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What happens when teachers say never?

I'm a member of several really amazing, educator Facebook groups, yet I'm always surprised to see posts about never allowing students to do something academic. Let me explain, recently, there have been many posts about never allowing students to:

  • read a book below their independent reading level

  • start a paper with a rhetorical question

  • start a sentence with but, because, and (or any other conjunction)

  • use pen/pencil

  • draw

  • color

  • write a sentence using less than a certain number of words (yes, that's a thing)

  • write a paragraph with less than 4 sentences

I could go on but I won't, because I'm getting angry. It's a miracle students are able to get anything down on paper with all of these constraints. Yet, examples can be found in the work of writers such as Jerry Spinelli, J.K. Rowling, Sharon Draper, R.J. Palacio , and even Albert Einstein. Even highly respected grammar and usage guides (such as Fowler and Garner) all agree that starting a sentence with a conjunction is a perfectly acceptable practice.

Most teachers argue that students don't know how to use the specific technique well enough, so they tell ALL students that it should NEVER be done.

How will they ever learn? What does that mean for students? What type of message does this send? How do they feel about all the constraints? As each school year passes, what happens to their creativity and courage to take risks in their writing? So, now that we know about it, what can we do about it?

I don't have all the answers..... yet.

But at the beginning of the school year I decided to try a different approach. I began using mentor sentences in my writing/grammar instruction instead of the extremely common task of having students correct sentences written with errors. The thought being, students should be exposed to excellent writing and then notice all the intricacies that make that writing powerful and emotional. We study the best writers and learn from them. Using this technique my students and I have laughed, cried, gotten angry, debated, discussed, and gotten lost in reading and writing. Students are becoming passionate readers and writers.

Do I have all the answers? No! But when it comes to developing creative students, I'm definitely going to be mindful about saying "never."