When I first came to the Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, I was hired through the Center for Theatre Techniques in Education; a program which, among its many services, hires artists to teach in the public schools. Some of my first classes were instant nightmares. My students did not want to be there. They were hostile and resistant. For all they cared, this was another English class with more of the work a number of them disliked, writing. When I first began to teach I had one concern in mind: not to duplicate what English teachers were doing in their classroom. We shared the same students and I was overly concerned with “turning them off” from writing altogether.
While I sought not to duplicate the work of English teachers, I learned much about English classes in my school and others. I spoke to teachers at length, attended workshops, read tirelessly. If I derived any benefit from this pursuit, it was becoming aware of, and learning about the current writing movement which Paul Connolly describes as being “not simply a matter of pushing the teacher’s desk to the edge of the classroom and watching what happens. It is a deliberate controlled effort to affect a complete ecological system in such a way that learning, and not just the rapacious testing which often passes for schooling, can nurture everyone.”l This gave some of my dearest aspirations as a teacher of writing hope for the future. It helped guide me and others to the center from which all good writing happens in the classroom. At the outset, I strongly believed that the writing process and the process of teaching writing were worlds apart. But that’s not true. Teaching writing well is also an art.
With emphasis on self-discovery and the classroom environment, this unit presents a method with which to introduce the writing of the short story to tenth graders. Students will be motivated to write, and to develop an involvement with their writing that is both personal and interpersonal. This is a six-week unit, within the context of a Creative Writing course that extends for one marking period, and should take place at the beginning of class. It does as well, naturally build up to a study of poetry.
Strategies are spread throughout a week-by-week format. Week One details two ways in which to begin building a non-threatening atmosphere, and provides suggestions for Warm-Up Assignments as well as Core Writing. These samples continue through Week Two. An outline for other material is provided under each respective week. Week Three introduces the first short stories and outlines questions for group discussion, providing as well, samples for Follow-Up Writing. Week Four and Five continue this thread while addressing the writing of the short story. Students conclude their stories by Week Six, and begin to evaluate.
In structuring lesson plans, note that: (1) The class should open with a Warm-Up Assignment. (2) This activity should be followed by any combination of a presentation, the reading of a short story, group discussion, Core Writing, and student conferencing. (3) The class should end with a brief follow-up. Taking the last five or ten minutes of class, for example, for a reflection on the group process. What can each student say about what he is feeling, how he sees things, etc. Every member of the group should contribute something, including teacher, no matter how insignificant. One can also take this opportunity to allow students to read their work; not for feedback in this case, but to share each other’s accomplishments. (For ideas on end-of-session follow-ups, consult Connolly’s “Writing & Thinking.”)
The act of self-discovery and the environment play major roles in the creative impulse. This is the driving force, affected and brought on by the world within us (one that is confident, daring, exploratory, full of experiences), as well as the world outside of us (one that is stimulating, supportive, tolerant, and accommodating). It motivates us to create, to write.