Writers Make Decisions
Nothing influences a child’s attitude to writing more than the choice of topic. If the child is given control over topic choice and if the teacher displays genuine interest in that choice, then there’s usually no limit to the effort the young writer will make. Young writers who are given this power soon develop confidence in choosing appropriate topics for their writing. They are engaged in thinking and preparing for the writing that follows. This represents the foundations of writer agency. It is a demonstrable act of confidence in the child's capacity to think, decide and act as a writer.
Sometimes I hear teachers say, ‘They’re (student writers) not good at choosing something to write about.'
The logical starting point is, ‘How do we assist inexperienced writers to develop this aspect of their writing?
Actively teaching student writers how to make good choices, showing them how to identify a suitable focus for their writing, choosing the right genre/s and harvesting ideas are good places to begin. These are essential skills upon which to focus our teaching.
Teacher modelling is critical to students making improved topic choices. They need to see the most proficient writer in the room demonstrate such mindful action. Have these inexperienced writers been exposed to the ways more proficient writers engage in making such decisions? They need to see how the focus for writing is actually identified.
Having students ponder the topic choices surrounding various books is a useful exercise in thinking. 'How may the author have arrived at the decision to write about this topic/issue/idea?
We also need to alert young writers to the potential that lies in everyday events. Learning how to monitor the world is an essential factor in becoming better at topic choice.
Anne Lindbergh said it all with her words, -'Writing is more then living, it is being conscious of living.'
Closer to home, a five year old, once gave me further confidence that learning to monitor the world is the way to go when she quietly informed me, "I'm five now and I can see everything!"
In setting our expectations for writers we need to examine our own practice and provide active support to enable confidence in such critical writing matters to grow. Rather than lamenting what students can’t do, as teachers of writing we must embrace our state of being joyfully literate and mindfully set an example for less experienced writers to follow.
I compare this approach with that of my fifth grade teacher, who owned every writing topic and merely threw them in our direction each Thursday afternoon. No sense of ownership there. No confidence building inherent in that approach. Very little thinking required. As young writers, we were effectively denied opportunities to rehearse potential writing ideas. Our thinking as writer's remained malnourished. It was all about cold start writing. We were reduced to responding to the teacher's prompting. Dependency was well and truly entrenched.
This approach did however influence many attitudes to writing, of that I have little doubt. When teachers own the writing; when they control it so completely, it becomes merely an assignment set by an adult. -No commitment, no passion, -relief rather than satisfaction.
Recently a young Grade 1 writer looked at me and remarked, 'I've got two things I could write about today, my cat or my dog -which one should I choose?' I merely reminded her -'writers make decisions,' a catch-cry she had her me utter in previous workshops. She duly decided she wanted to write about her dog. It was her decision to make and she took responsibility for the focus of her writing. During the share time at the conclusion of the lesson, I was able to highlight her considered action among some of the great writing behaviours I had seen that morning.
Nurturing independence and the confidence to make informed decisions is at the centre of the writing communities, we are striving to create.