By Selia Garza
Last semester I worked on an ethnographic case study. In this study I included information collected about a participant, whom I will call, Student A. The data was collected by having her read to me or vice versa and then having her write a response to each of ten different stories. After the reading, I would ask her to write anything that she wanted to about the story. I also offered a few suggestions or topics as to what she could write about. She began with writing a summary of the stories and slowly progressed to tying them in some way to her life. Initially, she was very concerned about spelling and what she would write about but gradually became more and more comfortable. This study was done in order to see the changes in her writing over a span of several months.
In looking at all of the student’s writing samples and taking into consideration her actions before, during and after the readings and writings I see that Student A has a great potential in becoming a wonderful reader and writer. Her writing samples went from a comfort zone of simply writing a summary to a summary with personal experiences and ends with creating two unique poems in a style that she was unfamiliar with. All of this took place in a very comfortable setting for her. She was aware that her spelling and grammar were not the focal point of the study. This comfort level, I believe, allowed her to write more freely than I had seen before.
After working with Student A for a period of several months I realized that there was great deal of discomfort that she felt in terms of writing. This is possibly true of many of our other students as well. What we, as teachers, need to do is realize that “One way to encourage the reluctant writers who have been silenced – and the not-so-reluctant writers who have found a safe but sterile voice,” like my participant “—is to ask them to recount their experiences” (Christensen, 2000, p. 102). The participant’s comfort with writing was more readily visible when she realized that she could relate her reading and writing to her own personal experiences.
We must to try to find ways to engage students in writing. As McLane (1994) says, we need to “engage the children’s interest by helping them find ways to use writing that would serve their needs, interests, purposes – so that, from their perspective, writing would be ‘necessary for something’ (other than meeting a school requirement)” (p. 307). Students need to feel that there is a valid reason for creating something and this would not be just because the teacher said so. We can’t get them to write for us but we will sometimes see students writing notes to each other. I noticed how quick Student A was to accept writing for me because she new she was helping me with my class work. She wasn’t simply writing for a class assignment. She knew that it was something that I needed and it was wonderful to see her come up to me almost daily and ask if we were going to read and write about another book. She continued to ask this even after I let her know that my project was complete.
I have attached two of her writing samples. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach was her first sample and From the Bellybutton of the Moon was her last.
Alarcón, F. X. (1998). From the bellybutton of the moon and other summer poems. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.