Students, Write Like Bubba Watson Plays Golf!
So many times students learn writing-by-the-numbers. They’re handed a genre, topic, and told to squeeze their thoughts into 5 distinct paragraphs in a pretty regimented formula for each. That sort of writing is like piecing puzzle parts—when writing should really be more like sculpting. The kicker is that then student writing is scored on a number basis, by one or more teachers, most of whom have never really written anything themselves. Hate to say it, but you know that’s true. Not everyone scoring writing is a writer. Students, who are taught to follow-the-directions approach, tend to lose their voice—sometimes quickly, and many times painfully. Good ideas turn bland when writing-by-the-numbers is more important than the story. Students should write like Bubba Watson plays golf.
If you don’t know Bubba Watson, he’s a professional golfer, who never had a lesson, swings out of his shoes, hits artistic golf shots from all, and creative, angles and is not afraid to show passion and emotion. He hits the golf ball amazing distances, but has a delicate touch when those finesse shots are needed. There is no golf-by-the-numbers with Bubba. He sculpts golf. He has figured out, by his creative style of doing what happens when he does certain things with his swing. His tools are golf clubs, but what he does applies to the keyboard, pencil, or pen, and our students. Students should sculpt writing.
Don’t get me wrong; Bubba is a unique individual, who has figured golf things out. I’m not saying do away with the lessons to make writing better, I’m saying don’t do away with the ideas, stories, and creativity that makes great writing and writers great. Students should write like they talk. After that, work on, and improve that. It’s sort of like Bubba Watson working on those creative shots to perfect them. I’m certain things rarely are brilliant from the start, but with work things usually become more brilliant.
It is far too easy to think you’re teaching great writing when writing-by-the-numbers is the only way students write. If you think about why many teach writing this way, you’ll quickly discover that there’s a standardized test of some sort that is the end result, rather than an audience craving to read a good and creative bit of writing. When standardized testing is the place students have practiced for, and published to, there really isn’t an audience at all. That shouldn’t be the most important thing for students, who are learning to write, or for students in loving to write. Whatever takes the passion and the creativity out of how children tell stories should be the least important writing goal. Creative ideas, stories, and writing can be edited, used to teach, and can become great lessons for an individual and a class.
It is interesting that editing creative student work is so much more fun, too. It’s something the writer loves to do, and his/her peers will love to do as well. When editing’s end result is editing-by-the-numbers, and the audience is a teacher with a numbered writing rubric rather than a true readers interest, writing-by-the-numbers gets elevated to a status it should never hold, and students learn-by-the-numbers rather than by feeling.
I know the reality, here—that many in district-wide writing programs are obligated to carry out those writing curricula. So, I’m not advocating all out rebellion here. What I’m really hoping for is a bit of a modification—somehow. When you read a student’s work that brings you to tears, or makes you laugh aloud, but doesn’t hit all the right numbers, or do it in 5 well-organized paragraphs, put the numbered rubrics aside, and encourage and support that student writer’s joy and passion. When you find a student sculpting his/her writing, engage with the creativity and broadcast it. In writing, there are far too few adults, today, that write like Bubba Watson plays golf, it is an educators responsibility to first encourage the natural joy of telling stories, and writing—then work from there. Students should first writing like they talk. Writing is not like constructing a building; it is more like sculpting an artistic masterpiece. Editing a creative attempt can be a joy for the sculptor/writer/owner, who becomes a better writer without losing his/her voice. Let your students write a bit more like Bubba Watson plays golf.
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology experience, as well as a blogger on all things education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.