7. Writing

Because of some excellent teaching, or at least due to the absence of awful teaching, I became a writer. I almost wrote “compulsive” writer, but that makes it seem like a problem. Let’s see…Perhaps I’ll write “prolific” writer. No. That refers to quantity, but doesn’t convey my passion for writing. I’m sure there’s a word or phrase in the English language that says what I mean. I know – I’ll try a sentence: I often feel compelled to write, not by some requirement imposed on me by someone else, but by the need to be sure people at least have a chance to know what’s on my mind. There. That is close enough for now.
Today I sat with Ethel, a girl in first grade, as she wrote in her writing journal. Her teacher is excellent, and I don’t think she’s had much awful teaching so far. She wrote, “The earth is a round ball. It has water and dirt. People who died are in the dirt. My aunt died, and she’s in the dirt. She used to take us camping. I miss her very much.” She spoke to me as she wrote, and there wasn’t a clear dividing line between the things she would say and the things she would write. We writers may have to be technicians, but we are also artists, and we’re often surprised to see what ends up on our canvasses. I saw the beginnings of tears in her eyes, and felt them in mine.
As she wrote, she occasionally asked me how to spell a word. I helped her sound words out, and as you probably know, English sounds don’t correspond to spellings as neatly as they do in other languages. I think it’s because English absorbs foreign words faster than other languages do, and has been doing it for a long time. But don’t quote me on that. At any rate, insistence on correct spelling is not an effective policy in teaching writing to English-speaking children – especially not in first grade. All three first grade teachers at the Fort River School agree on that, as do more and more teachers all around the English-speaking part of the world.
If you are in my generation, one preceding mine, or a member of a younger generation who still didn’t grow up with “invented spelling,” you may not have had enough chances to know yourself as a writer. Or maybe spelling came easily enough to allow you to get on with the art of writing. It did for me. Invented spelling is a license to write, and it can make all children (compulsive? prolific? passionate?) writers. It means the important part is what’s on your mind, not whether you use the right letters.
Of course, someone has to be able to read it. But that’s not as important, especially in the beginning, as is the joy of writing. Which would you rather read – what Ethel wrote, “The arth is a rand ball. It has wodr and drt. Pepl hoo dide are in the drt. My ont dide, and shes in the drt. She yust to take us caping. I miss her vary much.”, or something written by a child afraid to misspell words: “I like cats. I like dogs. I like cars. I like my dad. I like my mom.”?

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