The Structured Writing process to create a personal narrative essay

Our current world is dominated by a series of short messages communicated through emails, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. The students of today believe that the brevity of these messages is a positive. The types of communication that have grown out of technology reduce clarity and heighten assumption. These students often become indignant at the idea of explaining their point of view with depth.

I began the Structured Writing and Thinking Program in 1984. At that time, I had been a consultant for a few years and had an opportunity to observe how students approached writing. I found that a sizeable group of students had difficulty organizing their paragraph responses. This organization was complicated by the philosophy of some teachers that students should just put down their thoughts in any order.

Coupled with these observations, I, also, was influenced by the investigation I was conducting in 1986 and 1987 for my book on critical thinking from the American Association of School Administrators, entitled Teaching Thinking and Reasoning Skills. From this experience, I began to draw a few conclusions that influenced key components of the Structured Writing Program. These are two of the most pronounced conclusions.

First, I came to believe that a highly structured writing approach did not get in the way of creative thinking. In fact, I found that creative and critical thinking work hand in hand. As the Structured Writing and Thinking Program evolved, I began to observe that students who learned this six-step process could comfortably infuse their “individual voices” into the structure; this meant that their personal styles of expression could be incorporated into their paragraphs or into parts of their stories.

Second, I realized that certain students had a more difficult time of organizing their thoughts than others. When given a sequence of steps that facilitated this organization, these students could produce high-quality paragraphs. I began to understand that there is a marked difference between “how one writes” and “what one writes.” The structure minimizes the stress related to “how the student organizes the rough draft paragraph”; as a result, the student can devote his or her productive energies to “what is the content of my message.”

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