Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What About Those Students Who Just Hate to Write?

There are no students who hate to write.  Rather, there are students who need special tools, know-how, and a little literacy TLC who just haven't discovered that they are writers yet.

I am a writing teacher.  Above anything else, I believe the most important thing we can teach children is
that they have wonderful ideas and are capable of communicating those ideas to themselves and others. We need to not only do this during writing workshop, but also throughout the day in all content areas.  As teachers, we do not need to simply give students ideas for writing.  Rather, we need to guide them through the process of coming up with ideas independently.  Writing is not easy.  Finding an idea for writing can be the most difficult part for some students.

Over the years, I've learned a few tricks along the way to help writers who struggle.  Plus, I'm still learning!  The ten points below describe how I help writers in my classroom.  I just learned a couple of these tricks this year.  It's never too late to help a child discover that he or she is a writer...

10.  Give writing "homework" that doesn't require the actual act of writing.  I often ask my students to take their journals home and discuss their ideas and writing with their parents, siblings, and friends.  I also remind them that they do not have to write anything at home.  The more students talk about thinking and writing, the more accessible the act of writing becomes.

9.  Take dictation.  Sometimes the issue with writers doesn't have to do with ideas, but with the physical act of writing itself.  Each school year, I end up dictating a couple sentences from a few students just to get them started.  I write down exactly what they say.  Then, they can take off from there.  For those students who just become physically drained from the fine motor demand of writing, typing may help.  However, it is not always the answer.

8.  Heavily focus on the reading/writing connection.  Point out to students that the books they love to read were written by authors who also probably struggled at some point.  Mentor texts should play a huge role in the writing process.  Help students look at what authors do and then encourage them to try it themselves.  Point out specific text, beautiful language, compelling dialogue, small moments, etc.  Then, ask students to give it a try.

7.  Share your difficulties as a writer with your students.  I did this here a few weeks ago.  Students really appreciated knowing that I, too, have trouble as a writer.

6.  Leave an artifact.  Thank you to the wonderful, Alissa Levy, of The Teacher's College Reading
Two artifacts left for a student writer.  This
student saved the yellow note from a prior
session. The red note was from the day's
session.  Students often save these notes!
and Writing Project for this great idea!  During writing conferences, Alissa leaves a post-it note with her feedback, advice, or words of encouragement for students.  I've seen this small gesture help many writers in my class this year.

5.  Table conferences allow writers to get help and insights from each other.  I also learned about this trick from Alissa.  A table conference is a small group conference with students who are sitting close together.  The teacher gives advice based on the students' writing at that moment.  Students not only learn from the advice that applies to them, but also may learn from advice given to others and the entire group.  They then can continue the writing conversation together using the common language given when the teacher leaves. 

4.  Provide idea notebooks that are small so students will always have them in hand.  When I taught
Mini Idea Notebooks
second and third grade, I remember seeing students jotting down ideas in their notebooks at recess, in PE, during science class, all the time in fact.  A few parents even mentioned that their children wrote in their idea notebooks during dinner (Just to be clear- I do not encourage writing during dinnertime!).  

3.  Give ample opportunities for students to write and talk throughout the day in class.  Writing should be completed in all content areas.  Students should be writing, even if just a little, in math, science, social studies, and during all other subject areas.  Many students who may have a hard time in writing workshop may find that they have a knack for mathematical writing or writing in social studies.  Not only this, but talking should be encouraged as well.  Encouraging talking and allowing time for frequent writing conversations helps create a community of writers in the classroom.  Students should be able to freely share ideas and provide each other feedback.  I've had a sign in my classroom for years that reads, If you can think it, you can say it.  If you can say it, you can write it.

2.  Continually conduct short, individual conferences with struggling writers who do not yet see themselves as writers.  Acknowledge that coming up with an idea and developing thoughts is really tough.  At the same time, encourage them to just keep at it.  In my 12 years as a teacher, I've never met a child who wasn't capable of writing.  When a student who struggles finally comes up with an idea and works on a piece, the sheer joy and pride that comes from the process is like nothing else.  Celebrate every single small step on the path to becoming a fluent writer.  

1.  Don't give a prompt!  Prompts only teach students to depend on us for ideas.  I've heard many teachers say, "some kids just need prompts to be able to write."  I respectfully (and strongly) disagree with this notion.  Giving prompts teaches kids that we have to give them their ideas.  Kids need to learn and struggle through finding their own ideas.  When they do, writing will be that much more satisfying for them.  It's ok to struggle.  We need to simply reject the notion that struggling is bad.  Struggling is not bad.  Struggling and learning from the struggle is what helps students grow.

Giving prompts also takes away student ownership of writing.  Why should an entire class of students write a research report on penguins?  Wouldn't it be much more interesting for both the students and teacher if students picked their own informational topics to research?  In 2006, I wrote a research paper for my master's program that looked the differences between self-selected topic writing and prompted student writing.  The self-selected topics not only had more voice and volume, but also the quality of the writing was just much better.  We need to help students see that they have great ideas.  Continually giving them prompts sends a counterproductive message.

I do acknowledge that some prompted writing needs to take place in content areas outside of the writing workshop and with test prep.  We do have to help students learn how to write to a prompt as a genre itself.  However, writing to a prompt should not be the focus when helping a child learn to love writing.

Happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. This is a very useful post! I like the "idea notebook" I think even my K-1 kids would like to use those. I really love "If you can think it, you can say it, if you can say it you can write it!" Very powerful!


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