Writing, writing, writing… I’ve had in-depth conversations with teachers about teaching it. I’ve also had my fair share of arguments with students about the importance of writing, and it would definitely be remiss of me if I didn’t share with you my own troubles with writing. Today, I won’t be discussing my shortcomings as a writer, nor will I give you any of the juicy details from my surreptitious conversations with educators. However, I will disclose a personal student writing issue that forced me to seek help. Are you ready?
My students won’t write! I wrote that as if I’m the only teacher that has this issue. I know that I am not, but it made me feel good to make myself believe such. I’d like to think sometimes that dealing with reluctant writers is an issue limited to just my classroom. In that way, I can have the freedom to make discoveries about best writing practices and then share them with my very knowledgeable colleagues—pure bliss. My ultimate goal, however, is to get my reluctant writers to resist saying that writing is cumbersome, boring, and that it is simply easier to speak their thoughts than to pen them. Unfortunately, they say these things anyway, and in accordance, I usually respond by saying, “You are right! You all are right. Writing is all of the things you all described and so much more. It is discovery; it is listening to others’ silence and putting it on paper; it is starting from nothing and gleaning as you go.”
To address my unique problem, I sought help from a group that specializes in getting students to write. The National Writing Project published a short article entitled, “Ten Ideas That Get Kids Writing.” It lists ideas for helping students put pen to paper in ways that may be both beneficial and exciting to them. One idea that was particularly helpful to me was number 2 which reads, “Students write best about what concerns them most.” Here is the narrative in brief:
At the beginning of the school year, I assigned my students a text entitled, “A Long Walk to Water.” They really enjoyed reading the article and discussing the social issues the author brought to light. After several days of this type of textual interaction, I wanted to assess whether or not they really internalized the information. Because they had been so excited about how we engaged with the text, I knew that they would be even more excited to share their findings through writing. I expected high levels of enthusiasm from my students about the assignment, but that excitement waned the moment I asked them to get their pencils ready. Those distraught faces were priceless. The writing task was carefully crafted by those who created the unit to go along with the text. What could I do? We struggled through. That’s what we did. But, I did not want it to end there. I wanted them to gain an understanding about why the author was so passionate about a subject that he wrote about it.
After the failed attempt at creating excitement for writing about the water text, I began to search for anything online, in educational databases, and even in print that would help me figure out how to get my students to writing. Never did it occur to me to simply ask another teacher for ideas. That’s when I stumbled upon an article entitled "Ten Ideas That Get Kids Writing". The short article suggests ten ideas that can be helpful for encouraging reluctant writers. I selected idea number two from the list that states, “Students write best about what concerns them.” I took it to heart and created an assignment that accompanied the text that they had previously read, “A Long Walk to Water.” The assignment required students to give their neighborhood human qualities. I wanted them to be able to simultaneously describe their environment and the effect the environment had on them. In essence, my students created a companion piece that was both beneficial and exciting to them. I had one hundred percent participation in the activity, and they bugged me for feedback throughout the entire writing process—classroom management, that’s a topic for another day.
My student writing issue is partially solved. And, I must add that getting one hundred percent participation every time we have a writing assignment isn’t realistically sustainable, but I seldom say that my students won’t write anymore since finding the article, "Ten Ideas That Get Kids Writing" . Because this article is one that keeps giving me fresh ideas, I’ve included the link. Please feel free to share with other educators. There is no greater feeling than knowing one has helped someone to help someone else. My students are writing. Yours can be writing, too.