It’s been a year since David Coleman, president of the College Board and architect of the Common Core State Standard initiative, gave a speech to a New York audience, shocking many when he, while discussing narrative writing, said “as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a [expletive] about what you feel or what you think.” The video is seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu6lin88YXU. Susan Ohanian has done a good job writing about Coleman overall, and I refer you to her site to learn more about him and the tribulations with Common Core. But I would like to write today about narrative writing and its importance.
Several weeks ago NBC News reported that the American Psychiatric Association was working with teachers around the country to help them identify troubled students. This sounds like a great move. Narrative writing should be a part of that process. It is significant for many reasons. This kind of writing can tell you a lot about a student. It also gives students great practice at natural writing. It is no waste of a student’s time.
Narrative writing allows a student to express themselves, and it helps them to feel self-worth. It is one of the best ways for teachers to get to know their students. Every English or language arts class should include journal writing. I don’t care how old a student is either. Young children should be allowed to do free writing every day, and if they can’t think of anything to write about the teacher can provide some topics.
After Columbine, it was noted that students-turned-killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, had written some disturbing things. It is sometimes difficult to tell what kind of writing is potentially dangerous, because students, especially older students, often write with teen-age angst. After the revelation of the student writing in that situation, teachers around the country began scrutinizing journal entries and essays with greater care, so-much-so that fears began to rise about freedom of expression. Sometimes teachers are right to be concerned—other times they might overreact. But either way, narrative writing can be one of the best ways for English teachers to understand and communicate with students. They also might, just might, be able to identify threatening behavior before it escalates into something worse.
I loved my student’s journals. I learned all kinds of funny and sad things about their lives. Sometimes it helped me understand why they behaved the way they did. When a student’s journal entry seemed especially sad or angry, I’d take the student aside and ask for clarification. If I felt especially uncomfortable with an entry, I’d speak to the school counselor, psychologist, or another teacher who might have been more familiar with the student. The point is, teachers can be engaged with students and learn more about them through what they write,
When I taught students identified with learning disabilities, I would allow 15 minutes for writing at the beginning of each class. Sometimes we’d take more time. At first, students would have trouble with the assignment because they didn’t want to expose their writing difficulties. They were ashamed. But it was free writing so I’d let them make as many mistakes as they wanted. “Just write,” I’d tell them. It was amazing how students, when they knew they wouldn’t be corrected, let their thoughts and ideas flow. Some were especially artistic and would include drawings.
Eventually, when I gained their trust and could see they were comfortable putting their thoughts and ideas down, I’d ask for permission to correct a particular entry for them to rewrite with the correct grammar and spelling. I’d see through the mistakes to beautiful ideas that needed to be exposed. Usually students would be excited to do this and they would be proud of the finished product. I would do this more and more as time went on and I always saw much overall improvement.
So Mr. Coleman is just plain wrong when he says no one gives a [expletive] about narrative writing. His stance on this makes Common Core look cold in its approach to students. Narrative writing is really what education should be all about. It is important for many reasons and teachers should be encouraged to do narrative writing with their students.