3 reasons students need to publish their writing

How to teach writing: why students need to publish their writing.

Something you may not know about me is I’m the esteemed author of ‘The Great Big, Enormous, Gigantic Banana.’

You may have heard about this book’s famously oversized front cover- cleverly fitted with a fold out flap in the shape of a banana (complete with dark parts representing the bruises).

I’ll fess up here and tell you that this book didn’t make the Book Week awards but, thanks to Mrs Brown’s talent spotting skills, it did get me selected as my school’s only representative at the region’s Young Writer’s Conference when I was in year 2.

I still remember the feeling of proudly brandishing my carefully contacted book as I read its contents aloud to my fellow writers at the conference. (Side note: do you have any idea how hard it is to contact a banana shaped front cover of a prize book!?)

Walking into the conference I was at the top of my game, with my obvious skills in writing AND illustrating, I was pretty much Jeannie Baker reincarnated.

Walking out, I was a writer who realized there was still a lot to learn.

Don’t get me wrong, my confidence wasn’t quashed, it’s just that I’d established a much better sense of the continuum of writing skills and where I was placed along this.

I’d had the benefit of having ‘real’ people respond to my writing. They’d told me the parts they liked and provided suggestions for improvements. I’d also had the benefit of reading other people’s published writing and using this as a guide to help me improve my own.

This young writer’s conference was a ‘publishing party’ of the highest sort.

I recently thought back to this experience when I was talking to a teacher about the importance of students publishing their writing. For some reason, it seems publishing doesn’t happen as often as it once did in writing classrooms. Perhaps it’s because we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that students should write numerous pieces in a genre which means there is no time to take any of these pieces through to publication? Read my thoughts on why ‘less is more’ in genre instruction here.

To help lift the profile of this essential element in writing instruction, I’m going to share 3 reasons it’s important for students to publish their writing:

#1 It provides an authentic purpose and audience for writing

Writing instruction is most powerful when it’s linked with real audiences and real purposes.

Dangling a real audience in front of your students is a motivator- it gives them an authentic reason to do the hard yards with drafting, revising and editing (and who doesn’t want their students to pay more attention to editing!?).

As participants of my writing traits masterclass series are well aware, when students know and understand their authentic purpose and audience for writing it has the capacity to positively impact every trait in their writing: from their ideas and the amount and type of detail they add, through to the complexity of the words and sentences they craft and the conventions they use to do this. Ultimately, without knowledge of an authentic purpose and audience for their writing, students will struggle to write with voice and passion- two of the key qualities of engaging writing.

#2 It provides an opportunity for meaningful and authentic feedback

There are many reasons feedback is essential when teaching writing, two of them include the fact that John Hattie’s research says so and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that all writers crave appreciative response. It’s what keeps us plugging away and doing the hard work required in the earlier phases of the writing process. Feedback is the fuel that keeps us writers motivated.

As a year 2 student, reading my published work aloud to my fellow conference attendees, I got to see the responses of my audience in real time. I saw their smiles, their puzzled faces and then witnessed their laughter. This appreciative and authentic response was what made all the hard work worth it. It’s also the thing that made me want more of this superpower- the one that enabled me to make people smile and laugh and lean forward in anticipation.

Nothing on earth is so irresistible to a writer’s the knowledge that her writing might actually influence someone else’s thoughts or feelings. And if that is not true, there is no compelling reason to write. We cannot coerce nonwriters into writing. We can only coax them by promising the one thing no writer can resist: an appreciative audience.

(Spandel, 2005)

When students have the opportunity to publish their writing, they’re automatically gifted the opportunity to receive authentic feedback about that writing from an audience other than their teacher.

Feedback for a writer doesn’t have to be written feedback either, sometimes body language is enough, sometimes a simple comment, ‘wow, that was hilarious’ is enough for a writer to be motivated to keep doing the hard work.

When students learn all about the various aspects of a genre and their writing in that genre never leaves the safety of their writing book, you can’t blame them for wondering what the point to it all is.

I’m the first to admit that writing is hard. Bloody hard. As a writer myself, spending hours every week agonizing over my blog posts and newsletter, I’m here to tell you that it’s not the high number of page views I get on my posts that keeps me going, it’s the one person who actually hits the reply button and says, ‘you made me think, feel or learn’ that keeps me going. It’s the appreciative response I wouldn’t have received if I hadn’t been gutsy enough to hit ‘publish’ on my blog in the first place.

(Which brings me to my final point…)

#3 It builds your students’ ‘sharing’ muscle

When writers share their work with others it requires vulnerability. Writing is thinking, afterall, and letting other people read your thinking can sometimes be a frightening thought:

  • what if they don’t like it?
  • what if they think I have silly ideas or
  • what if they think I’m a bad writer?

Each time our students receive appreciative response after going through the entire writing process, it helps to put that vulnerability into perspective; It helps them to see that there are benefits to putting their thinking and ideas out there for others to see, and that these benefits make the experience worth it.

Strengthening your students’ ‘sharing’ muscle helps them to move from seeing sharing as vulnerability to seeing it as power: ‘my thoughts are worthy, and I can use my voice to make a difference to others. I can persuade them, I can teach them, I can entertain them’ (and not because the teacher told me to but because I actually want to and know how to do it!)

Building this mindset in students will help them continue to want to produce writing that can be shared with others and will certainly work towards the goal of seeing more #ownvoices writing on our bookshelves in the future. (Amen to that!)

What opportunities do your students have for publishing their writing? Share your ideas in the comments below or join in the conversation on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook Group.

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References

  • Spandel, V., 2005. The 9 rights of every writer. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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