Remembering Fluency

Writing instruction is not like teaching, say, a foreign language. When I arrived at my first French class in seventh grade I knew absolutely nothing about the language except that one needed a beret and a small dose of existential angst to speak it authentically. Everything I learned there was new to me except this: the purpose of French was the same as my native English, to communicate with other people. That purpose was often lost in a class that focused so much on conjugating verbs and memorizing vocabulary. It seemed sometimes as if French had been invented simply to provide new and vaguely romantic hoops for young English-speaking children to jump through. I received the first bad grade of my schooling career in that class.

Strange that I could not learn in a classroom at thirteen what a three year-old child learns effortlessly simply by being alive around other French-speaking people. Which brings me back to writing instruction. Unlike French, or English, or Russian, stories are a universal human language. They are how we talk to one another. The only real difference between the teacher and the student in a writing class is that the teacher is more aware of this.

Yet sometimes there is a temptation to teach writing as we teach a foreign language. This is understandable because it sometimes appears as if certain students have no more familiarity with stories than I do with calculus. These students, however, have simply forgotten that the only purpose of stories is to communicate. When they remember this, when they stop trying to be impressive or to get it right, their writing changes. They have remembered their native fluency.

Now, instead of asking, “What will other people think of this?” or, “Is this correct?” the student only asks, “How can I best express what I most want to express?” Sometimes a teacher can help answer this question and sometimes not. The teacher’s real job is to remind the student that this is the only question he or she need ever ask. They are already fluent in the language of life.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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