discussing the importance of CHOICE in the development of children’s writing.

It seems timely to revisit this topic. I have choice as a writer. I understand how important it is to offer student writers this same option. I still have uncomfortable memories of our entire Grade 5 class being forced to write 'Autobiography Of An Ant.' And that happened decades ago!

Our student writers deserve the same level of choice when it comes to their writing. They should know know what it feels like to think about their writing intentions and then feel empowered to act upon their options as writers. Choice empowers the writer. In the classroom it begins with allowing student writers to decide what kind of writer’s notebook they wish to write in and develops from there…

I have never woken up thinking, hmm, today I’ll write a persuasive essay, or maybe an exposition! It surprises me how the approach of many teachers to student writing is so genre specific. It may be neat and tidy to teach this way, but it lacks authenticity and the teacher controls the ownership of the task. Writing sometimes is a bit messy before it evolves into an ordered text.

When a student approaches and opens the conversation with -I want to write about fishing, my response is, How do you see yourself writing about this?  Immediately, we establish in the mind of the young writer the notion of choice. Choice is important...

CHOICE motivates efforts to write and this in turn builds CONFIDENCE and consequently the desire to stay ENGAGED is heightened for the writer.

Each day I anticipate writing. Usually, I have a sea of possibilities surging away in my head. Topics and issues that have been consuming my conscious thought from the previous days and hours. 
 
I once had a memorable conversation with author and illustrator, Terry Denton as we stood waiting for our respective children on Fisherman’s Beach, Mornington. Terry’s words have remained with me over the intervening years. He shared his experience of how writing ideas came calling; remarking that ideas revolve around in his head, like clothes in a tumble dryer. They mingle with other ideas. When they’re ready, the ideas are taken out- fresh, and ready to use. It was a great analogy for the rehearsal writers experience. 

So, I ruminate. I rehearse. I ponder possibilities and this propels me into the writes of the day. I think about the writing idea that provokes me and ask,  -How do other writers choose to write about this topic/ issue? Do I want to follow their lead, or do I want to write about this in another way, another form?

Essentially, it's issue before genre; topic before form. I have a raft of choices about what to write and how to write it. I may choose a particular shape and form for this writing piece, or I may compose a hybrid text that crosses several genres. Ah, the power of choice! The questions for me as a writer :

What’s appropriate for this piece of writing?
What do I want to achieve?  
Who will be reading this? (audience considerations)

When we share the many truths of our writing lives with students we create a lasting effect on their writing lives.  We encourage the growth of the meta-cognitive writer. Without choice, voice will struggle to emerge in the writing.





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