Thoughts about Summer Reading Part 14: If it’s Obvious, then Why isn’t it Happening?

After more than 30 years, you’d think that scientists would have found a way to make the beaming up process from Star Trek a reality, but alas, they haven’t found a way to do it, yet.  I’m sure its coming down the pipeline soon though. However, for now, we’ll have to stick with flying, walking, and driving to get around.  Then again though, that futuristic process always seemed far-fetched anyway.  How would it be possible to split an object into its seperate particles and then reassemble it safely?  That’s crazy.  While it would be very cool if we could beam up when traveling, it’s not realistic.

However, the ideas in Boy Writers by Ralph Fletcher do make a lot of sense.  In schools around the country, teachers seem to have trouble engaging boys in writing.  As a teacher at an all-boys school, the ideas he proposes and suggests in his fine book are obvious and already a part of my educational toolbelt.  To inspire boys to write they need to have options and choice.  The writer’s workshop model of writing instruction allows for just that, as the author mentions repeatedly throughout the text.  I employ the literacy workshop model of reading and writing instruction in my classroom to engage my students.  The boys choose what they write about and how they do it.  If they want to write a play, poem, comic book, fiction story, collaborative story, or any other type of writing, they have the freedom to do so.  They love having the choice to write what they want to write.  So, while this method makes sense to the author and some teachers, why do all teachers not use this method of instruction?  Brain research proves to us that people learn best when they are provided choice.  However, despite the obvious data, many teachers and schools still don’t teach writing and reading through the workshop model.  That baffles me.  Even the other English teachers at my school don’t utilize this model of literacy instruction in their class despite all of the research and information with which I have provided them over the years.  Why?  Well, I’m sure all those teachers who operate a writer’s workshop in their classroom can tell you that change is hard.  So many teachers are set in their ways and like having control over their students and the curriculum.  With this method of instruction, the control switches to the students.  Those out-of-touch teachers would probably say something like, “We can’t have the inmates running the asylum.”  It’s time for those teachers to be beamed up to the 21st century or beamed out of teaching.

Another obvious proposal the author made was that boys need to be able to have the ability to use humor and violence in their writing.  In the overly politically correct world in which we live, when students employ violence in their stories, some teachers jump the gun and think, “Oh my gosh.  We’re going to have another Columbine on our hands.”  I get it, violence is scary when we don’t take the time to understand its purpose or rationale.  However, research shows that people who play violent video games, write stories that include violence, or listen to violent music are not automatically prone to going crazy and committing acts of violence themselves.  People do bad things for many different reasons.  If a student writes a story about a superhero and includes a battle scene, as his teacher, we should be excited that he his writring a piece that he enjoys.  This means that we might be fostering a love of writing within that student.  Imagine if we had an entire class filled with students who are able to write about what inspires them in a manner that they choose.  That is what writer’s workshop and trust in your students allows.  We need to show our students we trust and believe in them.  Giving them freedom will create this kind of atmosphere in the classroom.  So then, why aren’t all teachers doing this already?  Again, it comes back to fear.  People are afraid that if they allow students to write silly or violent stories, they won’t be learning anything or will grow up to be violent or crazy people.  That’s not the case in 99% of situations though.

While much of what Ralph Fletcher writes about in his book Boy Writers, is already common knowledge to me, its great to see that other people understand and believe in these ideas as well.  Teaching can be very scary when we allow students to take the reigns, but it’s one of the only ways engagement and genuine learning will take place.  So, let’s believe in our students and guide them through the adventure of learning in a meaningful and trusting manner.


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