I don’t think I’ve ever heard the expression “fire writing” before, as mentioned in this Edutopia article, New Teachers: Inspire Your Students to Write, Write, Write. However, it is exactly how I got things going with my PhD dissertation. I just wrote. And I didn’t worry about how it looked or sounded. It was messy and chaotic, but I cleaned it up later. First I dumped my ideas out of my brain and onto the page as quickly as I could. Then I went back and ruthlessly edited. I cut out huge chunks that I loved and was left with the essence of what I was trying to say.
Another great idea from the Edutopia article is something I first read about years ago in Zinsser’s classic book, Writing To Learn. Students tend to write for an audience of one – the teacher. They need to stop it, and we as teachers should stop encouraging it. Zinsser suggested writing letters to a friend or family member about the day’s learning. I think it is a great approach. Instead of getting hung up on perfect mechanics, get to the main ideas, reflect and write about them. Quit worrying about what you think the teacher might want, and write the important ideas in a voice that someone who loves you and cares about you would recognize as you. If it comes out wrong, you can always improve and revise.
I teach a class that includes a lab activity and requires lab reports. I wonder what those might look like if they were composed in the form of a letter? Right now, I have a prescribed format that I’ve been using since I first started teaching the course. I inherited the report structure from the person who taught the class before, and haven’t ever questioned it. Perhaps it is time for me to take a closer look at that important writing assignment.
Recently, my family and I were visiting the Eisenhower Center in Abilene, KS for a quick “staycation” not far from home. My daughter noticed a basket full of little American flags with notes intended for veterans of the US armed services. I picked one out for you, Dad, she said. So I took it home with me.
The note came from elderly woman from California, and I received it here in Kansas. My note reads: “My oldest brother did not come home after WW2. He is always in my heart as you all are.”
Since her full name was on the note, and a hometown, I was able to do a little digital detective work and find a street address. I sat down and wrote the woman a thank you letter and dropped it in the mail. I’m not exactly sure when was the last time I mailed a hand-written letter, but it has been some time. About a week later, I was pleased to receive a reply in the mail from her. What a treat it is to receive mail that is something besides bills or advertisements!
So this is my assignment for you. Sit down and write out a letter longhand to someone who will appreciate it.Be sure to get some evidence of your “snail mail” exchange, either by photographing your letter, or even better still, the reply you got back. Extra internet points if you do like I did and write it to someone whom you do not know, but still feel a common connection with.