Westminster Writers: Finding a Voice in the Written Word

By Jill Keith, M.Ed. / Advanced Expository Writing Instructor

In Advanced Expository Writing, I teach seniors how to write for life. Each Westminster student has a God-given ability to communicate. And we as Westminster teachers understand that, as our collective calling, we must help our students successfully unpack that gift and apply it to their lives. Engaging our culture for Christ requires discipline, insight, and persuasion.

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Writing across the disciplines is a pedagogical strength at Westminster. I often share with families who are exploring Westminster for their children that we are not preparing students to be English majors, (my major was humanities), though such is a noble pursuit. We teach students how to master coursework in all subjects and then effectively apply those lessons in life. In 2000, the Harvard Business Review shared that learning agility is the primary skill that professionals must exercise in the 21st century in order to be effective in their calling. At Westminster students experience a learning process that synthesizes close reading, thinking, and composing. Seventh graders engage in a progressive curriculum that builds expressive competencies in every subject through their senior year. Learning agility, the process of mastering new concepts, and then successfully applying them to life challenges, is the happy result. Whether in robotics, concert choir, statistics, chemistry, Bible, or language, on the playing field or behind the footlights, each student consistently practices persuasive communication skills. The ability to “stand and deliver” a compelling, authentic message serves our students as they move into the world beyond Westminster.

Westminster writers land at the Academy from diverse backgrounds, both educational and cultural. As a consequence, we as faculty draw from a rich social palette when teaching our students. Reading, reflecting, and writing, Westminster students discover a powerful paradigm through which to process the world: they must shed their comfortable identities and learn how to capitalize on their distinctive, God-given characteristics. Often, that is not an easy process, socially nor academically. Consistent composition across the disciplines helps our students to not only build writing bench strength but also learn to share what they believe in an authentic manner. Writing projects develop a student’s confidence in expressing who they are and where God has them at any particular moment. It is exciting to see a student realize that he or she has a story to tell and can share it in a confident, compelling voice.

Wherever a youngster has landed on the composition spectrum, our goal at Westminster is to encourage and equip him or her to be the writer God intends. In 9th and 12th grade English, for example, that intentionality takes shape during personal writing conferences. Students complete more than a dozen original essays in multiple expository genres including research, literary analysis, narrative, and reflection, along with shorter writing pieces throughout the academic year. Their expository writing instructors read and comment on each student’s essay. In essence, an instructor conducts an ongoing gap analysis of a student’s coherent thinking and writing with a view to excellent mechanics and engaging content. The student and teacher then conference together, working through the composition’s lowlights and highlights. The student then rewrites his or her original essay with a focus on improving the impact of the piece. While on the surface this may appear to be time-consuming, conferencing and rewriting is a win-win process designed to develop intellectual reasoning across the disciplines. Each essay conference capitalizes on Westminster’s belief that relationship combined with academic rigor develops our students into competent, confident communicators.

Ultimately, our Westminster graduates carry their writing capabilities into the roles God has designed specifically for their unique talents. Westminster teachers exercise a fullcourt press in equipping our students to engage the world for Christ. While this process is not without its challenges along the way, our graduates understand that communicating persuasively in any discipline is essential to successfully running the race that the Lord has set before them. As Job aptly declares, “For He knows the way that I take, when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”