Writing in Action

Stavi Dimas, Kindergarten Faculty,
Amalia Zavacopoulou, Writing Program Specialist, ACS Athens

Ethos Magazine, Winter 2013, Vol 8, Issue 1

 BWe are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master” – Ernest Hemingway

At first glance, Ernest Hemingway’s words seem to be fairly negative – if no one ever becomes a master of the writing craft, then there’s really no point in trying to improve. Even learning how to write well in the first place may be futile. However, upon closer consideration, it seems that Hemingway is actually saying the opposite – if writing is a craft, then we, as educators, students or “apprentices” must consistently and constantly strive to further develop our skills. In fact, Hemingway implies that good writing is not something that happens overnight. Quite the contrary, he indicates that good writing is the result of a process, one that begins with insightful ideas, thoughtful note-taking and drafting, and finally comes to an end with revising, editing and polishing. As such, it is our role as educators to guide students through this process, providing them with the tools of their craft so that they can work towards mastering it.

This was the focus of the Writing in Action course that took place on June 19 – July 3 2013, after the end of the school year. One of the courses on offer at the Summer Scholars’ Academy organized by the Institute for Innovation and Creativity, Writing in Action was a two-week writing workshop for Middle School students that combined exploring historical artifacts with the writing process. This workshop was developed after the completion and success of last year’s second grade pilot project, Objects, Interpretation and Student Learning, which explored the potential of museum artifacts as instruments of hands-on learning, meaning making and peer teaching.

During the Summer Scholars’ Academy workshop, students spent three days at the Hellenic Children’s Museum in Plaka, where they engaged with various social history artifacts directly in a hands-on setting with a museum education specialist. They actively observed, sketched and took notes on the artifact of their choice as preparation for writing a formal essay. At ACS, they were guided through the steps of the writing process, which included brainstorming, drafting, and peer critiquing, revising, editing and proofreading, before producing a finished final draft. Writing in Action offered an opportunity for students to develop their writing skills and become familiar with the writing process, while also exploring the personal essay format.

As Writing in Action was more than your average writing workshop, an inquiry-based approach to learning was utilized to challenge students to build upon their own subjective experiences of the social history artifacts. The objective of the first session at the museum was to promote a sense of ownership, independence and direction in the students’ writing by exposing them to a multitude of artifacts. After examining these objects, students were asked to choose the one that ‘spoke’ to them the most, which they would then explore autonomously through the writing process. The second session served to intensify the relationship between the students and their artifacts through the employment of interpretive devices such as role play, concrete object experience, and reflective evaluation. The third, and last, session was an opportunity for the students to interact with a professional museum interpreter, who discussed various methods of engagement that can be used to facilitate a deeper understanding of historical artifacts as pieces of current and past history. All in all, the museum sessions acted as tools to stimulate the creative and insightful ideas necessary for successful personal essay writing.

In retrospect, we can see that Writing in Action was an opportunity for students to understand that writing an essay involves much more than just writing: it involves critical thinking, organization and clarity. But more than anything, the course also allowed students to embark on an independent exploration of an artifact using an inquiry-based approach to learning and writing. In this sense, students really did become “Architects of their own Learning.”