Writing Beyond the Classroom
Just when you see a glimmer of hope—WHAM!—it hits you like a ton of bricks. All of the progress that you had seen after weeks of instruction is dashed in a fleeting moment. The students have regressed to their original state. To a teacher, few things are more rewarding than observing his students grow academically; then again, few things are more discouraging than watching them quit as they approach an obstacle they are struggling to overcome.
Recently, I have been working with a small group of students to improve their writing of prose. After several weeks, something clicked for them; and it was as if they had become potential award-winning novelists overnight. Regretfully, this joy was short-lived as I read their most recent writing exercise. The brilliance that I had seen just a week earlier had vanished and not even a trace of evidence was left behind to prove that such brilliance ever existed. Did the students just stop trying, or could it be something deeper? In this case, I believe the cause has been ingrained in them over the past several years of their education.
I have learned that students, by and large, lose their creativity when writing becomes an academic process. The imaginative portion of their brain is shut off so all focus can be directed to the technical mainframe, causing their writing to be mechanically flawless, grammatically sound, and painfully boring. The only difference between the two assignments was one focused around a topic of their choosing while the other was taken from their history textbook. As a side note, the loss of creativity in an academic setting is also one of many reasons why there are lackluster teachers. Certain teachers may have a humorous personality and a dramatic flair, but they punish their students with dreary lectures daily because they have never learned to use personality during an academic exercise. This proves the importance that writing plays in the development of our students beyond the classroom.
The great English poet William Wordsworth said,
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
Unfortunately, this is rarely taught in schools. Instead, we have taught our students to fill their papers with proper grammar. I am a proponent of teaching grammar. I believe there are necessary guidelines that should be followed; however, there is more to grading a writing assignment than just checking for the proper use of tense or punctuation. Encourage students to write about the topics that interest them, and do not be overly concerned about the grammatical content. Free the imagination first, then coach them through their grammatical shortcomings. Most teachers assign a composition project and never work with their students to develop it. They simply grade the grammar in the paper and return it. No wonder our students find little relevance for writing! Once you have unleashed the “breathings of the heart,” then teach your students to incorporate their imagination into an academic exercise or a real-life situation. Remember, you are training the next generation of Christian leaders. If you do not teach them how to express themselves, who will?