If you think about the difference between our bottom and middle groups of writers, it’s mostly about correctness. As a teacher, I could handle this. I can see incorrect English and try to fix it. Of course, I wasn’t always very successful, but at least I knew what I should do.
But then we have the tricky part. What separates the on-level and advanced writers? When I’ve asked teachers, they usually say it’s about style: interesting word choices, sentence variety, unexpected descriptions, and a unique voice. But I couldn’t teach that as easily as correcting grammar errors!
I really didn’t know what to do with my advanced writers. And, if you had asked me, “Hey! How did your advanced writers get so advanced?” I’d shrug and say, “Um, they just walked in like that. I didn’t teach them much of anything.”
So how can we teach on-level writers to become advanced and (even scarier) how do we help already advanced writers to become even better?
How Do People Become Advanced At Anything?
To me, the answer is the same as how people become advanced at anything. It’s often by studying what’s already great and then mimicking what made them great.
- Basketball players talk about how they grew up watching lots of basketball, studying the greats, and figuring out their moves.
- Guitar players listen and watch, learning the tricks of successful guitar players.
- Filmmakers talk about how, when they started, they were studying and copying the techniques of their favorite filmmakers.
- The only reason I know anything about teaching is from watching other, better teachers teach and trying to copy the best parts.
So people who become advanced in their field spend a lot of time studying and breaking down what makes the existing works great. Then, they mimic those greats until, eventually, they develop a style of their own.
In terms of teaching, advanced writers spend more time at the Analyze level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. They read lots of great writing and pick apart what the author does. Then they evaluate what they’ve analyzed, deciding what to try out in their own writing.
But, when I taught writing, I was either at the bottom of Bloom’s, having students remember writing rules. Or I blasted way up to synthesize, asking my class to write an entire essay or a whole story. I would skip the analysis and evaluation stages. And I think those are the key to advanced writers.
Because, to answer our earlier question, that is how our advanced writers actually became advanced. Your best writers are often your best readers. And they’ve picked up on the style of the authors that they’ve been reading
In my first year of teaching, some of my best writers were trying to write their stories in the second person. “You did this. You did that.” I thought it was so odd. Then I realized that they were all reading the Series of Unfortunate Events books, which are written in the second person. They were mimicking the author’s style. My best writers were already analyzing on their own!
So I think this is the missing piece in all the writing programs I suffered through. To become advanced, students need to analyze lots of writing, not for mere correctness, but for interestingness! They need to see a wide range of voices, styles, and techniques and then try those things on for size.
Once they’ve analyzed, then they can evaluate and decide what they like and don’t like. And then, and only then, are students ready to bring everything together and start producing their own interesting writing. Students cannot synthesize if they haven’t analyzed and evaluated.
Ok. So, How Do I Do That?
So. Where do you get the writing to analyze? I mean, it’s a given that your language arts program won’t have lots and lots of wonderful paragraphs to analyze.
As a teacher, I used to photocopy great passages from books I was reading to bring into class. Then, as a consultant, I’d tell teachers to check out Project Gutenberg and find interesting public domain writing there. But, the fact is, this takes a lot of work, and it should really just be done for you.
So I’ve been trying to gather and create resources so that your students can practice analyzing and evaluating writing. Not just to be correct but to try out different styles and techniques. You can find these resources in the analyze writing category over at Byrdseed.TV. And I hope they help all of your students become more advanced writers.