kitchen table math, the sequel: Susan Wise Bauer on writing

Friday, March 28, 2008

Susan Wise Bauer on writing

Susan Wise Bauer has posted additional preview chapters to The Complete Writer: Strong Fundamentals over at Peacehill Press. In Chapter 4, The Three Stages, she has this to say:

What You’re Not Doing

But what about journaling, book reports, and imaginative writing?

In Years One through Four, it’s not necessary for the student to do original writing. In fact, original writing (which requires not only a mastery of both steps of the writing process, but the ability to find something original to say) is beyond the developmental capability of many students.

There is plenty of time for original writing as the student’s mind matures. During the first four years, it is essential that students be allowed instead to concentrate on mastering the process: getting ideas into words, and getting those words down on paper.

Some children may be both anxious and willing to do original writing. This should never be discouraged. However, it should not be required either. Students who are required to write, write, write during elementary school are likely to produce abysmal compositions. Take the time to lay a foundation first; during the middle- and high-school years, the student can then build on it with confidence.

In the Well Trained Mind forums, in response to the common lament of children shutting down when it comes to creative writing, she had this to say,

"[I]t's absolutely NOT necessary for an educated person to write creatively. You either enjoy it, or you don't, and forcing a child who doesn't have a bent for creative writing to do creative assignments can result in a child who loathes ALL kinds of writing."

Here's another favorite nugget from The Three Stages:

It’s important to resist the my-child’s-writing-more-than-your-child pressure.

Your neighbor’s seventh grader may be doing a big research paper, while your seventh grader is still outlining and rewriting. Don’t fret. Those research papers have been thrown at that seventh grader without a great deal of preparation. He’s probably struggling to figure out exactly what he’s doing, making false start after false start, and ending up with a paper which is largely rehashed encyclopedia information. I’ve taught scores of students who went through classroom programs which had them doing book reports, research papers, and other long assignments as early as third grade. This doesn’t improve writing skill; it just produces students who can churn out a certain number of pages, when required.

As someone who’s had to read those pages, I can testify that this approach is not, across the board, working.

Finally, someone really gets it.

New from Susan Wise Bauer:
Writing with Ease: Strong Fundamentals
Writing with Ease Workbook 1
Writing with Ease Workbook 2
First Language Lessons 4


Allison said...

I'm so happy to see that "Creative writing" for grammar school is maligned.

In my third grade class, every Friday after the spelling test, we were told to pick 3 index cards from 3 boxes. Each card in the first box contained some noun. Each card in the second box contained some ver. In the third box were prepositional phrases.

So you'd pull, say, "astronaut", "swimming" and "under the apple tree."

And then you had to write a "story" tieing these arbitrary notions together.

It was the single worst part of my week. It was a mind numbing exercise, because after a while, you didn't bother trying to make it make sense. It was pointless. I don't know how many kids KNEW it was pointless, but I'm sure it was more than just me. The end result was that over and over again, by the time I was 8, I'd already learned how much of what I was being taught was garbage, and I didn't respect it or the teacher. I didn't just hate writing. I hated writing, schools, cutesy ideas, and all other attempts to be "fun". Do teachers have any idea how many of their students think poorly of them, at such a tender young age?

Tex said...

It occurs to me that creative writing is the least important type of writing to be mastered in order for a student to maximize his learning experience in grades K-12. Unless, as the educrats believe, content is unimportant and must be minimized in order to focus on teaching “higher order critical thinking” skills. Unfortunately, we may in fact be producing rather uncritical thinkers. I say that because I observe my high schooler is often instructed to write about how he feels about his reading assignments.

Meanwhile, since fifth graders are writing 3-page research papers I think the most important thing they’re learning is how to cut and paste. That must be one of those “21st century” skills I keep hearing about.

ChemProf said...

Thank you for this one!

One of our regular assignments is having students in first year college Chemistry write a procedure summary and objective before each lab. This is a one page assignment, to try to get them to read the lab and focus on the key ideas. I can't tell you how many of them want to tell me the educational objective (to learn about x) instead of the experimental one (even in the second semester) or who want to tell me how they feel about the lab instead of what they'll do. It is worse when they write conclusions, which often have "I liked this lab because" statements. Getting them ready to produce expository, scientific writing is a challenge, and one that our writing faculty are really not prepared to help with. I used to send students to the writing center and had them come back with no basic writing help (grammar assistance is beneath the staff of the writing center) but many discussions about finding their "voice".

Dawn said...

This makes me feel better. I did nothing with my daughter regarding writing until last year when we started grammar and that's been in. She's penned the occasional poem or story but no more then a half a dozen in all her years on this earth.

Instead we've been reading. Lots and lots of stories so that when she does approach creative writing on her own terms there's a sound foundation to draw from and she really has something to say.

concernedCTparent said...

I wish it made me feel better. My son (second grade) has been fretting over his creative writing assignment since last week. Of course, it's due Monday morning. He said he has no ideas. Fresh out of creative ones, he said.

It's going to be a long, long Sunday.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I totally missed this post when it came out. I must have been out of town.

I have a few Susan Wise Bauer tapes from lectures she's given. In the one on writing she talks about how creative writing has been treated lately as the superior style of writing, and how the pressure to be creative has turned many kids into haters of writing. I know my son is one of them.

I'm finding out what Tex said a year ago--that my son's feelings are the most important thing he needs to write about to win approval from his high school English teachers.