The Student Writer's Studio, utilizing visual literacy tools for teaching creative writing


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The Student Writer's Studio, utilizing visual literacy tools for teaching creative writing

  1. 1. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing Chris Thomas LCRT 5029 1
  2. 2. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 2 Please go to: to view the completed website. Teaching Creative Writing. Creative writing is notoriously difficult to teach for several reasons. The rules are subjective if not down right vague. The process of self-expression often defies organization, and the product is difficult to assess. Even those who have been teaching it for years often wonder just what the exact process is. Still, somehow people do learn to write and those who study it seriously, find it to be the most compelling of endeavors, engaging every cognitive aspect they can muster to capture their ideas in poetry, essay, short story, novel or any of the literary genres. Why is creativity such an ethereal process? The cognitive challenge of creativity. Successful creative writing is not surprisingly, predicated on the student's ability to access their creativity, a brain function cognitive scientists are still trying to adequately define. Among many other attributes, one pivotal aspect of creativity is change. Typically, creativity is a response, conscious or “un” , to a question or problem. The answer is an alteration of some sort to the original paradigm. Generating new solutions to problems requires a series of cognitive processes that invoke change. 7 These processes are often conscious, but just as often take place outside our conscious control. They appear to depend on an analysis of a disparate array of stored knowledge, experience and memories and a particular association among some of them that generates a different idea. The Bloom's Taxonomy levels: application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are typically engaged in the generally accepted stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.3 Preparation is the process of defining the creative problem by understanding all prior applications. This is the stage of pivotal questions where the information is gathered and the scope of the query is understood. 3
  3. 3. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 3 The incubation stage is an analytical level where options, however tangential, are considered. Illumination is the congealing process of synthesis where new ideas start to take form, and Bloom's evaluation is similar to the verification aspect of creativity where results are checked and compared. These high levels of cognitive engagement make writing one of the most challenging tasks a student can undertake. It's important at this juncture to point out that the elements that come together are not exclusively verbal or written. A great many of them are visual and/or symbolic, or are input from sensory centers: biochemical cues from emotion, light waves from the eyes, sound waves from the environment, and intuitive cues. On the cognitive level all information is handled with equanimity. Beyond the whirring neurological gears, however, is the intensely human effort of selfexpression; the expression of human experience through whatever lenses that lend texture, color and perspective to his human story. The best a teacher can do is to encourage this to emerge and once it has emerged, try to focus those thoughts into the form and structure of a story. The mechanics. To write a story, students must tackle a number of significant structural problems. First they must understand the form of the story; such as whether it's going to be a first person narrative or told from another's point of view. They need to understand time and tense; have a substantial cache of words with which to create a setting; imbue their characters with life; and develop a conflict. And somewhere in there they have to deal with grammar, spelling, and how to construct a meaningful sentence. In a way it's like playing triple 3D chess. Put simply, the art of writing integrates all the these high level brain functions and funnels them into the language center where they are converted into symbolic communication – words. The use of words helps to activate aspects of a learner's background knowledge, helping him through those stages of creativity to the point where he can construct his writing project. This
  4. 4. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 4 is the behind-the-scenes process that allows the writer to discover what he has to say and how he wants to say it. It is the mechanism behind what we think of as a writer's “voice.” Language and literacy. According to Dr. James Paul Gee, the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University, linguists believe that language is the fountainhead of creativity and that it exists in all humans. Language is inextricably involved with thought. It is the medium through which society expresses itself, and therefore, it's foundational to culture and to human nature. 4 Language is the first place we observe sociocultural issues that play out in students' abilities to function in their schools, to learn the Standard English we teach in preparation for college and life among the well-educated, and to embrace their own thoughts and ways of expressing them. Creative writing utilizes language to paint the cultural tonalities that show up in a human's experience. Telling the Story. Storytelling is a cultural survival tool. And while self-expression is the personal element of creative writing, in truth, the urge to tell the story is the dominant sociological characteristic of creative writing. Today, we consider this to be the process of communication; of connecting to and finding common ground with others, a process that depends more than ever on language combined with visual and verbal literacy. The Student Writer's Studio Please go to: to view the completed website. The Student Writer's Studio is a work-in-progress. It is a prototype for a series of studio learning modules and workshops for young writers. The goal of this particular unit is to enchant secondary and college-age students with the magic of writing. It is meant to lure them into the paradoxical work of writing; that paradox being one that embraces both the rhetorical structures and the ephemeral nature of creativity. In truth, this is a circuitous route to reading literacy. Its method hinges on students becoming enamored with their own abilities to express themselves through writing, and to realize their
