No matter what a student thinks of their writing ability, we have to show them they all have the right to write. More than that, we have to teach students the value of their words and inspire them to share them. We need to do our part in developing critical thinkers.
If we view education through a social justice lens, we are obligated to teach students how to articulate and publish their thoughts. A social justice approach to education prepares teachers, leaders, and scholars to foster educational environments that are socially just, diverse, inclusive, and equitable.
We can show students the importance of their individual voices by giving students autonomy and diversity.
Integrating students identities
Students enter the classroom with a whole life of their own. They do not strip their identity when taking off their coats. Past experiences and future aspirations follow them to their desk and show up in everything they write, or, as NCTE puts it, “writers’ cultures and languages influence their writing.” Because writing is interwoven with identity, it’s crucial that writers take ownership of their writing– this allows autonomy to be established in the classroom.
By allowing their persona to shine through their work, students will be writing in a way that is unique to them; that is the only way to produce authentic writing. Authentic writing will teach students how to convey their ideas across audiences, which is crucial to success after school.
NCTE also states, “everything they have experienced, who they are, where they have been, and what they have done impacts their writing practices, literacies, and language attitudes.” By integrating the life of the student inside and outside the classroom, we are allowing them to showcase their identity.
Students are very impressionable. If we, from the start, focus on their individualities and their potential, we are aiding in the development of critical thinkers. These are the people who will question authority and ask the hard questions. Whether they wind up in college or a trade, they will have the tools and confidence to be autonomous. The world will be better because of it. But it won’t happen if we try to erase their identities like misplaced commas.
When students care
Students take ownership of their writing when they care about what they are doing. As stated by Jim Burke, “the more students work on a paper through such a process, the more they care, the more they feel a sense of ownership and pride in something,” (85). If we assign an assignment that students will connect with, they will be proud of their work. If they are proud of the work they are creating, they will do it again and again and they will get better and better. They will be more likely to share their ideas with others and they will become more independent beyond the classroom.
If we focus on our students’ autonomy in the classroom, they will be liberated by the choices that will follow. For example, giving students options when writing will help our students sift through their thoughts and form opinions and arguments that will make them stronger people, not just students.
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski writes, “students need to write about what they care about. Sometimes what they care about does not match what we wish they would write about.” This could be a challenging realization to grapple with; as a teacher we need to set aside what our potential expectations may be. When we are teaching writing that is authentic, we need to emphasize the students’ choices and support them. We may not get why the students care so much about writing about animal crossings, but it may just be the best work they’ve ever produced.
Alex Kameen summarizes the importance of students taking ownership saying, “by placing ownership firmly on student writers, they can feel empowered to develop and use their voices. In this way, the process of writing mimics the process of productive citizenship, as it allows all voices a chance to rise.” When we give students freedom to write what they want and how they want, we are enforcing the idea that their choices and opinions matter. If they feel valued and validated, they will write more.
“The reason for writing is not merely to transcribe what others have said or recite what the teacher has taught”-Charles Whitaker
By integrating our students’ identities and making them care, we are creating minds who will have the potential to make social change. They can’t do that if we tell them what to write and how to write.
“Students need to feel valued, accepted, and respected in order to be comfortable sharing their feelings, worries, and hopes.”-Kathleen Neagle Sokolowsk
“Writers represent different ideologies, values, and identities,” according to NCTE. This means welcoming these differences into the classroom. When students feel heard and safe in the classroom, we open the doors for more authenticity, more inquisitive questions, and a greater passion for writing.
It’s important to recognize students as “language users with multiple literacies.” This means not perpetuating the idea that there is a correct form of writing. If our writing gets the point across, it’s right. No language is better than another and no person is lesser than someone else for speaking something other than American English.
A blog post written by Staci Perryman-Clark dispels myths about language saying, “effective communication depends on readers’ abilities to understand the text that is written.” Clark’s post really captures the idea that anything goes. In other words, “accuracy” is not determined by the form of language, but the impact.
“The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such claims lead to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans.”–Students’ Rights to Their Own Language
By portraying the idea that there is one “correct” way to speak or write, we’re silencing students. That’s unethical and immoral and will not aid in the development of critical thinkers. Teach students the importance of audience– let them know that while other forms of language are right, they may not be suited for all situations. Give the students the knowledge to make those important decisions. They will be a better communicator and member of society because of it. Welcome diversity in the classroom because outside of the classroom, anything goes. Prepare them for that.
Providing diverse opportunities
If we are trying to bring the real world into the classroom, we have to try to embody the “realness.” This includes the different opportunities that people experience outside of the classroom. Sokolowski said it best: “teaching with a social justice lens means you look for every opportunity to let your curriculum be the springboard to know what it means to be a person of character in this world.”
Readings utilized in class need to be representative of the students. That means that it’s fundamentally impossible for the materials not to be diverse. Charles Whitaker says, “it is important that the materials read are meaningful to the students, relevant to their lives, and useful in addressing their concerns and interests.” If they are not diverse in their nature, students will be in shock and under prepared when they see how the world operates outside of the classroom.
A blog post written by Ann David discusses different forms of “real life” writing. This article is so important in understanding the importance of all the different forms of writing that our students could potentially encounter. It is our job to make them aware of all of them. This will help them see themselves as writers, but also will help prepare them for life after school. If we successfully introduce the versatility of writing, students will feel more confident in their potential whether they wind up in college or a field.
“Knowing the traditional canon is often too narrow, I incorporate diverse texts; I aim to increase a student’s capacity for empathy, to help them identify with my curriculum and to understand others and themselves.”-Elizabeth Jorgensen
Welcoming diversity and providing diverse opportunities is essential for an education that fully prepares students to become people outside of the classroom. They will have the knowledge and the confidence to share their ideas because they will have experience doing so.
Autonomy and diversity need to be present in a student’s education in order for it to be functional in preparing them for life. Students need to take ownership of their work to establish confidence. But they can’t do that if the assignments we are presenting them with are not representative of who they are. Our job is to inspire our students to think for themselves. And what better way to articulate those thoughts than writing? After all, it is their right.