A friend recently sent me a paper by Vivian Gussin Paley called Listening to What the Children Say,published in the Harvard Educational Review. In it she writes about truly listening to children; about being genuinely curious about what they have to say. As she often does, Paley reflects on her own shortcomings and her sense that when she appeared to be listening to what children were saying, she was simply waiting to tell them what she thought they should know. A friend of hers, not a teacher, taught her about the power of genuine curiosity, genuine interest in what the child has to say. I don’t know about you, but I have found that children are often surprised when you listen to what they say and take them seriously. When they realise that you will engage with them with real interest the conversation changes.
I think the same applies to how we read and respond to the writing of others, both children and adults. We begin, by what Peter Elbow describes as believing. We immerse ourselves n the writing and feed back to the writer what we have noticed, what we felt when we read the piece, what piqued our curiosity, what we imagined. We take the writing seriously. That is one reason why choice is important when setting writing tasks. It is hard to believe in thirty almost identical stories that we have so planned and managed that the child’s voice cannot be heard. When children are able to make choices about what and/ or how they write, then we are likely to be surprised and intrigued. Then there are questions to be asked, things to be exclaimed about.
The conversation between writers begins. And we learn more and more about what it is to be a writer.