I've used this prompt to initiate conversations for professional development in schools, asking students K-12 to respond to these questions in any way they wish: a letter back to me, to their teachers, through lists, a brainstorm, a free write, an essay, cartoons and even doodles. Usually, I ask teachers to then learn from students about the vast ways writing is understood by them - data that is extremely useful to beginning a dialogue of the writing instruction offered in a given school.
I personally like to align the themes that arrive along the way, and I encourage teachers and administrators to respond, too. Usually I find that young people have multiple explanations for writing, but they tend to find school-based assignments disconnected from what interests them most.
I've been asking the five questions of myself for 20+ years and I realize that every time I respond I have newer, and more surprising answers. Researchers often point out that young people are expected to write very little in school, but those that work with youth outside of school usually find that young people write for a wider variety of reasons and for purposes that matter to them.
This, to me, is part of finding solutions for writing instruction we offer in our content areas. There are multiple genres for teachers to explore within school, but more often than not, they tend to assign short responses to testing questions. This is the shame. We write to communicate to others, to wide variety of audiences, and for contexts that alter given our life experiences and purposes. Writing is an art and I tend to see written text as one way to express, inform, analyze, think through, believe, entertain, and wonder. I nod my appreciation, too, to Kelly Gallagher and his work in Write Like This.
Last night, CWP-Fairfield hosted a spoken word event in collaboration with outsider artist, Gordon Skinner (check out his new website). In attendance were teachers, painters, academics, poets, and sculptors. It was amazing to witness the way that language and visual forms of communication quickly bounce off one another to make meaning for our world and to inspire the desire for more creations. In fact, one woman jumped onto a piano and began playing ragtime music. She said, "I want one of the poets to write language to go with what I play."
I wonder, though, if we limit the ways we encourage creativity and expression with our students. Writing classrooms should be art studios where brilliant minds bounce ideas and experiences off one another. This is what occurred last night and, I suppose, what I hope the five questions will prompt for any teacher and/or student who decides to take on the reflective challenge.
We shall see. This is what such practices bring to the table.
And by the way, Gordon Skinner's art will be featured at next week's City-Wide Open StudiosEre Event at Erector Square.