© Norah Colvin
I have always loved working with beginning writers, rejoicing with them, and sharing their excitement, as they make meaningful marks on paper for the first time.
Their stories may be just a few writing-like squiggles, one word, one sentence, or one event in length; but the stories in their heads are much more, with elaborate settings, characters and events. Their ability to create stories, for a long time outstrips their ability to express them in written words.
It is the role of the teacher to acknowledge the effort and, armed with an understanding of the writing process, knowledge of how writing develops, and awareness of each writer’s learning journey and needs, support the learning.
As soon as they can, many of these beginning writers add the words “The end” to their stories. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, of completion, of a job finished with nothing more to be done.
But don’t all writers enjoy that sense of accomplishment, of completion, of a job finished?
However, the reality is that there is usually much more to be done: revisions and rewrites, edits and proofreads, and feedback from readers to consider. The end of the story is only the beginning of the publishing process.
It is the process of writing that children must also learn. They need to know that not every piece must carry the perfection required of publication. Unrealistic expectations can quickly demolish a child’s willingness to have a go. Appropriate and timely feedback and encouragement is important to the development of beginning writers.
Providing them with real audiences for their writing provides a purpose and incentive to engage in the process of revision, rewriting, editing and proofreading. Of course, the publication expectations of beginning writers are not as rigorous as for older or professional writers.
There are many ways of providing young children with readers; including:
- class books of stories and poems (not unlike the flash fiction compilations of our stories)
- books made for siblings or children in earlier grades
- letters written to parents, grandparents, children at other schools
- blogging, now widely accepted and implemented
- journal writing
If all drafts of writing are kept in a folder or portfolio, a favourite can be chosen for improvement and publication. I wrote about this in a previous post: Writing to order. Conferences between the teacher and individual writers are important when choosing a piece and deciding on preparations required for publication.
The initial conference would be about the content; specifically what the writer wanted to convey, the intended audience, and how the writer wanted the audience to feel.
When the writer was happy with the message, usually after revisions, edits, and possible rewrites, discussions would focus on choice of words and sentence structures.
The final conference would target surface features such as spelling and punctuation.
No red pen is ever used by the teacher to mark a child’s work. All changes are made by the child in pencil. The purpose of conferencing is to help children develop independence in their own writing process. The number of conferences and revisions required would be tailored to an individual writer’s development.
In order to respond to what has been achieved, it is necessary to understand the individual’s development, and to ascertain whether this piece of writing is reflective of that. Consideration must be given to all aspects of development displayed in the work; for example:
- is the message clear?
- is the piece complete?
- what words are spelled correctly?
- what language structures are incorporated?
- does it sounds bookish?
- does it have elements of figurative or poetic language?
There is always something new to celebrate in each piece of writing.
In the end, what is important is to encourage children to write, to wonder, and imagine. The process for young writers is not much different from that of all writers, and their egos are just as tender. We want their engagement with writing to have happy endings.
This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills wrote that
“Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. It might be the end of the world as we know it, what comes next?”
She challenged writers to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pivots around an unexpected ending.”
The end of my story, I hope, implies a new beginning; and a better one than that of the original I penned. (I’ll let you know at the conclusion.)
Once upon a time there was a princess, pretty in pink and smothered in cottonwool. In constant preparation for the life arranged for her, there were few opportunities to think outside her royal expectations and obligations: Stand straight. Point your toes. Smile sweetly; and on, and on.
But think she did: Why does the moon shine? What makes the rain fall? How does the grass grow? Why can’t I: play outside? straighten my hair? eat with my fingers? go to school with other kids?
One day she said, “That’s it. I’m going.”
And she did. The end.
In the original the parents said she’d only leave over their dead bodies. She said that could be arranged!
“And she did. The end.”
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.