Against "Writers' Welfare"

"The joy of teaching is contained in the mutual building of effective learning histories." - Donald H. Graves, A Fresh Look At Writing. I have not posted anything in weeks mainly due to the fact that I have been busy setting up class blogs and getting ready for another year of blogging. Now that the blogs are ready and my students have already started posting, it's time to reflect on the last couple of weeks.

So far, everything is going very well. They are gradually becoming used to the fact that writing can be more than composing well-organized paragraphs and essays in response to carefully worded assignments. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how much motivation there is and how quickly individual voices begin to emerge even after (in this case) seven years of being told what to write and how to write it.

I enjoy seeing how these students make the transition from what I would refer to as "voiceless writers" who depend on using the adopted voices they have been taught to use in their writing to independent, creative, and engaged writers who learn to find their own voice and whose interactions within a community of writers lead them to acquire confidence and become aware of the power of the written word - their written word.

This switch from what Donald H. Graves refers to as "writers' welfare" where the student becomes dependent on the teacher for everything - including the topic - is fascinating to watch. It is fascinating to watch how students gradually abandon writing for their teacher and begin to develop readership among their peers. This passage from an article by Nancy Martin illustrates this transition well:

... by producing the kind of writing their teachers seem to want, students hope to gain a good mark. Over the years they lose the six-year-old's sense of having things to say of their own. Meanwhile, teachers suppose that students cannot write without suggested topics and the incentive of marks - and indeed, for a time they cannot ... However, the teacher who abandons the role of assessor to become an advisor, begins to change the picture. And the writing changes too; it begins to take on the character of a conversation, one with reflections or questions. That is to say, the writer's own intentions begin to operate, and the teacher-audience is now seen as a real listener who may even be expected to reply, in conversation or writing.

By becoming a writing partner and creating a classroom blogging community, the teacher can clear "the way for the student's own intentions," to use Martin's words again. By creating a community of bloggers, the teacher can ensure that writing is perceived as a process of sharing personal views and ideas. The teacher can ensure that it leads to the development of personal and group "learning histories," that it begins to be perceived as a powerful medium for thinking.