Thursday, March 15, 2007

Some musings on voice!

Not thinking, I called a friend a bit late the other day. Normally - she is quite the night owl, so it never crossed my mind that she would be sleeping!! Her voice was groggy (as was her mind I am sure) but she gave it a minute and then boom!! There was the upbeat tone and laugh in her "Hi!!" that I have come to rely on.

I have another friend who has some interesting voice inflections - ones that we tend to unconsciously mimic at work whenever we want to respond to a situation as she would. We can even make our facial expressions match hers - much to our delight. But today, she received upsetting news and her tone was very different as were her facial expressions. She spoke much faster and in the same tone, speaking so fast that she often chose words that she wasn't sure she wanted to use.

Voice is an amazing thing - and it is even more amazing when we can hear it in writing. But voice is difficult to teach without many, many examples. Reading a variety of authors and styles is the best way to help writers find their voice. One of my favorite authors for this is Sandra Cisneros - you can practically imagine yourself in the scenes she writes!! I think that is why I have come to over-rely on "Eleven" each time that I teach voice in a workshop.

I have had the pleasure of working with an amazing fifth grade teacher and blogs lately. She has hooked her students on mysteries with her very first blog. Her most recent post asks students to share their "peaceful corner of the world" and boy can you hear their voices!! Even more importantly - you can hear her voice (as well as her powerful teaching) in the comments. Unlike any other blog I have read (and I read a lot!), Mrs. Sager responds to each and every comment, often subtly pointing out the edits that would make their written work even better. I continue to be amazed by this class - be sure to check it out and comment on their work!!

This teacher embraces and encourages voice in her student's writing. However, I have often had teachers tell me that voice belongs in stories and not in the content areas, and certainly not on state assessments. Of course- I disagree!! I have participated in regional scoring of ELA and Social Studies assessments and in all instances, those papers that were engaging and had a sense of voice scored higher than those that did not. The content could have been exactly the same - but voice puts it over the top each and every time. The trick is to teach that the voice needs to be appropriate to the audience. For this - I loved using RAFTS in my classroom. The students became engaged in their writing, really learned the content and more importantly learned the importance of knowing their audience. It was fun for them - and honestly, much more fun for me to grade as well!!

It is amazing the voice in those around us. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "A man's style is his mind's voice. Wooden minds, wooden voices. " We just need to take the time to listen to them.

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