a. To create a non-threatening atmosphere for creative writing.
b. To build upon, or expand, students’ ability and desire to express themselves, by emphasizing discovery, creativity, and personal experience.
c. To allow students’ first efforts to be simple enough to provide them with personal satisfaction, so they may continue to develop an interest in writing, and continue to use writing as a form of expression .
d. To stimulate students to write original short stories using autobiography as a resource or point of departure.
Developing a Creative Environment & The Teacher as Participant
If our students charge us with being. a bore, it is a sign. Nothing can be more stifling to creativity than boredom. It isn’t a motivating frame of mind. It is the resourceful teacher who will evaluate such input and put it to good use; changing, exploring, refining.
Nothing can keep a student’s interest more alive than the teacher’s own passion for his field. “It is interesting,” writes Brenda Ueland in
If You Want to Write, “
how if my interest in any one of them flags, they know it; or if I allow discouragement to creep into any one of them for one minute, they die away. Tender plants.”
As teachers of writing, we should explore a wide variety of forms, develop our own style and technique in writing, and bring those experiences to the classroom, Teaching and learning should be inseparable. We must be working apprentices to be enthusiastic, motivated, resourceful, and passionate teachers.
Most students have the notion that teachers have it easy. After all, who ends up doing all the assignments? It is self-defeating to encourage autobiography when the student is always in the place of having to make all the confessions, “When adolescents feel that they can trust their teacher and their peers, they often choose to write about incredibly powerful topics.”
One can begin to develop trust, and become an active researcher in the classroom, by taking part in assignments and class projects, by observing and becoming involved with students’ writing and thinking processes, by working on individual stumbling blocks through the mini-lesson in student-conferencing , by determining as well, from first-hand experience, whether some assignments have begun to lose their color, or are inadequate for a given class. To further one’s role as a researcher, one can log classroom observations, student conferencing progress, the ideas and modifications this research prompts, and turn to them when planning.
If the opportunity to write in class isn’t always available, Work on something at home and bring it to class. Hold periodic readings of Warm-Up Assignments and assigned, or directed-topic Free-writing. Contribute to the atmosphere by sharing your own. Students marvel at the realization that teachers too may take the chance of “exposing themselves” in class. Is that not what we ask of them?
One should also keep abreast of developments in the field.
is a monthly that offers useful, practical advise and support for beginning as well as flourishing writers. Unlike
The Writer, Teachers & Writers Magazine
resembles a newsletter, and is published quarterly. It is specifically aimed at teachers of writing. The majority of its articles are written by active poetS and writers teaching in the New York City Public Schools. Both are invaluable resources.
In fostering a supportive and non-threatening atmosphere, one can help students understand that in learning to write well, we need a certain “attitude.” First, they must learn to feel uninhibited, but must respect others so they too can have the respect they deserve.
Second, they must feel confident that there is something to be gained from all the writing that they do. When they stumble on a writing project that prompts them to believe they failed, they are guaranteed at least one insight from it to make future writing a more productive experience. Third, all ideas are acceptable. They are reminders of our individuality.
Creative Writing enables teachers to embrace a multitude of topics as well as a variety of disciplines. Jerome Bruner reminds us that in order “for the person to search out and find regularities and relationships in his environment, he must be armed with an expectancy and, once aroused by expectancy he must devise ways of searching and finding.”4 We can contribute to this by providing assignments that elicit not only autobiography but inquiry. We can challenge students’ creativity. We can help them discover for themselves in writing. We can nurture our interest in the individual, and offer as much support and concern for content (the discoveries, the life experiences a student brings to it), as for his developing sense of the written word, grammar and spelling.
A Case for Self-Discovery
In “The Act of Discovery,” Jerome Bruner, speaking of self-discovery within the educational setting, points out that it is “a necessary condition for learning the variety of techniques of problem-solving, of transforming information for better use, indeed for learning how to go about the very task of learning.”
Writing is an act of self-discovery, and problem-solving skills are crucial to the development of written-fluency. Self-discovery is particularly important at the stages of pre-writing, where brainstorming takes place. Here, especially, we must stress exploration and freedom. Furthermore, one must make the opportunity to explore available, rather than leave it up to the individual. The act of discovery enables students to remake connections on their own which are strong and lasting. One’s role is to create an environment that fosters this. Bruner explains that the student “ . . . is now in a position to experience success and failure not as reward and punishment, but as information.”G
It is true that we often need to experience that which we don’t want in order to discover that which we do, Imperfect people are continuously, one way or another, faced with this process. There is the short story that gets written through, only to discover that we should have done it altogether differently and must begin again. But has this process failed to teach us something because we did not succeed in achieving our intended goal? No. It is then that one’s process of discovery becomes a resource in itself.
Becoming familiar with elements of fiction and learning to analyze a short story alone, will not motivate a student to write. One needs to provide him with a cash-in value, with reading material that will challenge his thinking yet give him something realistic to aspire to, with a plan for learning that “lifts the veil of mystery” from writing, but one that is also enjoyable and satisfying.
With this purpose in mind, the short stories selected for this unit are meant to stimulate thought, help students explore possibilities, provide gratification, trigger writing, help students discover relationships between this writing and their own, and explore some elements of fiction that will be practical in writing that first short story.