for Gulf Coast Conference on the Teaching of Writing 2009 attendees:

Palmer Creek Essay

Rick Shelton is a writing consultant and author who spends more than 120 days a year visiting classrooms to work with students and their teachers. As a result of his work in schools, Rick has written Write Where You Are: Strategies For Teaching Four Modes of Writing, which offers teachers practical approaches for improving students' writing and preparing them for state writing assessments.

I have spent the last fifteen years visiting schools in Alabama and across the southeast, talking with students and their teachers about writing. In almost every classroom I have found that students, when equipped with a few straightforward strategies and some real-world motivation, quickly come to see themselves as competent writers. When kids are given permission to discover, organize, and write about what they know and where they are, their fear of writing can disappear in a moment. This transformation of attitude often leads students to write more, and more expressively. My work also focuses on helping teachers become more confident writers, themselves, and giving them practical and efficient approaches for writing instruction.

As a consultant I also work very closely with teachers and administrators who have responsibility for preparing students for state writing assessments. As an instructional specialist for the Alabama State Department of Education, I had the opportunity to study and be trained in the scoring of the Alabama Director Assessment of Writing. I have combined my experience as a writer and my knowledge of writing assessments to create materials, lessons and strategies that are both useful to writers in any situation and also effective for students who must, occasionally, write under pressure to a random prompt. Although I don't believe assessments should drive curricula or dominate instruction, I have seen students who feel comfortable and competent as writers move from lower levels of achievement to meeting, and often exceeding, state-mandated standards. Schools and school systems with whom I have worked have shown marked improvement in their writing scores.

Each time I walk into a classroom, I meet students who have experiences, memories, and knowledge worth expressing in writing. At the same time, I know that getting them to write requires honesty, energy, a solid understanding of the craft, and a whole lot of humor. Every day, I see the results of their efforts. I am no longer surprised by the astonishing things students can do with the written word; I am delighted.


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