Thursday, January 3, 2008


I find myself often emphasizing ideas that I want my students to unlearn.

In my Language Arts classroom, one of the things I want students to immediately begin unlearning that the crazy idea that writing must be perfect on the first try. There simply is no such thing. Revision does not make you a bad writer; it makes you a good one. Nor do we expect this perfection on the first try outside the classroom. No coach only puts her players on the field during game time. There are drills, scrimmages, and practice. There must be a "safe" space to practice writing, make mistakes, fix them, and try again without penalty. Freewriting, for me, is that space. It's also a wonder way to let kids tell their own story, which to me is the most meaningful kind of writing possible. I know kids are "learning" that it must be perfect from somewhere. They constantly want dictionaries for spelling and exhibit a focus on, for example, handwriting. I tell them those things are important, but not yet. Eventually, most of them relax and simply begin writing.

Does it count as "data" that some of my students have asked to take their journals with them when they left the Detention Center? I think so.

This is why I philosophically stand behind the practice of "freewriting", though some argue that it is too unstructured and informal to "do any good". In freewriting, the topic is wide open, and the only rule is you must keep your pen moving. If you get stuck, write that. As I say to my kids nearly every day, it's not that you get an idea and then start writing. You start writing and then get an idea. This is the second misconception that I want kids to "unlearn"--that you must know exactly what you're going to say before you put pencil to paper. Writing is a process of discovery of one's self and the world. There's no way possible to know where you may end up once you start.

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