This is how I write. I take a moment – an image, a memory, a phrase, an idea – and I hold it in my hands and declare it a treasure – Lucy Calkins.
This was one of the most profound and long-lasting writing lessons I taught last year. It was something both myself and the children in my class would return to and talk about time and time again. By the end of the year, children understood and could articulate themselves when I asked: What is the ‘diamond moment’ here?
At the beginning of the year, I noticed that many of the children, whilst great at coming up with universal topics for writing – were unable to zoom in on the quality of the topic. It was too ‘universal’. Too large. Too general. When I finally gave this lesson – a lesson on finding the moment – the briefest of moments in a topic that are most significant to write about – the children’s writing transformed. It became part of our class meta-language and I hope something the children will keep as a lesson for a lifetime.
We must look for the significance within the experience – the personal response to it – not a bland recalling of events past. – Loane (p.5)
It was in our class writing project on memoir that the lesson was first taught. It was an attempt to focus the children on the personal and poetic significance of the experience they wished to to retell. In many ways, children took what would otherwise be the most ordinary of events and made them sound and read as extraordinary. It worked beautifully. It was about adding more than a ‘recount of a past event’. Where was the significance – where was the poetry? Where were the details? Where was the storytelling?
What was realised by myself and the children was that actually – you don’t need to have been to Disneyland or a Caribbean island to have something memorable to write about.
We can all see the difference between students simply telling something that happened to them and actually revealing something of themselves in expressing what it means for them. – Loane (p.45)
To this day, this writing project was the best I’ve ever conducted. What surprised me though was how the concept of searching for that diamond moment could be translated to all other genres.
It is not uncommon for any of us to feel that we have nothing in our lives worth writing about, but through immersion in stories, real and imagined, we see and hear the multitude of universal experiences being recorded. – Loane (p.5)
The idea of a ‘diamond moment’ began to be used in the children’s story writing and non-fiction projects. Children were able to turn massive epic sagas into short, snappy and wholly entertaining flash-fictions. Their non-fiction texts all of a sudden had a new sharper focus – explaining and sharing personally significant things – things that they truly cared about – to their readers.
If you liked this blog post, you may also like to read about our approach to writing we call Real-World Literacy.
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**By Phil Ferguson**
- Atwell, N. (2014). In the Middle: Writing, reading, and learning with adolescents, (3rd Ed) Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Calkins, L. (1998) The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Loane, G., (2016) Developing Young Writers: I’ve got something to say London: Routledge
- Rosen, M., (1998) Did I hear you write? London: Five Leaves Publication