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Showcasing Susan Schweiker and "Promising A's"

Teacher Susan Schweiker has a unique approach to building creative, confident writers: it starts with promising all of them A's!

"I tell my students that all their writing will be graded with an A if I can tell they tried to write creatively," she told Education World. "That is easy to determine after the first week or so of class, when I have begun to hear their individual voices. I believe there is no wrong way to write creatively; the only pressure students should have to be creative is the pressure they choose to place on themselves."

Her approach works! Schweiker, who teaches writers' workshop and other courses at Shawnee Mission East High School in Kansas, finds that many of her students ask to rewrite their assignments because they aren't satisfied with what they've turned in. "Not every assignment will inspire students to do their best work, but most of what they write will be wonderful," said Schweiker.

"I love giving 112 A's in one semester!"

Schweiker establishes an atmosphere of encouragement by allowing at least 20 minutes of class time for each new writing assignment. If more time is needed the next day, the class schedule is flexible.

She also reads aloud every single piece of writing to the class and comments on the literary techniques used and the excellence of expression. "Although they don't have to acknowledge that they are the authors, students become comfortable -- eventually -- with hearing their work read aloud and with giving positive commentary to their peers," Schweiker explained. "I highlight all my favorite parts of their writings and write notes such as 'Wow!' rather than marking for grammar or any other errors."

Schweiker also models writing for the students and provides examples from great writers. She stresses that there is no wrong way to do any assignment. Students often choose their own genre, and Schweiker encourages them to step outside their "comfort zone" and try new forms of writing.

A few of the assignments Schweiker uses to bring out the creative writer in students include:

  • Write an extended metaphor or conceit.
    Begin with "I am..." and finish the thought with something other than a person, such as "the ocean," "the mountain," or "the desert." Then write as the ocean (the mountain or ...), allowing your thoughts, moods, and idiosyncrasies to emerge in the guise of waves washing away footprints on the shore or as cold depths that never see the light of the sun...
  • Write a dialogue.
    Have the conversation take place in an interesting setting or situation, such as a nervous ninth grade couple during a slow dance, or two friends who have a crush on the same person meeting that person and discovering the competition!
  • Begin with the words "What if?"
    Write whatever comes to mind in any style you choose. This can be a good way to teach parallel structure in poems.
  • Write a story, based on an embarrassing truth or half truth.
    Entitle it "Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time." (Promise to not blackmail your students!)

"Humor and positive commentary go a long way," Schweiker advises. "Many students are used to having their writing heavily criticized; they doubt themselves and their creativity. Let them play with words and regain a sense of delight and wonder with language. And be patient! Sometimes, a student's finding his creative genius is a lengthy process, but the wait is so worthwhile!"

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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