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Dedicated to Teachers

In the Middle: What Student Writers Learn from Other Students' Writing

Heinemann Publishing’s In the Middle Wednesday blog series, written by Nancie Atwell, continues with Nancie taking about her student’s writing.

There’s a ton of writing by your students in the new edition of In the Middle  Why was it important for you to include?

I included a lot of student writing—over two hundred pieces—because I think it will be of such help to teachers. I hope they’ll recognize in this rich evidence the practical benefits of writing workshop, as well as what’s possible for their own students as young people who use writing to consider, name, and change their worlds. Plus I hope they’ll teach with it—reproduce my students’ work to illustrate minilessons about topics, genres, and techniques of craft. Bottom line, I packed the book with student poetry, memoirs, reviews, essays, parodies, short stories, and original research because, in my own workshop, kids have been so inspired by models written by other kids. 

I’ve learned that in addition to the superb published writing we read and analyze—a poem or two each day, book and film reviews from The New York Times, op ed pieces from the Boston Globe—it’s essential for adolescent writers to see how someone close to their age took an interest, experience, confusion, concern, or opinion and tried to shape it as literature. With kids, the subject matter matters. They get ideas and motivation from the topics of their peers, and they begin to learn what each genre might be good for. 

Because I included in the book many before and after versions of student texts, I also hope the kids of other teachers will see and understand how particular approaches to drafting and revising can improve their own texts, from shifting to a first-person voice in a poem or memoir, to writing-off-the-page to generate specifics, to pushing for a “so what?” or theme.

Finally, I organize my writing workshop across the school year as a series of genre studies. When I teach a kind of writing, I begin by asking students to read examples of strong work from the genre and tease out criteria. These lists of genre features are essential—because kids have named them, they own them, and they try to write toward them. 
While it’s important for kids to read the published work of professional authors and understand adult literary standards, I can’t begin to account for the power of the student models we analyze as part of each genre study. Somehow, genre features are more apparent in the work of peers—easier to tease out and more likely to be incorporated in the writing that emerges from the study. Voices raised by adolescents trying to craft the best writing they can are a powerful inspiration, motivation, and influence.

This blog post is part of In the Middle Wednesdays series. Please visit http://www.heinemann.com/InTheMiddle to learn more.


Topics: Reading, Writing, In the Middle, Middle School, Nancie Atwell

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