  5. 5. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 5 writing relates to thoughts and feelings experienced by other authors, contemporary and ancient. It is an effort to help students see the roles they play in the story of humanity. So, the focus of this first version is to encourage the student to enjoy the process of storytelling. I believe that encouraging – that is, helping students to find their own courage, is of primary importance rather than forcing them to come at writing through the mechanics of grammar, structure and spelling. They need to feel free to find their own subjects – topics about which they feel they have something to say. Self expression in the digital age. Although it may seem that designing a virtual PBL is somewhat of an oxymoron, it makes perfect sense when you consider that digital learners have little tolerance for a medium that can't provide the speed and the vast online resources that sustain the pace of their thinking. The immediate accessibility of the world through media is the hallmark of this age of media-based communications. Media. Motivating virtual learners depends on engaging their sensory centers. This engagement uses a number of visual prompts in the form of small videos to stimulate emotional, contextual, visual and auditory responses. The net effects of these stimuli are feelings that learners may want to express in writing. Ideally, music, clips from movies and theatre, dance, art, slam-poetry, and other public performances will also be included. I must admit, that in stark contrast to my contention that media engages and aides learning, I found one article that stated that visuals helped visual learners, they didn't help non-visual learners much. 1 I think it's important to note that media is more than just visuals. As I noted earlier, media, like the environment, bombards learners with information and stimulation on many different levels, and so, I think that this piece of research is limited in its applicability to real contemporary learning. The objectives of this course are: The learner will be engaged in the investigation of their own thoughts and feelings as fertile ground for topics of self-expression. They will practice their introspection and their writing
  6. 6. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 6 throughout the topical areas. Those topical areas are: Creativity section – the learner will examine his/her own creative process and reflect on the aspects of environment, the sheer enjoyment of writing, and his/her productivity. They will extrapolate from Melissa Gilbert's TEDtalk, their own approach and attitude to their own creativity. The Writer's Journal – the learner will explore the many uses of a Writer's Journal in his/her efforts to capture ideas, thoughts, and to work out writing issues. Thinking Differently - the learner will explore the purpose of writing for social change, especially through the form of graphic novels. The Story – the learner will view the three video stories and begin to feel the emotional content of a story. They will understand some of the elements of a story and be able to discuss them in their journal. Writing Characters – by watching different people and by thinking about people they know,the learner will begin to feel the subtlety of character traits and will practice creating back stories for any kind of character. Writing Conflict – the learner will study the different kinds of conflict presented in the two videos and then write a scene with conflict of their own. THE STUDENT WRITER'S STUDIO WEBSITE CONTENT This is the content as it appears on the web pages. PAGE 1: HOME This website is designed to help young writers start to hone their skills. Understanding that writing is a lifelong endeavor, NOW IS THE TIME
  7. 7. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 7 to not only to practice form, it's the time to gather thoughts, words, and a closet full of crazy characters, outrageous plots, and exciting conflicts. Each page has some thoughtful challenges and they all have yellow assignment boxes that require you to write specific material. Most pages have YouTube videos to help you visualize the topic. Different aspects of writing are discussed. In all cases, you must write. ..write...write. There is no substitution for pages and pages of writing. Most published writers will tell you that the most important task to becoming an accomplished writer is to keep at it. And, of course, you must read. PAGE 2: CREATIVITY Pablo Picasso once said, "I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it." For writers, writing is a passion - the music of our souls. Words are our instruments and just as we would practice the guitar until we hear the sound we want, we practice our writing to find the way to say exactly what we feel. The Three Steps of Writing Don Murray, Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist for the Boston Globe and acclaimed creative writing teacher said that writing is a three-step process: 1. Prewriting - which takes up to 85% of a writer's process time - includes daydreaming, research, percolating. 2. Writing the first draft, which is scary because it's when you're sure you don't know how to do it. 3. Re-writing, the stage where you not only know how to do, you know how to do it better than you did before. 6 Assignment: Your Process
