My writing students are not writing in their own language.
At home they have no books, but they do watch TV, mostly Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon from what I gather and a few even believe that fairy tales are how we live in the privileged west (in castles with gorgeous gowns and handsome princes and we’ve always got the wicked stepmother sorted!)
They wash clothes, sweep, tidy, clean on a regular basis, they carry younger siblings around, tied to their back with a cloth, sometimes they fetch water as they don’t have an inside tap and their toilet and bathroom are rudimentary.
Do they ever look at an amazing sunset, or a rainbow or the stars twinkling brightly on a clear night? They tell me they do, but does it stir their imagination?
Do they touch the soft petals of an opening flower or marvel at the shape of a leaf on the ground? Do they pick up sparkly bits of stone or notice an interesting stick insect suspended on a branch or dew glistening on a spider’s web? I constantly remind them to do this and I think they do occasionally, but does it stir their imagination?
At school we have a small library and they love to read, but when I ask them to write a story from their imagination, it invariably contains the plot and characters of the last book they borrowed from the library. I nudge them to consider some small changes, but they seem to find it quite difficult. It becomes a step by step individual process of collaboration with each writer which often takes more time than is available.
No other school teaches or asks them to use their imagination. Should I just give up?
Is it that their imaginations have never been stirred because they have never been read to? My understanding is that there are few fiction books in their own language and their native vocabulary is limited. I can’t believe their imaginations could possibly have shut down completely, but I am finding it hard to open the door, so they can begin to think and write with feeling and pleasure, rather than just transcribing a list of daily chores or games they have played recently. So they can weave a small tale with characters and a simple plot that is interesting and that other kids will enjoy listening to or reading.
Don’t worry, I will keep persisting!
I do so love these kids and treasure the time I get to spend with them, but I so want to see their minds opened and their imaginations soaring!