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In my classroom, writing is both the focus of what the stu- dents learn to do and the primary avenue for learning content. We are there to learn to write and to write to learn. Students are expected to write four major essays each quarter and are required the help essays to rewrite those essays at least once each. Further, they are al- ways allowed to rewrite essay submissions as often as they wish throughout the quarter. In effect, students will write from thirty- two to nearly one hundred essays each year in my class, along with dozens of more informal efforts. The activities discussed in the following sections are begin- ning-of-the-year activities that support persuasive essay helper my first-quarter focus on nonfiction and that help to establish the attitude toward writing - 150 - O 178 Being Honest about Writing and Individual Freedom we will follow throughout the year: writing as chaotic and as a series of choices by the writer. Being Honest about Writing and Individual Freedom As sophomores, students reach my English class primarily con- cerned with what they can not do in their writing (No fragments! By their tenth year in school, stu- dents often view the content of their work as of minimal impor- tance — if important at all. My primary goal with these young people is to liberate them from all such preconceptions. The truth about writing is that anything a writer chooses to incorporate is either appropriate (or effective) or inappropriate (or ineffective). This honest approach is messy and much more difficult to teach than rigid rules, essay form, and a linear writing process. But the rigidity of traditional approaches produces nei- ther writers nor freethinking young people.

The traditional ap- proach often creates a hidden curriculum that teaches superficiality and a paint-by-numbers approach to writing.

An honest approach allows the help essays young people to become artists before blank canvases. Writing as Professionals Do Briefly, I outline here a set of activities that help show both what students can do and what concepts can be fostered in students when the primary goal is student understanding and awareness of writing. The first step is allowing students to rediscover the world of professional and published writing as it compares to what they have come to believe to be rules that govern their writ- ing in school. ERIC 151 - SUPPORTING PRACTICES In a group activity, students are placed into five or so groups, each group receiving a different genre of writing to explore — poetry, nonfiction (e. They are instructed to explore and explain the conven- tions for sentence formation, paragraphing, and writing form they discover in their samples.

The teacher can even prompt them to consider traditional ideas about fragments, introductions, and thesis statements, for example, by brainstorming their precon- ceptions before completing the group work. A classroom activity that may work well to prepare students for this group activity is to have them all read a newspaper edito- rial that has an ironic or sarcastic tone.

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I often use a piece by Mike Royko about flag burning.

We discover that he has no the- sis (since he is being sarcastic, he never directly states his main point) and the help essays that he follows no introduction-body-conclusion for- mat. Nonetheless, he made his living as a professional writer. Students soon learn that the possibilities in the real world of writ- ing are virtually limitless — that the narrow essay formats they have previously produced have little to do with writing as it is practiced by writers. The writing process in practice does include brain- storming, outlining, drafting, revision, and all the steps we have taught for years. The active writer writes in a chaotic manner, incorporating the steps of the writing process in overlapping, holistic, and idiosyncratic ways. An effective next assignment is to have students write original pieces, allowing choice of both form and content. The focus of the assignment is for students to ERIC - 152 - Being Honest about Writing and Individual Freedom openly defy as many of the conventions — those preconceptions they have been the help essays taught directly and indirectly in school — as they can while producing an effective and appropriate piece. They should be encouraged to challenge the introduction-body- conclusion organization as well.

As they write their pieces, they must also maintain a reflective log that explains their choices — what conventions they reject and why. This set of activities strives to move students into a much more difficult world of writing than we have traditionally ap- proached. The truth about writing is extremely hard to teach and as difficult to learn. But when students are shown the free- dom of expression within the simple act of writing, they also embrace a world of individual freedom, a gift more powerful than the credit they receive for the class. Students Struggle with Freedom When any teacher explains a set of activities, they appear neat and clean, not a blemish in sight. Yet in the classroom, all great plans are covered in warts. My approach to liberating students within their writing and through their writing is a painful one, for both the students and me. My students have grown up in homes and in a town where conservative and fundamental attitudes are the norm, and their English classes have often por- trayed learning to read and write in similarly simplified language. The black-and-white world is much more manageable for every- one than the world of gray we live in. Therefore, allowing them discovery and building their trust in me as a writer and an expert on writing are extremely important. Most students respond well after a few essays, especially af- the help essays ter they have success with their rewrites. Not only do their grades improve, but they also often feel prouder of their work because of the time and energy invested and because they develop a deeper understanding of their own ideas.

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