A couple of months ago I shared the first scene from a story I am writing with two of my students, an eighth grade brother and a sixth grade sister.
Their feedback was insightful: how I started off in the middle of a tense situation, how my short sentences made that tense situation even tenser, how they liked the tenderness of the main character, how shocked they were by something that happened just like the main character must have been, and how real the dialog of the children sounded.
I had previously taught them that writers today are encouraged not to provide back story at the beginning of a narrative, but rather to jump right into the action and weave the backstory in here and there.
“Oh, now I see what you mean,” said the brother. “You have the mother trying to stop the car, and the 18-wheeler zooming up behind her, and the pickup ahead of her zig-zagging and trapping her.”
“Yeah, and only then you learn there are children in the back seat who are yelling because they’re scared,” said the sister.
“But you don’t tell anything about them except their names.”
“Yeah, but you still care about them because they’re kids and they’re scared.”
From this short exchange, I was reminded how useful it is for the writing teacher / tutor / parent to share her own writing with a student.
- Sharing your writing proves that you know how to write, so your praise and criticism are respected by your students.
- Sharing your writing makes the lesson more collaborative. The students give feedback, ask questions and suggest areas that could be improved, adopting the role usually reserved for the teacher. The teacher, meanwhile, learns how to improve her writing.
- Demonstrating the kind of behavior you hope your students will show, such as listening carefully to what they say, adding more information when they say that an idea is vague, and drawing arrows to move ideas around for better sequencing, will lead to the same good writing behaviors in your students.
- Taking the students’ suggestions seriously models life-long learning, a lifestyle we hope they will adopt.
- And perhaps most importantly, showing that you do what you are asking them to do builds their respect for you as their teacher.