  8. 8. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 8 Free write - in your writer's journal - about your process. Think about what helps your mind to soar; what helps ideas and words to come. Does music help or hinder your flow? Do you like to be alone, or sit in a coffee shop watching people? Does this process change? Are you kidding yourself about your process? Look back and reflect on the times when you've enjoyed your process most - when time disappeared - and recreate those circumstances. References “Demystifying the Creative Process” by Charlie Gilkey This is a great article for understanding more about how the creative process works. PAGE 3: THE WRITER'S JOURNAL DOCUMENTS THE WRITER'S JOURNEY “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” Emile Zola Video on Creativity by Ira Glass Assignment: Start your own journal. Put together a journal to keep track of your thoughts, your ideas about your writing, and any other pertinent musings that help you write. Keep in mind that this is a safe place where you can rant, work out your craziest ideas, make notes about your observations – whatever. Although a virtual journal is fine, and convenient for transferring ideas to a working document, a real paper journal is great for those who are more visual or who have to have a place where they can scribble, doodle, or paste pictures. Both is best. “Why Good Writers Keep Journals” By Ruth Folit This article gives ten good approaches to journal-writing. Websites about Journaling
  9. 9. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 9 PAGE 4: THINKING DIFFERENTLY...the arts for social change The creative arts are the cradle of new ideas. Throughout history, words have been used to address social injustice. They have fomented revolutions, brought down kings, started new countries, and birthed new religions. Of all the arts, writing has asked the hardest questions and it still does. Often, these questions take courage. As we examine our lives and our world, we may discover things that make us uncomfortable - things that make us change our minds. We may have to think about things that we thought were unimportant to our lives, but which may be foundational to all humans. Sometimes we choose to believe there are no answers...and so we write new worlds. Assignment: the graphic novel 1. Read "Maus - Survivor's Story" by Art Spiegelman. 2. Write your thoughts about it in your journal. Decide what you'd like to say in an essay or short story. 3. Write/draw/create your own graphic novel story. Videos: One Love / Playing for Change Song Around the World Stanford University Creative Writing Class Websites about writing for change
  10. 10. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 10 Writing story, finding poetry, freeing voice. About the Dream School Commons, Jaime R Wood. : a good article on writers and social change. “The Graphic Novel Renaissance. PAGE 5: THE STORY “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou Videos: “Lifted” “The Gift” “The Mantis Parable” The visualization...the mind image that drives writing THE STORY calls on imagination – those thoughts that connect CHARACTERS with CONFLICTS. Many writers make a loose outline of incidents they think will make a story interesting. Often, writers understand the general feeling or message they want to write about, but they don't really know how the plot is going to work. Since the plot is always about the characters, you need to know what your hero (heroine) wants. What's the goal? And then, consider what the consequences of either achieving or not achieving the goal might be. That's the outcome of your story. The process of getting there involves the challenges that must be met, the signs that danger or failure is imminent, the issues that must be faced - both interior and exterior; and the ultimate price all these exact on the protagonist . The outcome must never be a straight line, but fraught with incidents that prove to us that the protagonist has changed enough to earn his/her goal - which is, hopefully, better than what he or she originally thought.
  11. 11. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 11 Or not. Keep in mind that not all protagonists are heroes and not all stories have happy endings. Still, their stories must present them with challenges that cause us to identify with them. Assignment: figuring out the story. 1. On this page you'll find three short animations designed to make you feel something. Watch them – or, if you're intrepid, go to YouTube and find one you like better – one that makes you want to write. 2. Make a journal entry. Figure out what your thoughts are and what you want to say. 3. Say it in at least a couple of pages. Websites for tips on plot development: PAGE 6: WRITING CHARACTERS First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him. Ray Bradbury Writing MUST be about something that is important to the writer. But, sometimes we write to learn about – to explore - something we didn't understand before – such as a person in our lives. It takes courage to step back (and stepping back is very important) and really take a hard, fair look at the people we know. It also takes a certain amount of compassion to understand why they are the way they are. People Watching. A writer needs to be aware of people. Often, people we know – or parts of them – show up in our characters. Sometimes a particular trait can be the basis of a whole story. This is why it's a good idea to know what your protagonist wants. It's also a good idea to write a back story for that
  12. 12. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 12 character, so you understand who he or she is and what reactions he or she will have. Everything we write is a part of us. We cannot write without telling something about ourselves – or learning something about ourselves. Assignment - Characters: 1. Check out the faces below. 2. Choose one or two 3. Write a BACKSTORY that tells us something about them - who they are; what they're thinking. 4. Do a journal entry about someone you know. Put them in an unfamiliar scenario and see how they react. Websites about characters PAGE 7: WRITING CONFLICT To get the truth, you want to get your own heart to pound while you write. Robert McKee Videos The Passenger Balance There's outer conflict and inner conflict. According to author, Caro Clark, "Outer conflict is opposing desires, mismatches, uncertainty, deadlines, pressures, incompatible goals, uneasiness, tension. A convincing story has many conflicts built into it, layered and connected." "Inner conflict is not just a character being in two minds about something, not just being torn between obvious incompatibles ("I want to be a priest, and yet I love her") but is about being in a new situation where old attitudes and habits war with and hinder the need for change.
  13. 13. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 13 This war inside each of your characters makes them act and react in complex ways." 2 Assignment: Conflict Choose one scenario and write it the way you see it. Set the scene up and let the dialog reveal something to the reader that he/she didn't know before. 1. A girl is breaking up with her boyfriend because of another girl. 2. Two friends' conversation escalates into a serious argument. 3. A tornado threatens ... 4. The Church publishes an edit saying that artists may no longer paint human anatomy. 5. Every time she turns off the lights, she hears footsteps... Websites about writing conflict: PAGE 8 is credits and references. Reflection. The challenge of creating a young writer's studio is knowing when to stop. This preliminary unit is meant to ignite young writers into just going for it. Oddly, most beginners have more trouble trying to figure out what to say and learning to feel validated as a writer than they have trying to learn the structures. Those seem to fall into place along the way as they mature as writers. My biggest concern in this respect was trying to make the ancient craft of writing fresh and new for young students. In part, that's one of the reasons for including video segments. And, although I have included some clips from older writers, I'm hoping the video segments will prove to be successful in motivating students to just write as much as they can.
  14. 14. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 14 As I finish developing this course, I intend to include a great many other kinds of stimuli. As I mentioned above, the film and theatre arts, the contemporary street arts, music, and all other artistic venues are fair game for inclusion. I also intend to create a section that allows writers to read their work out loud and to listen to the sound of their own words. I think this is a vital exercise not only in learning to hear proper sentence structure, but also in learning to write dialog, to understand dialects, and to understanding how different characters express themselves. The next step is to revise this first sortie in a real course ware. I want to provide an area for individuals' journals. I need to have a mechanism for turning in assignments, and I'd like to have blogs and writer's showcases. I also want to examine the research literature on media and cognitive processes in greater depth to ensure I'm on a legitimate trajectory. Summary. This project quickly became larger and deeper than I was originally intending. It quickly expanded into behemoth proportions and it took significantly more time than I anticipated to grapple with and contain the basic elements I felt needed to be in this first prototype. I also found it is easy to loose days foraging through YouTube finding appropriate visuals. That said, I feel the general approach is what I was intending, although I think more detail and more opportunity for writing is needed in each area. As an introduction to serious writing for young writers, I think it is a start. No doubt it needs to be a bit hipper, but at the same time, I don't want it to loose its serious quality. This summer I'm going to be teaching at a Writing Studio summer camp for kids, so I may have the opportunity to try out my media theories. As I stated earlier, one of the advantages of getting kids interested in their own writing is to engage them in the fascinating world of words which, hopefully, will lead them to become interested in what other authors have written. Keep your fingers crossed. REFERENCES 1 Britez, Alex, NYU Graduate School
  15. 15. The Student Writer's Studio, Utilizing Visual Literacy Tools for Teaching Creative Writing 15 ferences_in_a_Second-Language_Multimedia_Learning_Environment 2 Clark, Caro, What is Conflict? retrieved from 3 Gabora, Lisa, Cognitive mechanisms Underlying the Creative process. Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies (CLEA) Free University of Brussels (VUB), retrieved from: 4 Gee, James Paul, An Introduction to Human Language, Prentice Hall, 1993. 5 Gilkey, C, Demystifying the Creative Process, retrieved from: 6 Murray, Donald M, Teaching Writing as a Process Not a Product, retrieved from 7 Wissink, Geert, Creativity and Cognition, Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, 2001.