Teen Voices

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Listening to Teens

Yesterday, I taught writing to a dozen at-risk teens. We worked on a personal narrative for about 4-5 hours. Now, the kids didn’t want to be there, but had to be. They didn’t want to write, because it’s summer and who wants to do English class in the summer.teenwrite

For the first fifteen minute writing period, one teen just wrote, “I’m bored, I don’t want to do this,” for the entire time. I gave the teen permission to do this, as long as the pen kept moving over the page. Wrong way to phrase it. Another teen moved his pen, but doodled.

The writing process I did with them was varied, active, loud, unruly, and (at least for me) fun. And the last 20 minute period, when I asked them to take their marked-up, full of revisions drafts and write out a clean copy (except I didn’t care about spelling and punctuation – hey, it wasn’t English class), everyone wrote. Even the doodler and the bored.

After a loud day, I was suddenly quiet and serious as I explained that my passion is to help people write better, but the process wasn’t complete until the circle is closed with a listener. Would anyone want to read aloud? Because I wanted to hear each voice.

I don’t know how many times these teens had been told that someone wanted to listen to their voice. Not many times, I suspect. It was a serious moment, broken quickly by a raucous joke. Yet – maybe it touched them. Only a few were brave enough to read aloud. Later, though, while they were playing cards the last few minutes, I went to each and asked if I could read his/her story. They all said yes.

There were great stories, not-so-great stories, stories which were rendered almost incoherent by so many grammar problems, stories meant to shock, stories meant to reveal, stories meant to hide – but the voices were loud and clear. I am here. I matter. Is anyone listening?

That’s why we write for kids and teens. Because they matter. Because we want to give them voices that can be heard.

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2 Comments
  • Ann Finkelstein
    June 23, 2009

    This is a great post, Darcy. And I’m sure it was a valuable experience for the teens. I’d be interested to read more about the writing exercise.

  • Darcy Pattison
    June 24, 2009

    Ann –
    Thanks! It was great.
    It’s hard to explain the exercise, because when I teach I’m sorta like a storyteller who is responding to the audience. Lots of my exercises are in the Paper Lightning book. This time, I started with oral storytelling. The kids paired up and told a story about something that happened to them. It’s timed, so they only have one minute to tell the story (and that’s hard to fill up sometimes). Then, they told another story each. And another. Finally, they chose their favorite and told it a different way. An example that hit home for many of them was audience: if you have a car wreck the way you tell about it to your best friend is sure not the way you tell your mom, and it’s for sure not the way you tell the cop about it.

    (Of course – they are revising their story, without even knowing it, and before they’ve committed anything to paper.) Then, they tell it AGAIN, a different way. Only after all that oral rehearsal do they write a first draft.

    And it went from there.

    Darcy