In 2007, I attended a keynote address, Lester Laminack was the speaker, at the TCRWP August Writing Institute and was doing some fall cleaning and re-reading some notes. It was the first time I ever heard Lester speak, and I must admit that, even now that I have heard him on several occasions throughout the years, I still feel like the kids (and teachers) are fortunate to have such a gifted orator and author in their midst. I think it is powerful to revisit notes from several years ago and see what advice still holds true in these changing times, what gems we might have forgotten over the passage of time, and how thinking has evolved from that point.
Lester began with sharing that in "all forms of art; simplicity is elegance". There is an inherent danger when we focus on craft in isolation - students tend to over generalize. This is not surprising, in that, Brian Cambourne, the renowned Australian educational researcher, explained that approximation is one of the principles of learning. It's that place where we're not quite sure if we've got it right, but because it's new and we're excited about what we are learning, we tend to overuse it.
Lester went on to encourage teachers to “bathe children in the language of the things we hope that they will write.” How often do we do this? How often do we invite children to write just like (name the author)? In the 1980’s, during the whole language movement, teachers often made the mistake of drowning kids versus immersing them in language. Here is where we fell into the trap of just teaching kids HOW to do it, and often neglected the more important WHEN and WHY of using it in our writing.
Lester explained, that “technique should serve the writer’s intention.” Encourage writers to form theories about WHY the writer applied the craft to that particular place. What effect was it intended to have on the reader? I think that when I enter classrooms where writers are having trouble find the heart of their stories, it is often because they're unsure about their intention.
We need to make sure that, first and foremost, writers recognize that our classrooms, our schools and our communities are places where their stories matter. An all important question to guide our conferring is: Why are you writing this PARTICULAR piece? Who do you hope will read it? What are you trying to show/say?
According to Lester, “the teaching of and application of craft should be designed to fine-tune the writer’s intentions so that their readers are able to interpret the author’s meaning. Authors are intentional and deliberate about their craft decisions in a text, we can teach our writers to approach their writing with the same stance, and when rehearsing, choosing, developing, drafting, revising and editing it’s all about making the meaning clearer – it’s all about intention. How do you approach the teaching of craft? I think it’s an important question – in that – the CCLS seem to highlight structure, organization and elaboration? What about craft? Do we still feel like it has a place in our teaching? To learn more about Lester's books and advice for writers, teachers and schools, visit the following website: http://www.lesterlaminack.com/index.htm