Helping Young Writers Grow A Knowledge Base
'I do believe strongly in being able to teach writing techniques, but it is not a substitute for the knowledge of self and place that the writer needs in order to have anything to write about.'
Richard Powers, Poets & Writers Magazine, July/Aug 2000.
I read this quote on Twitter recently and it set me thinking. It has implications for all writers regardless of their level of experience.
I began to think about our youngest, least experienced writers, who sometimes choose a writing topic without first considering the matters mentioned in the Richard Powers quote.
I recall a conversation I had with a young writer as I sat among a group of writers as we unpacked their preferred writing topics for the day. She informed me she wanted to write about pirates and i asked her to think about what she already knew about the topic of pirates. I encouraged her to discuss pirates with the other members of the group. During my roving conferencing I noted she was writing about her dog, so I was curious to know what happened to her original choice of topic. She told me she found out she didn't know very much about pirates, so she looked for a 'better' topic on which to write. 'I know a lot about my dog.' she said.
I suggested she read some pirate stories should she still wish to about these rogue sailors at some later stage when she knew more about them. Being aware of your topic choices and being willing to change are both important considerations for any writer.
Our in experienced writers benefit greatly from opportunities to employ rehearsal strategies. Strategies that activate deeper thinking around their writing ideas.
It is here a range of pre-writing activities can prove invaluable in assisting the writer to actively consider the suitability of the writing topic under consideration.
We need to slow down teaching at this point and encourage the inexperienced writer to spend meaningful time engaged in the prewriting phase of the process. Otherwise, we are likely headed towards the emergence of a flimsy first draft.
At this point we can assist young writers to make informed decisions about the writing to follow. It's a chance to wrap some envisioning around the intended writing project.
I love it when I hear teachers use words like this-'
'Turn and talk. Rehearse the words you want to use in your writing. Your best words. Listen to them closely.'
Comments like these show mindful intent. They alert the writer that activating thoughts and ideas is something effective writers do as a matter of course.
Brainstorming/Listing/Activate prior knowledge
Discussion with a peer partner/ a group/adult
Learning from mentors
Considering possible genres
To underpin this vital preliminary work , we must also be nudging thinking and encouraging the metacognitive processes so important in writing. We might ask questions such as:
- Why is it important for you to write about this?
- What do you already know?
- What do you need to know before you start writing?
- How have other writers written about this topic/idea?
- What do you need to do to get yourself ready to write?
Even when teachers and students have been employing writer's notebooks, the move from notebook entry to a drafted piece can prove problematic for many student writers. Have they seen this action modeled by a more proficient writer?
The answer may well lie in insufficient attention being given to helping the inexperienced writer develop a vision for what might be done with the notebook entry/entries.
Writers need help to envision how they might lift a notebook entry and expand and develop that piece into something considered and planned for. Otherwise, there is a fair chance the drafted words will look pretty much the same as those first appearing in the notebook. So prewriting and planning become important in this scenario as well.
We prepare strong foundations when building a house. We must build a strong knowledge base for the composition of the best possible writing to emerge as well.
Encouraging the young writer to draw upon pre-writing actions will assist the words that follow to be more effective, fulfilling, and gratifying for potential readers. It is the 'think before ink' time.