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The Partnership of Writers and Teachers

Suzanne Lieurance mentioned something yesterday that I’d like to explore for just a moment or two. She said that when she worked at a classroom teacher, she developed and wrote many of her own materials because none were available for the lessons she wished to do. For many teachers that scenario strikes a familiar note.

For instance, I used an exercise for college level students on a classroom of third graders. It was a critical thinking, problem-solving exercise. The result stunned everyone. Those kids, half of which had “learning and educational issues”, blossomed into amazing thinkers in that hour and a half.

When they were taken out of the normal lesson expectations, placed in cooperative groups on a level playing field with an unknown problem placed before them, the ones that came out on top were the ones with issues. They all did very well, don’t get me wrong. The regular classroom teacher and I were amazed at how well they all did.

However, those who didn’t catch on to normal lessons the quickest, who were the disrupters of the class, were the ones with the freshest and most innovative conclusions and answers for the problem set before them. The answers to the problem challenged upper level college students for unique problem-solving abilities and ingenious use of materials. I have to admit to that day being one of the best I ever had in the classroom, for it validated the reason for schools, the untapped abilities of those kids deemed by the system as challenged.

I’d learned the previous year what those same kids could do when they found a challenge. In second grade I’d taken two hours of their otherwise boring day during National Book Week and taught them how to write their own books. We used one of their favorite books as a jumping off point.

They knew the character, how she spoke and the kinds of situations she got herself into. They wrote the new story, drew the illustrations. Everyone participated. Regardless of “learning level”, all of them contributed, were excited about the lesson, learned why language worked the way it did, and otherwise had a blast.

Adults operate the same way as students. One of the lessons I used when teaching college level Sociology or Psychology revolved around films. The students watched the film. Then, they got to discuss the piece using analysis of either Soc./Psych. We discussed motivations, emotional impacts, social expectations and behaviors. In other words, all of those theories they’d been studying for months came down to watching from outside of a time/situation/event and casting their own interpretations of it based on what they’d learned.

The exercise forced the individual to use his/her own abilities without competition to express their knowledge. One thing I always heard from the students was how far it stretched their understanding. Even a year or more later, I’d have students tell me how much that one lesson had changed how they looked at what they learned and what to do with that knowledge.

Was my teaching style based, even unconsciously, on my writer’s mind? I don’t know, but those teacher/writers I’ve come to know since then seem to see the world in much the same way. They also tend to teach and write in similar styles.

I can’t say which comes first, the teacher or the writer. Perhaps they go hand in hand. Writers who never stand at the front of a classroom to present the lesson manage to teach quite well by what they present the public as stories, essays, poetry, or books.

Each of us remains the student, of scholastics or life and the world. How we choose to learn the lesson comes from an individual preference. However, writers are the ones passing out the lessons most of the time whether on paper, online, or in person. That may also explain why so much revision goes on before submission. We need to present the best lesson we can, even if that lesson simply presents one possible solution to one child’s simple problem.

Well, folks, we’re almost to February. Another month gone and the telescope directed toward the future. What did you learn this past month? What did you teach?

This coming month I’ll have all sorts of instructors filling the schedule. Playwrights, illustrators, writer/filmmakers, children’s writers, you-name-it. I hope you drop by to join the audience frequently.

Monday, February 1st, Irene Roth will be here talking about her journey through academics to arrive at the children’s corner of the library. Writer/filmmaker Greg Neri will stop in on Wednesday. Friday will have Stephen Eliasson, playwright/copywriter, will take the guest chair. I hope to see many of you here for these guests.

Until then, a bientot,


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