Writing, Unteachable or Mistaught?

The more I think about ‘grade level’ reading, and ‘template writing’, the more upset I get thinking about such utilitarian modes of literacy. I’m sick to the gunnels of thinking about the CC$$, and the high-stakes testing regime our children are force fed, but they play a major role in the narrowing of K-12 curriculum. The truth is though, that they are not the only reason literacy instruction is so restricted in many classrooms. As Paul L. Thomas mentions, it makes it easier for a teacher to grade a paper that follows a particular template, just as it’s easier for a computer to grade a paper based on strict criteria. The beauty of writing is that the process and product are (at least should be) unknown from the beginning. So much focus is placed on reading, at the expense of writing, and this is concerning. I love reading what children write in the early years and the process they go through to put their thoughts on paper. As with so many efforts, we learn to write by writing, and time must be dedicated to this in the classroom. In the early years there are so many wonderful picture books to share, and along with alphabetic language they show how pictures also tell a tale/recite poetry, and so on.
[I’m heading into redundant territory so I’ll leave this here for now.]

radical eyes for equity

Let’s not tell them what to write.
Lou LaBrant, The Psychological Basis for Creative Writing (1936)

Kurt Vonnegut was a genre-bending writer and a Freethinker, a lonely pond fed by the twin tributaries of atheism and agnosticism. So it is a many-layered and problematic claim by Vonnegut, also a writing teacher, that writing is “unteachable,” but “something God lets you do or declines to let you do.”

This nod to the authority of God, I think, is more than a typical Vonnegut joke (the agnostic/atheist writer citing God) as it speaks to a seemingly endless debate over the five-paragraph essay, which has resurfaced on the NCTE Connected Community.

To investigate the use of the five-paragraph template as well as prompted writing as dominant practices for teaching writing in formal schooling to all children, I want to begin by exploring my own recent experience co-writing a chapter with a colleague…

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