Using Texts Mindfully To Teach Writing
MINDFULLY USING LITERATURE TO TEACH WRITING
The very best way to learn to write in any particular form, is to read the kind of writing you are hoping to write. If my wish is to write poetry, I must read poetry. If my wish is to write memoir I must spend time reading memoir in order to gain insight about this type of writing.
If we wish to teach our students about a particular form of writing we must first become readers of that kind of writing ourselves. We read like writers. We learn to notice the craft moves writers employ. This is where curriculum begins.
We must seek out all those powerful examples representative of what our students are likely to write. The important work we do in our writing workshop lessons is thus filled with these various kinds of writing. The inexperienced writers needs to view such writing and read such writing in order to better understand how it works.
Everything we (and our student writers) need to know about writing resides in these gathered texts. The answers we are seeking reside here in the written works of other writers. It is also to be found in our own writing. We must use these rich text examples to teach the purpose of writing. The authors we know and trust assist us to teach more effectively. We are highlighting the potential of these selected texts to increase understanding about the way writing actually works. We are shining a light on the writing craft. The curriculum arises from looking closely at writing that has been done well. Writing we admire for its literary qualities. Authentic examples in authentic contexts.
Look at this fine example of an author building the tension before finishing with a killer last line. It comes from a short story called ‘The Lock Out' from esteemed Australian author, the late Colin Thiele’s book, 'The Rim of the Morning.' -A long held, personal favourite of mine.
Thiele writes about the predicament Jim Bear, the main character finds himself in when he puts his Grandmother's cat outside one winter evening.:
‘As he turned to slip back inside again, the breeze stirred; the hibiscus swayed by the steps and the shadows moved in the streetlights. Then gently, very gently the front door swung shut and the latch sprang into the lock with a soft click. Horrified Jim ran to the door, pushing and heaving. But he was too late. He was locked out. Locked out of his own house, at midnight, and without any clothes on.’
This piece of text has much to recommend it as an exemplar. The author pays close attention to small details. This assists the reader to build a clear picture of the scene. The writer uses words in the same way an artist uses colour to create an image. The author employs sentences of varying length to add interest. Note also the clever use of commas in the final sentence to separate the elemental parts of the sentence. Imagine the rich conversations that might flow from closely examining such writing with your students. Imagine the potential of such writing to influence how they might begin to write moving forward.
The conversations we have with developing writers in such situations are vitally important. When we talk consistently and mindfully about writing; when we consistently use the language associated with writing, students are more likely to adopt and understand writing with a deeper appreciation.