For the past seven months I have been working with a group of 10-year-olds. More specifically, working on their writing skills. Other than teaching distinctions between various homophones and homographs (their, there, they’re; fair, fair, fair) I have not emphasized “correct” spelling. I know from many experiences, personal and in the field of education, that spelling comes with practice and reading, lots and lots of reading. The only real challenge I have encountered is teaching complete sentences versus fragments. This is quite difficult to get across because when they read fiction they come across fragments upon fragments authors write for “voice” or within dialogue or to serve other literary and figurative purposes. To this end, I decided why conclude that these young writers “wouldn’t—couldn’t—get” author’s craft nuances and instead to teach writing like in any traditional creative writing program for adults.
Also, I have never worked with such a young age group. Before law, I taught middle and high school. There would always be a handful of students in that age group who didn’t hate writing but most of them preferred to plagiarize or figure out a way to still pass the class without turning in any writing related assignments. The spelling was atrocious and the content dry. I have also taught students in community colleges and those trying to get their G.E.D. diploma and it felt that the students’ relationship to writing got worse as they grew up. There were always a few each year who ‘liked’ writing but only if it was creative writing; any responses to literature or short essays were drier than empty tin cans. They had been taught that writing was for writers/creatives and if you weren’t aspiring to be a song-writer or an author then there was no use for writing except to pass the class as a requirement.
This opportunity feels like the grandest opportunity: a window into the future, or the missing link from the future. I have even considered a P.h.D around this topic: what happens when adults get out of the way?! Whatever else they may have learned from me, I can assure you I have never been more inspired. This Sunday I felt like sharing what I have learned from them. Anything in quotes is a direct quote by several 10-year-olds.
Here are 10 reasons why I would rather teach writing to 10-year-olds than adults:
1. You don’t have to convince them that they are creative. They are only certain about one thing: they have many ideas, thoughts, questions, and experiences. They are 10 and they know this with conviction!
2. You don’t have to convince them about “good writing.” They know that sharing a piece of writing must meet certain standards. The two most important rules that they came up with: “make it not boring” and “don’t just talk about yourself.” They intuitively know that “some pieces of writing are just for yourself and that is okay not to share. Your writing still matters because it is yours.”
3. You don’t have to hear about social media. They don’t care about social media. Don’t confuse this with their lack of knowledge about Twitter, Fakebook, Instagram, Vine etc. Most of them do have digital devices and some even have accounts! They just use them like text-messaging tools to share “selfies” and fart jokes or about what they are reading, no different than adults I suppose. However, an important distinction is, they don’t seek them as a source for inspiration for anything and they are definitely not as plugged in as the “millennials”. In another 10 years these children will be 20 and already have a very different take on technology. Most of them can’t understand the adult obsession, they would rather play and hang-out in real time. They do have tablets for reading but equally prefer books. Most of them see tablets as game boards. “They are not a book! That’s just silly!” So, naturally, they don’t care to share their writing beyond their immediate audience or to know if anyone else likes it. That being said, they are very driven to improve their writing because “no one likes cliches because that’s boring and tiring”.
4. You don’t have to sell them the reasons for editing and revising. They like editing and revising. They know that when we are eager to write our initial thoughts or creative stories we sometimes overlook silly mistakes. It’s “fun to make it better because you grow each time you fix a mistake.” They know they are not perfect because no one is. They are focused solely on their own work but in a different way than most self-absorbed adults: they want to improve for the sake of improving and having their thoughts be more accessible.
5. They think writing is cool because you get to share stories, make up stories, use figurative language like “play-doh”. “Most author’s craft is really just play-doh: why would you make something that somebody else is making? Unless it was really really cool. You can’t make mistakes with play-doh.” Their use of figurative language is mind-blowing. “It’s easy when you write from the heart and push yourself to find new ways of saying how you feel.”
7. They are not afraid to explore. Even the shy ones. They don’t need permission to cry or think they need self-help for crying. Some of them have burst into tears during their writing. “I didn’t even know there was that feeling in me!” Some of them don’t cry until they share their writing out loud. They love humor too and enjoy making up stories about one another and writing in third person. They are not interested in my “approval”. They help each other and are willing to receive and reject help. They emulate one another and authors and then grow out of it. They don’t want to be the best, they want the writing to be the best for that moment.
8. They don’t need a reason to break rules. “I wanted to try something new” suffices. “I didn’t have more to say” for a shorter writer’s notebook entry is an okay response. The five-paragraph essay doesn’t have to be boring if you care about what you are writing. “Don’t you want to convince someone of something when you sit down to write?”
On that note, I thought I was going to have 10 reasons, but 8 good ones are better than 2 extra useless ones. “It’s okay to start with one thing in mind and then end up with another. That’s why it’s called a journey, right?”
I wish I could take credit for all of it. I am just a facilitator and here and now share my own writings and feelings with them. It’s all been an organic unfolding, truly an orchestration beyond my teaching abilities. That being said, Peter Elbow is a big influence and I incorporate a lot of his methodologies and philosophies.
On a personal note, these youngsters have really convinced me to write a young-adult or children’s book.
As they would say: why not? 🙂
“Writing is a way to end up thinking something you couldn’t have started out thinking. Meaning is not what you start out with but what you end up with.” – Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers.