What the Maker Movement Can Teach Writing Teachers

The Maker Movement can give writing teachers useful tips on how to teach writing.

Words "maker" and "writer" Of course, writing isn’t making. It’s harder than that.

But kids or adults who grasp the idea of making products—whether the products are silk pajamas or software platforms—will be able to grasp how to go about writing to produce something good enough that it can be refined to be really good.

They may even stick with writing long enough to write something awesome.

Borrow Maker Movement techniques

Writing teachers can incorporate some of the characteristic procedures of making things in the process they teach students for writing things.

1. Start fast.

Words "maker" and "writer" Makers learn the least they need to know to get started making.

Incorporate that same quick-start into your teaching: Teach the least students need to know to get started writing.

I start with the thesis statement. That’s the idea that will guide the rest of the development process.

As concepts go, the thesis statement about as hard to understand as the concept of cutting a board with a handsaw. And like the handsaw, that one sentence is harder to use than it looks.

Just cutting a board into two pieces can be success for the first-time carpenter; just writing a clear thesis sentence can be success for the beginning writer.

2. Fail fast.

Words "maker" and "writer" Makers understand that failing is good: It not only gives hands-on practice, but it shows what not to do the next time.

Nobody wants to put in hours of work developing a great idea only to find after six weeks that the idea can’t possibly work. Fast failure is essential to get students to try a second time.

Until students are competent writers, I avoid any writing assignments that can’t be entirely completed in short sessions (typically in 10-30 minutes) a day for five or six consecutive days.  That’s drawn out by Maker standards, but within the ability of young people who have other things to do that matter more to them than writing class assignments.

3. Move on when skills are good enough.

Words "maker" and "writer" Makers don’t need to be aces at sawing boards before they try nailing together their first cut pieces. Trying to align boards cut crooked is an incentive for learning to cut straight.

Darcy’s bird house may be lopsided, but Darcy will learn more deeply and more quickly how to build a bird house by making several birdhouses than by practicing each component to mastery.

Darcy’s first essay may be lopsided, too, but Darcy will learn more deeply and more quickly write an essay by writing several essays than by practicing each component skill to mastery.

I like to get beginning writers producing an essay in a week, building one or two components a day.  Instead of having students revise and edit those first attempts, I allow students to scrap those awful early attempts.

Students will know when they’ve produced something that merits extra attention. When that time comes, they’ll put in extra effort, perhaps even learn some additional information or a new skill, to do the fine tuning to make their work good instead of just good enough.

4. Iterate.

Words "maker" and "writer" Whether someone is building a bird house or writing an essay, making something in which all the parts together make one distinct product requires repeated practice in the entire process.

When the product developers—whether makers or writers—don’t have to think about what step comes next, they can focus their attention on doing the job at hand well.

Writing teachers must make sure student writers have many, many opportunities to become so familiar with the processes and tools of writing that they can do the next step, use the next tool without stopping to ponder, “What do I do next?” It’s only when writers are that sure of the process that they can give serious attention to the message they are trying to communicate.

5. Consult.

Words "maker" and "writer" Makers talk about what they are making. They explain their thinking, their processes. They allow others to ask them questions, to suggest options they may not have considered.

Writers also can derive benefits from talking with others about their plans. The first benefit comes from hearing how the idea sounds when it’s articulated out loud. The second comes from having the benefit of others’ reactions and suggestions.

The maker’s audience may tell about their own experiences in similar situations; the maker isn’t required to accept that advice.

[Fixed bad link 2016-01-22]