Recently, I overheard a teacher talking about that elusive element of the rubric: voice. “I have no idea how to teach it.” I don’t think she’s alone in this sentiment.
In our classrooms, personalities shine through. Even when I’m guest teaching in a classroom for a short time, individual personalities begin to reveal themselves. The question then becomes, how do we get these personalities to shine through on paper?
If we watch a typical class of students write, they tend to write slowly, word by word, trying to make each word and idea perfect as they go. For most students, there is no room for creativity or personality within this process.
Voice tend to emerge when students do not worry about or overthink their writing. In the spirit of Peter Elbow, I remind students to shut off the critical thinking side of the brain during their initial writing time and let the creative part of the brain take over. The critical thinking brain might tell us that our words or thoughts are not good enough, or that we aren’t using perfect spelling or grammar. Therefore, during our initial writing time, the critical thinking part of our brain tends to get in the way, stifling creativity and preventing student voice from emerging.
But when we encourage our students to just write, freely, no concern for perfection, personalities have a way of weaselling their way into the writing. And of course, once they have words on paper, we can teach our students to turn their critical thinking brains back on to engage in the processes of revision and editing.
But, consider this, how do we tell students to go back and add ‘personality’ to their writing?
A perplexing prospect…