My last Notable Notes focused on why every teacher should write and included thoughts about the importance of writing in education, noting that writing is a cheap and effective tool for learning and engagement in every content area, as well as the importance of supporting writing instruction across content areas which is one of the great gaps in teacher education and professional development. This collection will extend that argument to explore the benefits of becoming a teacher writer for our students.
In his Edutopia post offering six tips for teaching effective writing, David Cutler focuses three of his tips on ways that teachers can use their own writing to support the development of their students as writers. He notes: “To teach effective writing, we must be effective writers ourselves. We can’t teach what we don’t know.”
Cindy O’Donnell-Allen argues in an article for The Atlantic that “The Best Writing Teachers Are Writers Themselves.” She notes that during much of her education, as for most students, writing was a closed circuit of assignments written for and seen by a single teacher (what I like to call disposable assignments), but when she was able to experience a class where writing was celebrated and shared everything changed. She notes that calls for a revolution in education demand that teachers take part and an essential part of that revolution is making sure their voices are heard both in the classroom and out of it.
Penny Kittle, author of Write Beside Them, argues that we should write with our students and for our students to “Write us a revolution.” She reflects in her James N. Britton Award Acceptance Speech that writing frees her students as well as herself and that “in all of that writing, I became a better teacher.” In Write Beside Them, Kittle writes:
“I now believe that you can’t teach writing well unless you write yourself….I believe you can’t tell kids how to write; you have to show them what writers do…. the instruction has to come during the process of creating the piece, not in polishing the product, or nothing changes. I believe you have to be a writer, no matter how stumbling and unformed that process is for you; it’s essential to your work as a teacher of writing… You are the most important writer in the room.”
Tara Smith posts on Two Writing Teachers about her experience following Penny Kittle’s advice to Write Beside Them. She describes how opening up her writing process to her students gave them insights into their own writing process as well as helped them face their own fears and struggles.
The National Writing Project’s 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing offers successful strategies contributed by experienced Writing Project teachers including using yourself as a role model by writing along with your students and using your own words and work as a model for student writing.
I think both Kittle and Smith touch on important reasons for teachers to write – we need to teach our students that writing is not easy for any writer and that the struggle, the process, of writing is what makes writing good – not some magical worksheet or god-given talent. My dissertation focused on the idea of writing self-efficacy and I know based on my research as well as classroom experience that most of our students come to us with a fear and loathing of writing as well as the deep-seated belief that they cannot be writers. We are not going to break that cycle of fear with a graphic organizer, worksheet, or textbook. The only way to destroy this self-fulfilling prophecy is to make our students writers by making our classrooms into writing workshops. Write with your students and share the rough starts, rocky middles, and smooth (or not-so-much) finishes. Share the entire process with your students and you will all learn and grow.
What are the benefits from writing with your students? What can your students learn from your writing process?