Sunday, April 1, 2012


An Annenberg Learner Video Jazz Essay

The following composition is an improvisational remix of phrases and quotes found on the soundtrack of Making Writing Meaningful - part two in the Annenberg Foundation’s “Write in the Middle” video series. Although rearranged and re-assembled, all of the following verbiage was taken verbatim from the video’s interviews of Linda Rief, Damond Moodie, Allen Teng, Jenny Beasley and Gloria Hamilton. The implication of this novo liberati translatus is that the urban writing classroom is uniquely positioned as a potentially electrifying place of personal empowerment for diverse learners. Authentic purpose, student choice, and subjects drawn from personal experiences make for engaging and meaningful writing assignments that motivate learners to think in new ways – about themselves and their world – through writing.

AUTHENTiCiTY | R e l e v a n c e 

Real reasons. That’s the beauty of writing. Well, I mean you have to get excited about what you’re writing about. You have to relate to what you’re writing about. Music helps engage students in thinking and learning. You have to feel like there’s a purpose. A major concern of middle school teachers is motivating their students to write. Real audiences. We have a responsibility as teachers to help students connect to their writing and understand that this is something very real. This is not an exercise they’re going through in school that is going to end when they’re done. You can write to newspapers. You could write to your government. You could write, just a letter to a friend, just to get it off your chest. So, that’s the beauty of writing. You have this opportunity to truly express your opinion. To grow as writers middle level students need real reasons for communicating. Real audiences for real reasons.

CHOiCE | E n g a g e m e n t

The recurring question though is -- how to tap into that energy and help students to use it productively? There is the importance of choice in motivating students to write. Choice creates excitement. We need to let them educate us. Young adolescents are full of energy and enthusiasm. The student-centered classroom – it’s where all students feel free to express themselves as writers and thinkers. It takes more energy to be aligned with their interests but – to be an effective educator – well, my best learning happened when I was actively involved, when I cared, when I wanted to participate. Pay attention to what they wear, to what’s on their binder – what they talk about when they’re not talking to you. They’re all interested in music. They’re all interested in each other . . . anything that somebody else is interested in so . . . I find the best thing is to just start with brainstorming and things come out that I never would have expected. Certainly, music. If they’re going to buy into the fact that – ‘I can change people’s minds. I can change the world when I write’ – then they have to understand that in middle school. They have to know that – ‘I have a connection with this, it’s important to me, and I want to change something.’ We have to let them buy into that by letting them choose topics. Choice creates excitement. Excitement creates the product.

SELF-EXPRESSiON | E m p o w e r m e n t

The key to meaningful writing is its connection to self. We interview each other. I have the kids write out a biography of the person they interviewed or they could do their own autobiography. I try to pull them into themselves because I think that’s where they are to begin with, and then start to broaden them out. How well do I know those kids – so I can encourage them to write about things they really care about? I try to get them to think for themselves. The beauty of writing – or one of the beauties of writing, in my opinion – is that you don’t have to feel helpless.  When you feel like something has gone wrong in your life, or something great has happened, you can write about it to get that expression out. You can validate them. They need to see themselves as creative and viable members of a community of writers. They need to believe that their ideas and perceptions are important. They need to have ownership of their writing and they need to realize that writing is power – that it can be a catalyst for change, both in their immediate environment and in the world at large.

Write in the Middle (2004). Making writing meaningful. Retrieved from 


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