After spending the last week reading and being inspired by Murray, Kittle, and Gallagher, I think one of the aims of teaching writing and encouraging growth is to create an orderly MESS in the relationship between the writer and the responder:
Mine for the gold in writing, and talk about what makes it gold. Writing teachers often look for golden sentences, and the recognition of what is working in the writer’s craft comes with truly listening during writing conferences, and then taking the time to see if that desired communication is coming through in the piece of writing. Once the message is clearly conveyed, then the writer can further craft that communication to be effective and engaging.
Encourage growth in areas of strength. This growth can be nurtured by matching writing style with reputable authors. I will never forget when I shared my personal writing in front of a group of teachers during a Saturday seminar at the SVWA@bridgewater. The director of the writing academy said, “Jenny’s writing style reminds me of Willa Cather, in the way that she wraps the beginning back to the end.” This did a few things for me. First, I saw that what I had worked to achieve (coming full circle) did have an impact on the reader. Second, it made me want to read Willa Cather. Third, this type of focused feedback gave me confidence as a writer.
Serve others in the classroom via students’ writing strengths. Putting students in a leadership position that capitalizes on a writing strength is belief and trust in action. For example, if a student excels at using metaphors to connect with readers, then put that student in a position to give tips to others. Maybe this means sharing a couple pieces in front of the class and explaining the process. Maybe this means working one-on-one with another student to help them use metaphor in writing. Or maybe this means writing an article on using metaphors in writing and finding a place to publish this for an audience of peers.
Share your writing, not only with the class, but publicly. Most importantly, show the students each step of the work that it took to get you to that place of publication. This effort to show the many steps toward publication puts the emphasis on process over product.
How can we create this orderly mess? In 1993, I started with Rief’s guidance in Seeking Diversity, but Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them provides concrete examples of how to create order without stifling creativity. Likewise, Gallagher’s guidance in Write Like This can serve as a springboard to help toward creating a community of writers that both nourish and encourage.