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On Surveying Students

I began my Creative Writing course this year surveying students. I adapted the Personal Writing Inventory from UNC-Chapel Hill's Writing Center for this.

Having finally had the time to sit down with them on this sunny September afternoon, I learned a lot about the diverse set of ninth-twelfth graders that comprise my CW course.

For starters, I learned that some participate in online writing communities. They turn to these groups for positive feedback, criticism, and inspiration. I know I can leverage these students within their own writing groups to be leaders that will help others grow.

I learned that some students only write for school. This is the very reason they're in this course, they said. They want to learn to "brainstorm better" and "come up with ideas." They are frustrated with always "writing to someone else's prompt."

I found that most of my students write outside of school and not just tweets and texts. So many of them have journals in which they write about their dilemmas and lives. I can't wait to talk to these kids about mining those same journals for inspiration for larger pieces.

I learned that many students yearn to inspire readers, to create that goose-bump sensation while writing. And I know that I can plan lessons for this by talking about audience and how to appeal to ones in particular.

I learned that some students have authors they look up to. Overwhelmingly, J.K. Rowling made the list of authors. But I also learned that there are some students that don't look up to any writers, creating a need for dedicated Sacred Reading Time (SRT) in my classroom.

I found out that some students are afraid to write because of spelling, and others are afraid to write because what they might write is too real, too raw, too honest. As an English teacher, I've found that we are uniquely positioned to learn so much more about students than others because we strive to make connections between content and students' lives.

I learned that some students see "important writing" as college application essays only. I want to expand their understanding of importance and get them to see purposes of other pieces of writing.

And I learned that far too often students don't engage in personally relevant writing assignments despite their passions for them.

Sometimes it's important that we sit back and let students tell us about themselves. Teach us, the teachers. Let them share their past experiences and preferences, and then spend a little time shaping our course to meet not only their needs but their passions and interests, too.

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