Adam Ripp, Grade 10, Staff Writer
The High School of American Studies is unsurprisingly focused around history. And when one considers history, creative writing may not typically come up. Historical papers and creative writing don’t align very often, but creative writing is nevertheless undoubtedly important. The incorporation of creative writing assignments into English classes at HSAS depends heavily on the teacher of that class, so in each grade, and as teachers change, so too does the use of creative writing.
Creative writing is defined as “writing, typically fiction or poetry, which displays imagination or invention,” but Ms. Mosco, a 10th grade English teacher, has a slightly different interpretation: “I would consider creative writing to be any type of writing that is not going to have rigid rules and where the writer gets to make the choices for their own.”
Another definition was given by Caitlyn Levy, an HSAS alumna who ran the poetry club: “For me, I typically see creative writing as any mode of expression that in itself allows for freedom … and is often characterized by a particular kind of honesty.”
Two key words here are freedom and honesty. Caitlyn’s focus on freedom is very similar to what Ms. Mosco said about an absence of rigid rules, however, the idea of honesty has not been explicitly stated in any other definition. Creative writing must be truthful to what the author pictures in their mind.
In 2017, 31 seventh grade students in Denizli, Turkey, were exposed to a number of creative writing assignments over a four-week period. They aimed to determine a difference in test scores, writing disposition, and attitude toward English class.
At the beginning of the four weeks, the students were given an assignment to write a biography of a person they knew well. The biography was scored and saved for comparison to another biography assignment to be completed at the study’s end.
Attitude towards English class was measured by a survey in which students were given 27 statements for them to offer their opinions on. Writing disposition was measured by a similar survey with 21 statements. These surveys were administered at the beginning and end of the four weeks.
In addition to the biography assignment, other assignments included describing an ideal vacation, writing a story based off of a picture, and, finally, completing four stories that each begin with one of four pre-written introductory paragraphs. At the end, the biography assignment, writing disposition and attitude surveys were all given again.
It was determined that writing achievement and skill had increased by the end of the experiment. The students’ writing disposition had also increased, but the students’ attitude towards English as a subject had remained similar.
The study concluded that, while creative writing hadn’t improved attitudes towards English, which was assumed to be due to the fact that the study was only four weeks long, creative writing was still an effective tool to increase a students’ writing skill and confidence.
Just because creative writing might be helpful doesn’t mean that it’s easy to incorporate into a curriculum that is designed to prepare high school students for college writing.
While talking about the incorporation of creative writing into the English curriculum, Levy explained, “While I think maybe that they [teachers] should [incorporate creative writing], in some instances, I know also it’s really hard with standardized testing and the limits of that.”
On the other hand, Ms. Mosco, who was a creative writing major, said that teachers have the option to include creative writing assignments into their curriculum, but often avoid it because it can make teachers uncomfortable.
Creative writing assignments aren’t nearly as straightforward to grade as analysis papers and essays. Creative writing pieces can be much more personal than other kinds of writing, which might make the teacher feel out of place.
According to Ms. Rockfeld, who teaches A.P. English Literature, “All the teachers [at HSAS] have some freedom to incorporate as much or as little creative writing as they want.”
Levy immediately remembered only two creative writing assignments in her time at HSAS. Ms. Mosco gave two examples separate from those Levy gave.
Ms. Rockfeld also gave her own example. That adds up to a total of five creative writing assignments recollected among the three of them, which, over the course of four years in high school, is not many at all, though it is certainly possible there were creative writing assignments other than just these five which were not recalled.
While some teachers might feel uncomfortable grading creative writing assignments, some students might also feel uncomfortable submitting creative writing assignments.
According to Levy, the idea that a grade could be assigned to creative writing, something which can be very personal and emotional, makes it stressful and unpleasant.
In general, Levy prefers creative writing to other kinds of writing, but when it is going to be graded, she prefers analytical essays, which are rooted in the text.
Creative writing, while it might not exactly fit perfectly into our school, has many benefits, including a possible increase in one’s writing skill and confidence. Students and teachers have both expressed some discomfort with being assigned or assigning creative writing assignments, respectively, yet many teachers and students have pushed past this awkwardness to yield much reward.
If it’s been done before, it could likely be done again, which would make all the difference.