Encouraging The Growth Of Ideas With Student Writers

Last week, upon reading a Facebook post urging teachers to foist writing prompts upon student writers, I felt compelled to write the following.

'The unquestioned imposition of ‘writing prompts’ denies student writers the opportunity to practice thinking and the identifying of suitable ideas for their writing. It discourages ownership and undersells the learner. Let's encourage thinking and invest in the curious and capable learners in our care. Such practice is akin to the intellectual laziness and low level pedagogy that imposes 'sentence starters' upon the developing writer. 'Kids can't of ideas for themselves' is the errant justification for such short sighted practices. Let's encourage kids to tell their own stories. Let's value their ideas and experiences This approach is more about telling kids 'what' to write, rather than showing them 'how' to write. As an author and an educator, I feel this idea speaks to a deficit model of the child. In almost fifty years of teaching writing, I have found student writers more than capable of identifying their own writing purposes. It's about expectations, -for both the teacher and the developing writers in their care.'

Of course there are times when writers must respond to a prompt. The artificial construct of national testing comes to mind, but it should never be our starting point in the classroom. Let's keep prompts in perspective. It should not undermine the important development of independent thinking.That must guide our pedagogy.

Sometimes we make finding something to write about more arduous than is necessary. I am reminded of the saying- ideas exist in things. Children’s author, Andy Griffiths has some sage advice regarding finding something to write about in his book, 'Once Upon A Slime.' 
I have reproduced his words below. They are worth considering when it comes to finding a suitable focus for a writing piece.
Extract recorded in my notebook

So,using Andy’s advice I sat quietly in my study and began to focus on what was right in front of me. And  suddenly there it was. An idea waiting to be discovered...

Some might call it a porcelain knick-knack, a trinket or trifle. It is actually all those things. A cheap porcelain dog which has been in my possession for many years. My youngest sister gave it to me for my seventeenth birthday. I’m not sure what possessed her to give a seventeen year old boy such a gift, but she did and I was honour bound to accept it. She even named it for me. She informed me its name was, Alan. Alan the dog, it was. Alan the dog, it remains. 
Alan the Dog sits among an assortment of artifacts and ephemera in my writing space.

That dog has been with me through multiple house moves and two marriages. It has come to signify longevity. Alan the dog is a survivor of sorts. He sits on a shelf in my study and is a link to my family history. I can’t specifically point to why I have kept it. It is just there and that’s about all there is to it. I don’t question it remaining in my possession. It doesn't bark, demand to be fed, or chew my books. 

 It is just there on the shelf having outlived its dog years by several lifetimes. It is an artifact in a broader collection of artifacts that have found a place in the study. Writers are collectors…

What artifacts surround you? What is the back story for these treasures and keepsakes.
Such objects could be written about in various ways. I often ponder the possibilities.

  • A poem -an ode to everyday things
  • A totemic poem 
  • A story of how it came into my possession and why I value it
  • It could be used as part of a fictional narrative


Popular With Other Visitors

Book Making With Our Youngest Writers

The Wonder of Wordplay

Launching Your Writing Program With Bold Intent in 2018

Learning How to 'Zoom In' When Writing

Helping Student Writers Find That Vital Spark of Inspiration