Making Voices Matter

I’m currently teaching a Creative Writing class at my high school. It has over thirty students on the roster. None of them asked to be in a Creative Writing class.

A few weeks into the school year, our administrators asked me if I’d be willing to switch my planning period and take on a new class. Scheduling issues had resulted in several overcrowded classrooms during fourth period, so they needed a place to move some of the excess students. It needed to be an elective course in order for them to move all of the students they needed to move.

I was already teaching Creative Writing one period, but the students in that class mostly asked to be there. Even those who hadn’t requested it had been there since the first day of school and were therefore accustomed to it.

This new class was different. Some of the students are struggling readers. Some of them are reluctant students. One of them speaks very little English.

I decided to teach the new class the same way that I was teaching the old one.

My Creative Writing classes begin with ten minutes of self-selected silent reading. The students then write a reaction paragraph about what they read. The rationale is based on the idea that good writers are readers. If they read daily, and do so with an analytical or evaluative eye, they will be inspired, motivated, and engaged in the process of writing. It’s also a calm way to begin the class, setting a comfortable tone for the remainder of the period.

I provide a wide variety of novels, comic books, and magazines for students to choose from if they haven’t brought their own reading material. As the students come in, they grab something from the books table, sit down at their desks, and begin reading.

At least that’s how first period works. The fourth period class has several students who have been resistant to following that procedure. These resistant readers will try everything they can to avoid reading: cell phones will come out, conversations will continue, head will drop onto desks.

I’ve had to extend reading time most days until I can get at least 90% of the students to read silently for ten minutes straight. It’s improving, but progress is slow. I feel that these resistant readers are the students who will benefit most from daily reading, so I’m not going to give up on encouraging them to do so. I’m enlarging the collection on the book table, hoping to increase the number of high-interest materials.

It’s a lot better than it was at the beginning, and the writing is getting better, too. Most of the students have done very well with their poetry unit, even though many of them express a disdain for poetry. I reiterate to them that the purpose of poetry is to say as much as possible in as few words as possible, to let the diction, syntax, tone, imagery, and figurative language do the talking. The  students have written limericks, sonnets, narrative poems, and spoken word poems — the latter were among the most impressive pieces of writing they’ve done.

Students presented their spoken word poems to the class, a reinforcement of the message that writing is purposeful and intended to be shared. I was expecting a lot of hesitation, and I did get some. But out of the 30+ students in the class, there were only five who refused to share. After I shared and some of the other students shared, students were eagerly asking if they could go next. The class was filled with snapping fingers, and it ended with applause for all of the poets who had taken the “stage”.

Many of these students need to make their voices heard, and writing is the best way for them to do that. They don’t realize that writing is a healing process, that through it they can help to ease their stress, help to communicate their grievances, help to organize their thoughts, opinions, and ideas. But they’re starting to.

I just hope I can get this message across to all of them.


One thought on “Making Voices Matter

  1. leighahall October 31, 2016 / 11:44 am

    Hi Matt! In your opinion, why do you think some students were resistant to the reading at least at first? Did you talk to them about this?


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