An interview with Writing & Rhetoric teacher Alicia VanDeerhoof
- School: The Geneva School in Winter Park, Florida
- Class: 6th Grade Writing & Rhetoric (W&R)
- Background: Grove City College, PA; BA in English and minor in classical education
Why did you choose to become a writing teacher?
I love the creativity and imagination required in writing, and the joy that I see the students showing [when they ask,] "Can we start writing now?" It's amazing seeing that across the board, from students who thought they knew everything about grammar and writing to those who were scared. they all get this joy that lasts through the whole year because with each lesson you have a new story, and with each story you have new possibilities and new chances to create.
What do you love about teaching W&R?
Every book takes a simple story and gives direction for each child to create. And even though they're given the same direction, the same challenge, they all come up with different stories to tell, different ways to improve a phrase. . . Before you know it, they're putting hard work in because they love what they've created. It's a beautiful story that they've become a part of.
What sets W&R apart from other writing curricula?
This series gives students more freedom to try new things, to create-not in a "Write me a good story" kind of way, but "Here's a story, now go and improve it: Change the adverbs to adjectives, change the nouns to more specific nouns. . . " It gives little tasks that allow for creativity and also gives students courage to change. That's something I really struggled with in school: changing, editing. I really didn't want to go through the swamp of my words again and again, even as an English major. But this series breaks it down into steps that allow students to develop an expectation to. . . make multiple rough drafts before the final draft. . . This is something that will lead them to not be scared of creating.
How did this curriculum give you confidence as a teacher?
This series was incredible as a first-year teacher because I had everything I needed to know in each teacher's edition. I thought [they] did a really good job of making expectations clear that I would want to put on the students. . . [Each teacher's edition] was such a good tool for me to open up, study the next lesson, and know where we're going and the baby steps to get there.
What is your advice for someone teaching W&R for the first time?
There are so many rich tools and examples in here. . . I would suggest not feeling like you have to use them all for every lesson. Do the things that get your students creating on their own before they write a paper. Ask yourself what would excite them the most or benefit them the most.
How does this curriculum work well for both experienced and inexperienced writers?
Both types of students are given the freedom but also the direction to create. For many, the first time they write it's a little scary. . . yet by the end of the year, they know exactly what's supposed to go where. Even the students that didn't know what a noun was now know parts of speech, but even more so, they know flow of thought. They know how to communicate in a way to persuade someone, they know to include a direct quote. . . It creates a bigger story of communicating, and they enjoy [this].