Sunday, July 12, 2009

“Writing is a way of life, live the life of a writer”

Last night, Donna Jo Napoli, mother of five children and author of 70 books, inspired me and 100 other participants with these words in her opening address of the 25th Highlights Writing Workshop in Chautauqua, New York. I feel blessed to be here this week and will do my best to share some of what I learn and experience.

Napoli's advice to us as writers is also applicable to those of you who are teachers and who want to encourage your students in the writing process. She had three main points to remember this week:

  1. "Grow big ears and thick skin." She encouraged us to listen not only to the workshop leaders who have learned from their own mistakes, but to also listen to our fellow students. In keeping with this she said,
  2. "Don't defend and don't argue back." The reader of our work is never wrong. She told us to write down whatever someone else has to say about our work and say, "thank you." Anyone who gives feedback is trying to be helpful.
  3. "Enjoy the process." More than getting published (or getting an "A" on an assignment or passing a test) we must enjoy the writing process. If we don't love what we're writing about, we will never get our readers to love what we have written.

Teachers in the elementary and middle school classrooms are generally not surrounded by as eager a group of students as the writers participating in this conference. Yet, Napoli's suggestions can help you in the classroom. Writers of every age can grasp the concept that they must, "Grow big ears and thick skin." Instruct them to listen quietly to feedback their peers give them about their written work. We often don't see what is missing from our own work and having someone else read it and say, "this just doesn't make sense" can be the best piece of help. As Napoli said, "If the reader doesn't get it, then we haven't included enough clues."

Finally, how many of your students truly enjoy the writing process or just see it as a means to an end. How many are engaged in their subject material? How many get to pick what they're writing about? As a fellow participant said, "We need to bring the "F" word into the classroom—FUN!

Kathryn Au writes in the June/July issue of Reading Today that to develop students' ownership of literacy, "The teacher must be a reader and writer, and share his or her life as a reader and writer, to help students take ownership of their literacy."

This summer, read and write just for FUN. In the fall, share these experiences with your students. Your example will teach your students to live their whole lives as readers and writers. Technorati Tags:
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1 comment:

Jean said...

Oooh! A first hand account of Chitagua. Thank, Carol. I'm looking forward to it.


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