'I feel that few forms of teaching are so sacramental;
the writing teacher's ministry is not just to the words
but to the person who wrote the words.'
Writing to Learn by William Zinsser page 48
I've been reading Writing to Learn by William Zinsser the past few weeks. I love to write and not a day goes by where I haven't written something in some form. I also love to teach teens to write - find their voice, to write about what matters to them, to write about what they are learning about, and discover that writing is not just about English studies and Literature (much as I personally love English and Literature). I also love to read and with this combination of loves I have a growing collection of books written by writers for parents, teachers, and students on learning to write, writing well, and weaving writing through life (not just academics). William Zinsser has become a fast favourite on my writing bookshelf.
Writing to Learn is William Zinsser's personal journey into the field of writing and literature that is part of every field of study and work. Mathematics has its literature. Geography has a literature of its own. Science, Music, Art, Technology, Home Economics, Business .......... all these fields have their own literature written by their own professionals and passionate amateurs. This book opens the door to why writing matters in all fields and how writing can be incorporated into every area of study in a way that adds value and depth to a student's learning and a teacher's teaching. For tutors and parents who are looking for ideas to incorporate writing through subject areas of interest to your teen, Writing to Learn is a helpful handbook. Teens may also benefit from reading this book directly as they trace the journey of the author and his experiences with writing across a broad range of fields and present ideas they can personally put into practise in their own life of writing and learning.
On Writing Well is recommended in AO11's grammar and composition section. A readable and instructive guide to writing non-fiction, this book guides the budding writer through the principles, methods, forms, and attitudes for writing well on any topic in any genre.
How to Use 'On Writing Well'
For a reluctant reader and writer I recommend reading aloud with your teen, taking turns reading by paragraph, page, or chapter depending on the needs of your teen. Reading aloud connects you both with this book and its contents in a shared experience. You can discuss the ideas, principles, and applications as you read. Independent reading may be more valuable to a passionate writer as he/she will naturally absorb the ideas his/herself before sharing what has been learned.
In order to process the ideas and principles covered, the act of thinking, note taking, and expressing are important not to skip. Oral narration, written narration, and outlining are all useful techniques for the teen to think about what is being learned. You could create a writer's notebook to record all narrations, outlines, and notes in order to easily review progress in composition (and easily access possible work samples for your HEU report if necessary). One simple form of recording the writing principles learned is to create an ongoing rubric list that can be used to evaluate future writing projects. This rubric list can be a helpful bridge to the next step - Relating & Applying the principles.
3) Relate & Apply
If you use Charlotte Mason's principles of narration, you have a natural doorway of relating the principles to your teen's writing. Indeed the teen will quite likely make those relations and applications independently while thinking about and writing the narration. Another way to begin applying these principles is to set a writing task within a particular subject or project and the teen is required to demonstrate his/her application in the writing task. This approach could be especially useful when reading through the chapters on Forms.
What a delight it is to guide our teen children and students in discovering the 'clues to clean, compelling prose' with such a classic guide. And, of course, to keep learning myself. I can always improve my own writing!