Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Misconception about "Writing Voice"

A friend said something negative to me about IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing - a homeschool writing composition curriculum) even though she has not used the program. We are (finally) using it consistently this year and I only have positive things to say about it, so long as it is used on an appropriate level for the student. (Pushing any student to do above grade level work if not ready is abuse, no matter what the curriculum is).

I was re-watching the DVD series by Andrew Pudewa for teachers (TWSS). I'll paraphrase what he said: that the formula of the program was designed to expose and force the student to use different writing techniques (what they call dress-up's, sentence openers, etc.) than they naturally may have used. By forcing them to stretch themselves they are exposed to numerous different writing stylistic techniques. He then said that after the basic program the student would go on to do writing for their school subjects and that hopefully some of these stylistic techniques would have stuck and would naturally occur in their writing. The checklists and assignments to do 1 of this and 2 of that in each paragraph are learning activities, not a map for every piece of writing that the student will ever do. Knowing the large variety options gives the writer more options to choose from and in the process the writer learns to dislike boring and simple writing.

The friend told me that she worried if her student used IEW that they would never form their own writer's voice. In thinking about her concern, I have come to the conclusion that any thinking person (children and teens included) has opinions and those opinions and ideas form one's writing which is the real basis for their voice. I think what needs to be freed is the person's mind and then any flowing forth of ideas would form the writer's voice. The only time, I think, a writer feels stunted and trapped is when they have not opened their mind and when they are just plain stuck about what to write about, such as with what so many call "writer's block". Usually writers get stuck when they are assigned to write about something they either know little or nothing about or something they don't care about and thus have no spirited opinion to communicate.

To me writing is like talking but is done with the written word on paper (or on a computer screen and shared paper-less-ly). I wonder why so many "very verbal" students and adults so fear writing? If you just recorded what they so easily state orally and wrote it down it would probably be a well written piece of writing. Do those people realize that some excellent writers struggle with the spoken word? That when faced with thinking quickly on their feet they are speechless, yet later with pen in hand and time to think and with the abilit to edit that their written work is eloquent?

There is nothing to fear about writing, all it is is communication. Think about what you want to say, think about who your audience is so you can explain it in a way that the audience can understand, and just write. Writing is easier than talking because the words will be there for you to re-read later, with a fresh mind, to see if you really wrote what you had wanted to say. See if it flows well and if it says all that you had intended. Make sure you didn't repeat yourself or use the same words multiple times in a paragraph, which makes it awkward sounding. Read it aloud to yourself to hear how it sounds. Then clean it up for spelling and grammar mistakes and you are done.

The only way to improve your writing is to practice it. I recommend typing on the computer's keyboard, because editing is easier when using a word processing program instead of pencil or pen on paper. Just write, about anything, to improve your voice and to get used to writing for a specific audience and to improve the organization of your thoughts so it has a good flow.

Curriculum is a tool that homeschoolers use. Curriculum can provide a basic structure. The content of what is written and the opinions are the student's own, and there is really nothing to be afraid of.

Writing composition: just jump in and practice.


dstb said...

I understand your comment about your ideas/opinions being your voice. That the writing program is there to help you express your own ideas in a more eloquent way.

We did use IEW for a year and my kids HATED it. It became a struggle to get them to write. I tried getting them to first write without thinking about all the dress-ups and openers, because I told them when they went back, they would find that they had probably already included them without realizing it.

I ended up giving IEW to a friend who loved it. My boys started using Brave Writer and they also joined a writing class with the most amazing young man as a teacher. My older son now loves writing, wants to become a novelist, and is actively pursuing that goal.

While I think IEW has its merits, it feels too confining to some. I think one of the most important things students can do to become writers is to read, read, read. They will start to recognize what good writing is and will be able to emulate it.


ChristineMM said...

I respect Brave Writer, own a bunch of BW materials and have used some in the past. I needed something more step by step,for one son, the other is a natural writer who writes easily and can do age appropriate writing using assignment hoops (ie IEW) without any damage and with either benign or positive outcomes.

Rachel said...

My two oldest have used IEW taught in a co-op setting. While they don't love it, they do it and their writing has improved immensely. The younger one makes stories that are all her own, but with dress-ups. The older one just finished Medieval History. It was mainly reports, but her sarcastic style managed to peek through.
I need to look into it more from a teacher's standpoint, but I have seen great results. My6 year old is auditing the 10 year old's class starting Tuesday.