Writing Authentically: Helping Students Find Their Voice

We live in a world where authenticity is king. We see reality TV declining, mass marketing falling to the wayside, and brands and companies beginning to show their faces- literally. There are many factors to thank for this demand for authenticity. Particularly, young people.  Think about young people and effective social media marketing. Young people demand truth and transparency. What’s more is they will only invest in something if they believe it will add value to them because that’s really all that matters, right?

What does being authentic mean in writing? 

Being authentic means to be unapologetic. It means doing and creating something with no boundaries placed on your soul. No matter how big or small. Being authentic means setting judgment and comparison aside and being vulnerable. There is no second-guessing, no doubt, no fear. Just authenticity.

Writing authentically means to write with passion, feeling, and empathy. Authentic writing comes from the heart.
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What does that mean for schools?

I believe schools and their pedagogical approaches have a lot to learn from young people when it comes to being authentic.  We are experiencing a major shift in the way we communicate on a massive scale. In regards to teaching reading and writing skills, I’m thinking of a few things: 

  1. Are the current writing standards in school detrimental to students’ ability to express themselves freely and authentically? 
  2. Do students ever learn that writing holds a very valuable power?
  3. How do students view writing tasks in school?

From the get-go, children are taught to write in a linear manner. Is it possible that this approach is hindering students’ ability to see the true value in the process of writing? Children are taught grammar and punctuation long before they are taught about the power of writing; the potential writing has to change people’s perspective and drive change.

Writing is the most powerful tool that allows you to share your thoughts with the world.

I came across a really great video about the effective ways to craft your writing. In this video, Professor McEnerney states,

“The thinking that you are doing is at such a level of complexity that you have to use writing to help yourself do your thinking.”

In other words, as you think, you write and as you write, you think. In essence, writing is the number one tool to capture your thinking.

Prescribed writing curriculums dictates the way a student should navigate through the thinking and writing process. It’s unfortunate that most students look at writing as a rigid and sometimes painful experience. Is this because the expectations set by the curriculum cut through the creative and critical process of thinking?

Cut to the image of an artist who is asked only to paint pictures fit for a dentist’s office… forever. The artist will never become the artist she dreams to be! That would put a damper on their self-worth along with their creativity, am I right?

How is teaching writing any different?

What’s more, is the drilling of structured writing practices and graphic organizers. I equate this to turning those dentist office paintings into paint by numbers. Don’t get me wrong, graphic organizers are an extremely helpful tool for students who struggle with visualizing their work. However, I see graphic organizers used as rubrics. Unfortunately, I believe that’s when creativity flies out the window!

There are a lot more expectations placed on writing structure and grammar than placed on the quality and authenticity of their work. Students are asked to write in order to explain themselves.

It is OK to Assess Student Writing by Level of Authenticity

There are many other ways you can assess understanding. 

Of course, there should be a space for learning about writing structure. Students must learn ways to produce clear and organized writing. It’s also beneficial for students to receive constructive feedback.

There Should Be Space for Authenticity

To build on that idea, I believe there should be space for students to share their writing with an objective audience. When students only write to prove their understanding they are writing to what is essentially an artificial audience [YOU as the educator]. A student is writing to you, who they know is a forced audience. A student doesn’t write to add value to their readers, they write to get a grade.

A genuine reader invests their time in reading the works of others to gain (with confident hope, at least) a new way of thinking about the world. We should be teaching to write to genuine readers.

A genuine reader reads works of others to add value to themselves. 

Think about the type of content that you read on a daily basis. You only read things that bring you joy and add value to yourself. You would never read something all the way through if you didn’t feel like it was adding value, right? NEXT!

This is a teacher's thoughts on authentic writing, what it means and an authentic writing assignment idea.
This is an excerpt from the website Talk with Teachers at talkwithteachers.com. Thank you for your input, Mr. Stock. The assignment idea is gold.

Adding in Authenticity to Writing Instruction

  • Students should be shown that their ideas and thoughts are valuable. In doing so, they should have the opportunity to express them through writing. Writing IS the most powerful tool anyone has to share their thoughts with the world and it should not be placed in a box.
  • Students should learn how to find and determine their audience. Once again, this could be achieved by removing the rubric every once in a while!
  • Students should have the opportunity to write authentically across all curriculum. Once they understand their ideas are valuable, they will gain the confidence they need to begin writing in any subject. not just Language Arts. Proofreading can come later.
  • Students should explore texts that resonate with them. This would allow them to find out what audience(s) they are apart of. This has a myriad of benefits to beginning writers from analyzing text structure all the way to establishing tone and brevity.
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