Writing for Personal Growth

Photo: From left to right: math teacher, Barbara Jakubiec; Assistant Director, Centre-Donnacona Institution, Joël Garneau; French teacher, Geneviève Pelletier; teaching consultant, Marie-Josée Tessier; Vice‑President of the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement and Ma plus belle histoire writing contest lead, Brigitte Bilodeau; novelist-poet David Goudreault; and French teacher and Ma plus belle histoire writing contest proponent at Donnacona Institution, Maude Proulx.

By Maude Proulx, French teacher at Donnacona Institution

In order to encourage Donnacona Institution students to write beyond the scholastic context, I invited them to participate in the Ma plus belle histoire writing contest for adult students in Quebec.

The instructions are simple: write between 500 and 1,000 words on any subject. The top 50 writing samples are then published as a collection.

I had announced that if only one student were to participate, I would consider it a success. I was pleased that seven students wound up participating! Out of this writing process, two life stories, one poem, three narratives and one testimonial were created. Although I supervised the drafting and proofreading, the authenticity and inspiration came from the students. In fact, they were all very proud of their submissions.

From among more than 500 texts submitted from 70 locations, three of the seven Donnacona Institution texts were selected for the 2018-2019 collection! Even better, one of them was awarded the Mention Antidote, which celebrates the best use of the French language! 

Because the contest spokesperson is Quebec novelist David Goudreault, I decided to read his first novel to the students. All of the Francophone students enjoyed it, and even some of the inmates who do not attend school read it. In short, the novel made the rounds in the ranges!

When I saw the great interest in Goudreault's writing, I contacted the president of the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement teachers' union, the contest organizer, who arranged for David Goudreault to come give a poetry workshop. Six students participated and it was great to see the students take notes and listen attentively.

They then each took to their page to write a poem about an inspirational person. At the end of the exercise, three students agreed to read their poems to the group. We were not surprised to hear magnificent and meaningful poems. The next day one student said that, for a moment, they had forgotten they were in prison. That says it all!

In short, for those students, these projects were a revelation, a leitmotif, a discovery, an accomplishment, a success and an act of pride.

Since then:

  • students have developed a taste for reading – those who had never read or finished a book are now borrowing novels and reading on a daily basis;
  • students understand the liberating power of writing. I think of the one student who decided to continue with the story he submitted for the contest to see if he could turn it into a novel and the other student who decided to write a short story for each of his children; and
  • students understand how poetry can be accessible, and some understand that it can be a true release. One student is working on polishing the poem he started in the workshop with Goudreault, and another one is exploring different poetic styles and is currently working on his sixth poem. All of them are interested in reading the poems I post on a wall called Un p’tit coin de poésie and discuss their preferences and interpretations.

This project recognizes that adult education teachers working in correctional institutions can make a difference in the lives of students with difficult histories and realities completely different from our own.

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