I’ve worked with gifted writers and struggling students who want to get as far from the printed word as possible. Both sets of students have come to discover, and build on, their strengths as writers. We work on getting students to be the best they can be for school and college but we also build their portfolio and confidence as writers.
My students have won national and international writing competitions, including the Scholastic Art and Writing competition, the River of Words awards and the Torrance Creativity Awards. They’ve published feature articles and fiction and performed spoken word on mainstream platforms, besides serving on school newspapers. It is gratifying to see those who’ve worked with me accepted to the likes of Duke, Cornell, Vanderbilt, American University and McGill. In fact, one student’s admission essay was chosen by an admitting school as a sample “exemplary essay”.
Writing Cultivates Critical Thinking Skills.
Writing is thinking. As a writer and editor, I see writing not only as a means of communication but a way to distill and solidify one’s understanding of a subject and internalize information. Further, writing is a window to the world outside as much as it is to our inner worlds. It allows for new ideas to crystalize and gives us reason to pause and reflect, and even question, some of our most closely held beliefs. Writing helps us shape and mould our opinions and principles. Students learn how to write persuasively, find their voices and develop an impressive portfolio.
Getting Ready for Higher Ed
I call writing painting with words. The goal is helping students develop the craft of writing; to become writers who draw readers in, conveying ideas in lucid, clear writing, whether its fiction or non-fiction. How well they write often defines success not only in high school and the college years but, as recruiters will tell you, well beyond.
I find that the more relevant a topic is to my student’s daily lives, the more eager they are to research it and weigh in. It is much less of a struggle getting some students to write on, for instance, whether the Prius is worth the money or why the game Pokemon Go was such a hit. All the while they are learning how to create a stellar written pieces, incorporating elements of good writing. For comprehension, we use articles from Aramco World magazine.
An Audience Matters
I’ve found that students are motivated by an audience, whether it’s online or within class. My students are expected to read their work aloud in class and have their writing critiqued by peers, as a workshop. This process also gives students a chance to be teachers, retaining material better in the process. Knowing they have an audience, students are eager to complete and improve their work.
Real World Application – Building a Digital Footprint
Real world application of their writing makes it more meaningful and valuable and serves as a portfolio come time to apply for college. I encourage re-purposing select homework assignments, or other writing, for platforms such Medium.com, a personal blog, a LinkedIn profile, or as freelance writers. My students have written for magazines even as high school and middle-schoolers.
The Elements of Writing
Writing intelligently, and arriving at a more educated opinion, requires research and learning how to use multiple sources. Cultivating an informed perspective and conveying it effectively is a goal we aspire to here at the Writers Studio.
Providing a platform for their thoughts and opinions on developments in the news, I’ve had students write on current events including whether the US should welcome refugees. Students write letters to political prisoners as part of Amnesty International’s annual write-a-thon. Not only does it teach them formal writing skills but also widens their horizons and world view. Writing letters to the editor also achieves similar ends. With recruiters bemoaning the paucity of writing skills, having a digital footprint comprising strong writing will position students more competitively.
As better writing is the result of both reading and writing voraciously, I’ve had even high schoolers read the Gregor Overlander series by Suzanne Collins, the Incredible Journey, Trumpet of the Swan and other elementary school age books. I especially chose books where the writing is evocative. These books are typically quick reads, not daunting in size and because they are crafted beautifully, they help students immerse themselves in and understand the nuances of good writing. Together, we dig into the finer details as to how words are used; how word choice – snow crunching versus snow squishing, for example – paints a different picture; how different sentence lengths impact mood and pacing; how metaphors are a means to show not tell. It allows them to recognize and pick apart what is good and what isn’t.
Editing ruthlessly and revision is what makes for better writers and I value my role in that process.
Acknowledging hard work as well as what students have done right serves as reinforcement/motivation. My students benefit from customized, one-on-one feedback, whether given face-to-face or via Google docs. Writing well, however, is a collaboration between the writer and the instructor. There are expectations that the students will write outside of class.
Writing is like riding a bike – the more you do it, the better you get. Like writing a bike, writing well takes you on new adventures. I look forward to joining you on your journey as students, authors and writers!