The Social Purpose of Writing
Writers workshop works best when it is underpinned by student writers having choice of topic and form. Sometimes however the choices they make are informed by their peers, movies, games and television programs and may exhibit all the stereotypes and bias that comes with territory. Sometimes their topic choices are guided by the status it will conceivably attract. Gender stereotypes may also be entrenched in the choices they make. Sometimes their writing choices are limited by experience and a lack of confidence in moving out of a perceived comfort zone.
Researcher, Barbara Kamler, 1993 makes the point- 'Young writers do not operate freely outside gender ideology and their choices are not simply personal and individual. As a consequence free choice of topics tacitly encourages children to reproduce gender stereotypes as they are culturally defined.'
What needs to impact more is the notion of writing for social action as a legitimate options for writers. When student writers have their attention drawn to social issue texts, a space emerges where conversations serve to reveal the empathetic and caring nature of students. This leads to increased awareness and involvement . They begin considering such issues as worthy of increased attention in the writing they choose to focus upon. These sophisticated conversations may hopefully lead to less superficial writing choices among students. Writing voices become more honest and subsequently more powerful.
The art of questioning the author is important here. When discussing texts where authors address issues of social significance, we must encourage the inexperienced writer to consider the author's motivation in writing the text. We must encourage them to hear the voices within texts. We must encourage them to learn from the writing of these various authors and their writing themes be it matters of justice, status, power, or inequality.
•What do you think the author wants us to know?
•What is the author talking about here?
•How is the author making you feel about these characters?
•What is the author telling us through the conversations in the text?
•Does this make sense to you?
•Does the author appear to have a bias? What do you think that is?
•Does the author’s point of view reveal itself in this text?
Despite the fact that themes in texts dealing with social issues may require several discussions in order for deeper conversations and understandings to emerge, such matters deserve to have a light focused upon them. Such discussions broaden student perceptions of the world.
-How come writers choose to write about these matters?
These are critical texts possessing great potential for influencing the writing workshop. The challenge is to connect the issues being dealt with in these texts to the students own lives and the lives of children in general.
To assist, I have compiled a list of texts I have found most useful in broadening the writing horizon for students. I am sure you will immediately think of texts you already have easy access to :
Once, Morris Glietzmann
Guantanamo Boy Anna Perera
Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzmann
Brilliant, Roddy Doyle
Against The Odds, Marjolijn Hof
Sister Heart, Sally Morgan
Pearl Verses The World, Sally Murphy
On Track, Kathryn Apel
Wonder, R J Palacio
Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli
Boss of The Pool, Robyn Klein
Rhyme Schemer, K A Holt
A Child's Garden-A story of Hope, Michael Foreman
Cat On The Island, Gary Crew
Ziba Came On A Boat, Liz Lofthouse
The Island, Armin Greder
The Heart In The Bottle, Oliver Jeffers
Rain Dance, Cathy Applegate, Dee Huxley
Voices In The Park, Antony Browne
Piggybook, Anthony Browne
Why Home, Libby Hathorn
The Short, But Incredibly Happy Life of Riley, Colin Thompson & Amy Lissiat
Can We Save The Tiger? Martin Jenkins
Refugees, David Miller