Finding the Voice in Every Student
By Jeanne Acton, UIL Journalism Director | Friday, March 30, 2012 11:10 AM
My 7-year-old son wants to be a writer.
He told me this the other day.
“I like telling stories, mommy,” he said as we were driving home from school. That day at school, he had spent his afternoon crafting a story about playing Frisbee golf with his dad over spring break."
As you can probably guess, my face beamed with pride.
He knows his mommy writes. He knows it’s my passion. He also knows writing is hard work.
Charlie brought his story home yesterday, and it’s not exactly a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, but it’s got a beginning, middle and end, if you can get through all of the creative spelling. It even has a bit of humor in it.
Charlie’s story isn’t perfect, but it’s his voice. He doesn’t understand most punctuation and grammar rules, and he has yet to spell a word longer than four letters correctly, but it’s his. His experience. His thoughts. His interpretation of the world in those moments.
I’ve read a lot of columns in the past month and one of the things I see less and less of is individual voice. Individual experiences. Individual stories.
It’s scary to dive into yourself and write. It’s hard. In high school, I didn’t want to expose that much of myself. And needless to say, I didn’t write a single decent column in high school."
As I’ve grown older, it’s easier to let go. It’s easier to let people in. I wish I would have figured that out in high school.
As a teacher, one of the best assignments I ever did with my students was a Memoir Writing Activity at the beginning of the school year. After taking a day to read memoirs from leading authors, we took some time to write our own memoir. Me included.
I didn’t call it column writing. I didn't want my students to get hung up on a “type of writing.” I told them we were writing these memoirs as a bonding activity for our class. Everyone had to be comfortable enough to share his/her memoir.
After two days of writing and editing, we took turns reading our memoirs. One student wrote about how her mother’s breast cancer defined how she looked at life. Another student wrote about how he spent every morning at a rehabilitation facility with his big brother who had been shot during gang activity. Another student wrote about her grandfather and how he impacted her life.
Some of it wasn’t great writing. We had some run-ons, some fragments, some misspelled words. But it was all great storytelling. We can fix the grammatical issues, but we can’t find your voice for you.
When I talk about journalism, I talk about how powerful scholastic journalism can be. I tell students, “You can give a voice to the voiceless.” It’s true. Students should write about the wallflowers, the jocks, the techno wizards and all of the other unique students in their school. But it’s also true that students should find their own voice, too.
It’s okay if it isn’t perfect. That’s what editors are for. Just find the courage to open up and write.