Natasha, the Early Years teacher at my school, and I have been reading Engaging Young Writers by Matt Glover in our curriculum planning meetings, as she is new to writing workshop, especially with 3 and 4 year olds. I absolutely love Matt, and have had the privilege of seeing him speak at the Literacy Institute in Hong Kong three times. He is so inspiring, and I always leave learning something I didn’t know, rethinking my stance on teaching writing, and feeling motivated to try out a new technique or strategy with my teachers and/or students. That being said, I knew this would be a great book study for us and would encourage much discussion.
Tuesday’s meeting began with a discussion of our reading that we completed at home. I shared that I was particularly moved by the section entitled “The Importance of Talk,” in which Matt says “Basically anything that a child can talk about is something she can write about. If they can talk about it, they can write it because for young children, talk is an important form of prewriting. The reverse is true as well: if a child can’t talk about a potential writing topic, then it’s likely that she’ll have much more difficulty writing about it. It’s also important to remember that in most cases children’s talk is going to be much more detailed than their writing. In fact for many authors, the challenge of writing is the attempt to narrow down talk and ideas into written text.” We both had a rich discussion about how this could play out in the classroom, and how it made sense, since young children are much more verbal than they are with writing or drawing.
During this discussion, I began reflecting on my own writing for the Slice of Life. I shared with Natasha that I have wanted to write the story of meeting Maurice in Rome, and my wonderful experience, but despite having orally told that story half a dozen times, I worried that my written version wouldn’t come close to capturing the essence of my day. “Oh, yeah, you’ve told me that story! It’s a great one!” Natasha said. I know it is, but again, I felt like writing it would take much more time, and the story might lose its charm. Thinking aloud, I wondered, “But what if I said my story aloud right before writing it? I could record myself telling the story, then write it, and then listen to my recording to see if I missed anything.” Suddenly I had a plan for how I would write my story.
Last night, I tried it out. I recorded myself telling the story of my 18 hours in Rome. My recording lasted 18:36. And I talk fast! Energized, I got to work, putting my thoughts into words. I revised as I wrote, taking out the parts that weren’t essential to the story (the fact that I was ripped off my the taxi driver on the way to my hotel and that my first Italian pizza experience was rubbish). My slice was just over 1,000 words. Over 18 minutes of talking turned into only 1,000 words. I reread my writing, made a few minor revisions, and hit publish. I was proud of my story. I had done it justice and captured its essence. I contemplated listening to my recording, as I had planned, but I didn’t need to. The act of orally telling my story before putting it into writing was the important bit. I didn’t need to find missing parts and add them in. I was happy with it just as it was.
The next time I am having difficulty putting my thoughts into writing, I’m going to try out this strategy. Maybe you can, too.