“I want you all to write for the next 5 minutes, okay? Ready….go!”
The room was soon filled with the sound of pencils furiously scratching away on paper. For a few seconds, I sat in frustration, my hands frozen in midair above my paper. I had a serious case of writer’s block, but I had to figure out something to write. The rule for this writing practice was that we had to write for the entire amount of time without stopping. So I started writing about the first things I saw: my hands. I didn’t know what else to write, so I stared at my hands and started describing their appearance. Next thing I knew, my mind had strayed elsewhere, and ideas and thoughts were pouring out that had been buried deep inside.
This was all a part of a practice that Professor Rebecca Walker teaches called “first thoughts.” First thoughts usually have tremendous energy and are the best starting point for writing about a topic. If we stop to edit our work, we sometimes lose the good ideas we had before. In her Expository Writing for Elementary Education class, Professor Walker uses this tool and many others to teach future teachers not only how to teach children to write, but how to write well themselves. It is her belief that in order for us to teach our students to write well, we need to be able to write well too.
From her very first lecture, you can definitely tell that writing is her passion. Her whole goal is to spark the passion for writing within us and our future students. One topic that she really emphasizes from day one of her class is this: if we want our students to write well and to believe that they can write well, they need to first believe that they ARE writers. This means that they need to view themselves as authors right now, and that they can create fantastic writing now.
One thing Professor Walker explains is that writing is just a way to communicate with others, and every single one of us has to write. It’s not just something you only do in school, but you use it every day. This makes writing more approachable for our students and
allows us to show them examples of how professional authors organize words and convey emotions or ideas and then let our students practice using those skills in their own writing. This not only teaches our students that they can write well, but it also teaches them specific ways of doing it.
This same principle is illustrated in the story of “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper. My father used to read this book to me all the time as a little kid, and it quickly became one of my favorite stories. The little blue engine has to go up a very large hill. She tries to go up it but struggles and decides she can’t do it alone. None of the other trains can help her either though, and she realizes that she has to go up the hill all by herself. So she tries again, this time chanting “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and she reaches the top of the hill.
If we take Professor Walkers’ advice and teach our students to believe they are writers, we’re essentially teaching them to do as the little blue engine did. If they believe they can do it, then they will be able to do it.