Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Ballet of Writing

Teaching writing is a lot like teaching ballet. I've watched for years as my daughter has grown up in the ballet world, and there are some similarities in the finer points of teaching ballet that I can't help but compare to teaching children to write.

I'm somewhat disturbed with the "just get something on paper" trend with younger writers. It's a lot like let's "just learn a dance for the recital" mentality. For years, my daughter danced at a school that focused on preparing for two yearly recitals. As a mom, I had no idea that not all ballet instruction was created equal. It wasn't until my daughter expressed the desire to dance professionally that we sought out a pre pro ballet school. What a shocker!

In a true pre professional ballet school, children spend the majority of their time focusing on technique. It's not about putting on pretty tutus and dancing on the stage. It's about hard work and discipline. As a writing teacher, I've noticed that children who come to me in the upper grades with a strong foundation in skills knows how to put a piece of writing together -whether it's an essay or a fiction story. Just like dancers who focus on technique first can pick up on choreography, writers who focus on skills first can write.

One of the major things I noticed when my daughter changed schools was the difference in the quality of dancers the school turned out. The dancers were not only technically better, they also learned and remembered choreography quickly, and were able to choreograph quality pieces by themselves! The focus on technique isn't always fun, but the results are amazing.

How can a student write an essay if they can barely put two sentences together? We expect this of kids, but how much time has been devoted to building a strong foundation in writing? We certainly don't want to squash a child's imagination and creativity, but who is to say that a writer won't write simply because they were asked to write a complete sentence before they wrote a fiction story? My daughter's creativity and imagination as a choreographer has blossomed since she has focused on technique and put more dance tools in her toolbox. She has the tools required to choreograph a piece. Writers need to learn the tools first, so that they too can choreograph a piece of writing on their own. Writing is a ballet of words, an art form that is both imaginative and built on a foundation of skills. Let's not let our student's writing skills slip through an hour glass filled with sand.

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