Don’t Write Me Off: Communicating with Enthusiasm in Creative and Academic Writing
Interview with Michael Mason
What is your approach with children? Do you have a particular technique to help them open up?
Letting the student speak for themself is my number one strategy, and it applies outside the educational setting as well. If you enjoy conversing with students and getting to look at things from their perspectives, then it can be rather easy to engage them. In my experience students want to be heard while simultaneously wanting you to be a confident leader, and honoring both of those responsibilities can be quite a challenge. If you see, however, that the work you’re doing is essentially cooperative, then it tends to simplify the responsibility.
You have taught a course in China before. Could you tell us a little bit about that? How has working at Linden been different for you?
I taught at Fuzhou University Zhicheng College for two years, and as you might expect, there were massive amounts of students in many of my classes. Sometimes I was teaching 75 students at once, the majority of which spoke B1 English at best. I also coached the school’s debate team, which was rather small and met on a weekly basis to practice researching and generating arguments about difficult cultural topics. This prepared me much more for one-on-one academic coaching, where the student creates the course as much as the teacher does.
Can you tell us about your new Academic Writing Program that you are developing?
Certainly! The IB/IGCSE Academic Writing Program encompasses a variety of modules that prepare students for the gamut of writing in university core classes. We have a creative writing course for fiction and poetry, a course on scientific writing, another on IB/IGCSE essay writing and library research—we will take an engaging look at the procedures and demands of academic writing while practicing how we can both use it well and break its chains to make it work for our own unique voices.
Do you have any favorite apps, books, videos or resources to support children that want to improve their writing and reading skills, but don’t know where to start?
As a writing instructor, I often get asked about what books I would recommend. Suggesting books is a tall order, like recommending a healthy diet – it depends on your personal history, your politics, your tastes, and preferences. However, there is no substitute for quality works that share honest experiences of learning and living. It’s why the most helpful books on writing, for me, are not usually textbooks, and, instead, are books by writers about writing. Jonathan Franzen’s “How to be Alone” is a wonderful collection of memoir-ish essays about being a writer in the 1990s. His ideas about how writers contend with family life, pop culture, and neuroscience in an age where writing competes with electronic media for people’s attention are my go-to lessons when teaching writing courses since they emphasizes the role of writing in the contemporary world. Jules Renard’s “Journals” are equally insightful, written as short, pithy statements about writing and human personalities. As an educator, I find Thomas Foster’s “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” particularly useful for teenagers who would rather watch Youtube than read Dostoyevsky. Foster cleverly shows how all narrative media builds a story and creates an interesting argument for what literature offers that other media lacks. As for creative writing, the textbooks written by the writers that I love tend to be the most helpful as they offer insight into their writing processes. Mary Oliver’s “A Poetry Handbook” and “Rules for the Dance” are genuinely great reads on their own while also offering exercises and advice on the writing process.
I tell everyone to start where their hearts are. If you like video games, start there. Take it seriously, read everything you can get your hands own and try creating your own. People often feel lost about where to begin because they regard the “academic” dimension to reading and writing as something outside of their field of view. The truth is that being a skilled academic first involves paying attention and getting interested in the weird and cool questions that lurk beneath the surface.
Academic Coaching Sessions
You can sign up for one of the Linden Writing Lab services or a 1:1 IB/IGCSE Academic Coaching session with Michael.
Assess your writing skills, discuss your goals and get a curriculum personally tailored to your needs. Michael can help you build your vocabulary, further your skills in grammar and mechanics, understand and prepare your writing assignments, prep for an upcoming test, and anything else relating to reading and writing.