Misty Adoniou: The power and passion of writing (PETAA Conference 2020)
I’ll happily admit it – I’ve been a Misty fan for a long time. I heard her at a conference years ago and instantly connected with her humanity, her humour and her understanding of the day to day life of classroom teachers. So the idea of her kicking off my Saturday morning with a keynote in a virtual conference was heaven. This is going to be one of the those blogs that is part notes and part thoughts, helping me get my head around what I heard and think about what it looks like in my classroom.
Misty eloquently talked about the power of writing and gave examples of how writing has been such an important and huge space in the tumultuous 2020. Reading other people’s writing and producing our own, even if we don’t feel like ‘writers’ – chalk messages on footpaths, replies to tweets, long message conversations with far off families. Writing is powerful.
I love this reminder, the power of writing in our world, and not in the power to give you an ‘A’ on the test. I need this reminder particularly when I’m bogged down in writing reports and assessing students’ writing against ‘standards’. While it’s a necessary part of my job, it’s the tiniest part and we need to remember that any standard, regardless of how well written, can’t encapsulate what growing as a writer looks like.
So what is the point? Why do we teach children to write and what do we want to get out of it? Misty offered:
- transforming ourselves
- transforming others
- transforming communities
- transforming systems
Do our students know this? I know I’ve asked students in many classrooms I’ve been in but I’m curious – have I asked them this year? Particularly with their experiences of nearly 6 months of remote learning, what do my students think the point of developing ourselves as writers is? Do they feel powerful?
Misty reminded us that being a strong, powerful and successful writer is about ‘will, skill and thrill’ – perhaps our NAPLAN results are more about lack of thrill and will rather than solely lack of skill?
We need to revisit what skill looks like in writing, without leaving behind the will and the thrill. In particular, we need to not put the ‘will’ on hold while we teach the skill (especially in those students who are ‘behind’) – find what students want to say and want to write about and fill the skills in as we go.
Purpose trumps structure
Practical, transformative writing in our world doesn’t fit predefined text types, yet this isn’t the situation in many classrooms where students are required to fit their text into set boxes. Powerful writers need to understand the different purposes of writing and the range of tools and forms they can use to enact that purpose. Misty gave the example of a job application – part information, part persuasive and part narrative, all needing to read as a portrait of a person worthy of the role being offered.
Craft over output
Instead of having students churn out piece after piece of completed writing, focus on small pieces of writing to allow time and space to consider and practise the craft of writing.
As the keynote ended, I was both appropriately chastised and energised. Chastised that I might have allowed myself to slip into some poor writing teaching habits but with renewed energy to use the bits that have worked and ARE on the right path and continue them with gusto. The sign of a great keynote – a balance of challenge and inspiration. Thanks Misty.