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A Pages Lesson to Leave With

Creative writing is a must. This seems obvious enough as I finish my fourth year in the Pages Program, but if I am being completely honest, creative writing had dwindled to practically nothing when I sat in on my first teacher collaboration session. Over the years, I got lost in the standards and the need to teach argumentative writing, outlawing the personal in student work and constantly pushing them to analyze the so what. Is this good writing? It can be. Is it the only writing? It shouldn’t be.Т 

I always knew that. My parents never held onto a particularly well-written essay about Melville’s Moby Dick from my 10th grade year, but there is a piece I wrote about my grandfather that was formatted, printed, and framed by my mom as a gift for my aunts and uncles; the piece still hangs in their houses twenty-five years later. For the record, I hated Moby Dick as a fifteen-year-old and can’t remember a word of that essay; the piece about my grandfather, though, is forever in my memory just like the person it’s about.Т  The difference was, and still is, in completing writing that mattered personally and beyond a single text.

So, why did I move away from creative writing a little more each year I taught? Time. The clock is always running between bells, between holiday breaks, between quarters, between first days and last days. The cliche of “so much to do with so little time” rings true with teaching. Then there is the dilemma of how to grade it or if to grade, whether to share it in writing groups or not. It’s personal and that makes it complicated. We see more of the individual who is writing the piece than how well he can argue about a required text; who I am to evaluate the meaning and value of the first?

Required creative writing provides students the time and a place to get to better know themselves, which has also allowed them to discover what they believe and what is worth fighting for. Consequently, this has also allowed them to better understand the characters from our reading. Creative writing and essay writing are not mutually exclusive. One can and does support the other. Just as we search for supplemental readings in support of the novels we read, the Pages Program helped me as a teacher to find the supplemental writings in support of student learning. Confused about a character’s motivation? Take all of those quotations you’ve been collecting and create a Found Poem; what rings true when you combine passages from throughout the book and then pare them down to what you see as the most essential? What do you see now after another round of cuts? Is something new revealed when your work is handed to a classmate who completes an interpretive, dramatic reading? Ultimately, in these exercises I end up responding to a student’s revelation:Т  Yes, the author did realize that she was doing that. Write about it!

Students can take what they find through creative prewriting and create an original essay or not. Both forms of writing establish an argument as much as both forms can be (and should be!) original and creative. One doesn’t always have to be a means to an end or the path to the other. Either way, there is proof and beauty in the writing. And that proof and beauty turn into voice, a more natural voice, and individual style for student writing.

-Stacey O’Reilly, Big Walnut HS, Pages educator-in-residence

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