I am an elementary school teacher, and I love teaching writing. Creative writing, poetry, personal narratives -- I love listening to kids tell stories. It seems that lately, however, the focus has been on teaching expository reports, essays and summaries. In the attempt to move our nation toward the top in the fields of science, math and technology, the art and craft of writing is being left behind.
This summer, working at a writing camp in Sunnyvale, I celebrated this art with other passionate teachers and students. It reminded me, yet again, of the importance of teaching this skill. Every day children came to camp to hang out with friends, share stories and write. They talked to each other, collaborating on fairy tales, chapter books and poems. They listened and helped each other with word choice, then laughed or cheered when they produced something great.
One morning, a teacher led an exercise inspired by Hemingway. She challenged the kids to write six-word memoirs; that is, to share something funny, special or profound about themselves in just six words. Some were funny: "My sister thinks she is awesome." Some were factual: "My favorite pet is a dog." Then the class took chalk, walked outside and wrote these memoirs all over the blacktop.
At recess, I watched the mad dash to the playground slow and then stop as kids began to notice the writing below their feet. They stood and read what other campers had written, laughing and pointing out their favorites. Many heads nodded in agreement when they read: "Writing is fun, but sometimes hard." Then they walked slowly, winding their way over to the monkey bars six words at a time. Kids who weren't in that class began to pick up chalk and fill the yard with their own stories and poems.
Teaching children to write well is hard work, but the reward comes when kids see something that they wrote make someone else laugh, cry, get excited or think about things in a new way. As I look forward to the next school year, I am again inspired by what I saw in our summer campers.