Students who write everyday for authentic reasons and real audiences know first hand the power of the written word. Kathy King-Dickman reminds us of the importance of empowering student voice through writing.
“Mrs. D., it’s not fair that we only have 3 minutes between passing periods!” “I agree. Write a persuasive letter about that and you can send it to the school board.”
“Mrs. D., it’s not fair that they called off our middle school ball game so the high school could play.” “I agree. Why don’t you write a letter to the athletic director about that?”
“Mrs. D., it’s not fair that you let Emily turn in her assignment late and no one else.” “Oh Laura, you are so right. I think you have finally found your topic for your persuasive essay!”
Many days my writers’ workshop began with the sounds of adolescents complaining about their lot in life and my response to write about it, so it wasn’t surprising when our principal brought us the following letter the day after school began last fall:
This letter closed with a powerful ending, convincing our entire staff to back off from the rules that we had been so determined to implement. This was from a seventh grader who earned an outstanding score on the Colorado state mandated writing test. (King-Dickman, 2011)
It seems that the drafters of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have seen the power in argument writing to instill a voice in writers of all ages, labeling it opinion writing in kindergarten through fifth grade and argument thereafter (CCSS writing standard 1). Persuasive essays are a way in which students can express their voices while meeting standard 1. Whether it comes from a second grader pleading for a later bedtime or a ninth grader asking the world to not pollute, students feel the power in exercising their right to write. Donald Graves and Penny Kittle (2005) say that essays, “…convince the reader he’d better get off his butt and get busy doing what the writer wants.” (p.29) Being a Writer‘s persuasive units ask students to persuade their audience to do something or to share their opinions about the world. In doing this, our students get to tell us to get off of our behinds while they learn the craft of writing.
What’s not fair? Neglecting to teach students to share their voices in writing. That, my esteemed colleagues, is not fair.
Calkins, L. Ehrenworth, & M. Lehman, C. (2012) Pathways to the Common Core. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
King-Dickman, K (2011) The California Reader, volume 44 (2), The California Reading Association.
Graves, D. & Kittle, P. (2005) Inside Writing: How to Teach the Details of Craft. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Check out Kathy’s article on the love of reading in Educational Leadership magazine here.