Doing the Write Thing (Part 2)
Updated: Jan 2
Author's Voice...what's that? It's the thing that you can't totally explain, but you know it when you hear it. It's the personality of the piece. The cadence of the conversation between the #writer and the #reader. It's the element of the #writing that sounds just like the person who wrote it.
In my opinion, you can't teach a writer to write with #voice. It's one of those rather fantastic things that organically occurs when a writer is given the space to breathe out---to write. You can however, teach a writer to recognize voice by reading mentor texts, discussing author's #craft, and having them to write, write, and WRITE some more to develop their own unique accents. Kwame Alexander talks about the importance and power of recognizing and celebrating voice in his book Do the Write Thing.
My second grade teacher was intentional in having us to study the works of many authors such as, Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Langston Hughes, Edward Lear, and Nikki Giovanni. We learned to recognize and emulate their voices in our own writing as the year progressed. My seven-year-old-self was a huge fan of rhyme and modeled most of my own original poetry after Jack Prelutsky. Eventually, I was brave enough to experiment with different styles too; in efforts to "expand my writer's vocabulary" is how Mrs. Kaye explained it.
Let's get back to the story shall we?
My eyes widened. Oh my gosh, one of my poems was titled "Santa Claus"! My poem won? Really?" She continued.
...written by,...the new kid."
WAIT...WHAT? WHO? HOW?
This could not have possibly been right. The new kid hadn't even written a poem, well, at least that's what she'd told me, so how could her poem have been the best?
The class erupted in applause as I sat, slumped and stumped, eyes squinted trying to make sense out of this. The new kid rose from her seat on the carpet like the new day's sun and went and stood close against Mrs. Kaye's hip, blinding us with her wide snaggly smile.
"Alright, alright, class. Let's all settle down so that the new kid can share her poem with us. You will all have a copy in your mailboxes at the end of the day so that you can begin to memorize it over the weekend."
She placed the paper in her hands and she began to read it aloud:
"Santa Claus is coming soon
and he is on his way
sliding down the deep, deep snow
on his little sleigh"
Deep, deep down in my stomach I felt sick. A knot of frustrated disbelieving cry had lodged itself tightly in my throat and there was no point in trying to swallow it down. My eyes were glossing over and my ears decided to muffle the room's sound. Finally, it was over.
As Mrs. Kaye promised we all received a copy of the poem in our mailboxes at the end of the day. She had typed it up, so that it looked like a real author's work, complete with written by "R. Jenkins" underneath the title. My heart broke. I'd written two poems trying to experiment with a different style. One with rhyme (my usual) and one without (clearly I needed more work with this). She must have put her name on my paper when she was SUPPOSED to be passing it up to the front of the row. I'd already had my fair share of scares from this kid and I was in no mood for another one, so I didn't say a thing.
The next week in class she continued to beam as if she were the bright morning star. Everyone was so impressed with what she'd written *insert eye roll here* and wouldn't stop talking about it. By Wednesday, Mrs. Kaye wanted for us to practice reciting the poem chorally. She called our self-proclaimed class poet up to the front of the class and asked her to lead us.
"Uh, sure. Let me grab the paper," she said.
"Oh, no. I'm sure that you don't need it. You're the author. It's in your heart and I'm sure you've been practicing. Take your time. Go ahead." Mrs. Kaye encouraged.
After about what seemed like a bajillion failed attempts at leading, Mrs. Kaye told her to get the paper, read it with the class a few times, while she stepped away for a moment.
"Dionna, I need to talk to you at my desk."
GULP. That knot of cry was crawling its way back into my throat. I was unsure of what was about to happen. We walked over toward her desk and she sat down in her chair so that she was able to be at eye level with me.
"Dionna, recite the poem for me."
I lowered my little girl head.
"Yes. You can."
At first, I hesitated a bit more, then I took a deep breath. I began to recite the words of the poem as fluently as they were written on the page for only my teacher's ears to hear. As tears streamed down my face, that dumb cry knot interrupted my flow a few times and made me stammer, but other than that I made no mistakes. When I finished, Mrs. Kaye softly clapped for me.
"Great job! Great writing, as usual, Dionna."
I lifted my eyes and she proceeded to tell me that she'd known from the minute she read Santa Claus that it had been written by me. She explained that she "knew my voice". She told me that she was waiting for me to say something, to take ownership of my words, but I was taking too long. She told me that she would be talking to the new kid and her parents about this whole "plagiarism" thing--yikes! I didn't know what that word meant yet, but I knew that it didn't sound good. She told me that the class would know the "real" author of the poem before the Holiday Program. All was made right.
So, what's my point?
A few things:
1. My teacher had given me #opportunities to write and develop my own author's voice.
2. My teacher took the time to read my writing and give #feedback frequently enough to recognize my author's voice when she heard it.
3. My teacher #celebrated the young writers' voices in her classroom with the same respect as she did the published authors that we studied each week.
4. My teacher was #intentional about doing both the right and write things by her students. She understood the power of words and she gave us permission to engage with them and use them often.