Be the change, reflection, Student-centered, writing

But We Hate to Write

image from etsy

“It’s just…”His eyes dart away and he stops talking.

I sit there quietly, waiting for him to finish his sentence.  I can tell he is down, I can tell he is unsure.

“It’s just…” he begins again after a long pause, “It’s just that I really hate writing, I’m sorry.”  And he gives me that look that only a child can give you, that “please don’t hate me” look that cuts straight through me.

A million thoughts fly through my head, mostly surprise.  I would never have guessed, not this kid, not him, he is too good of a student.  And yet, he waits, so I ask the only thing I can think of, “Well, when did that start?”

I don’t think I hated writing as a child.  It was something I did gladly, often delving into long stories filled with tragedy and drama as I worked through my own quiet life.  I remember all of the essays I had to write and how I had to wait until I was inspired or the deadline had passed and a teacher was asking me to hand it in before I wrote.  But hated it?  Nah, more inconvenienced than anything else.

But this child, with his courageous statement, is not alone.  More and more often I hear it from my students; “We hate writing.. We hate being told what to write.  We hate having to come up with something when we are not inspired.”  And I know I cannot be alone .

So what do we do as the teachers of the future writers?  How do we bring back the passion into our writing curriculum, much like we aim for in our reading?  How do we show these kids that writing is not a chore, not something simply to get through to get to the next thing, but the way for them to have a voice.  The way for them to make a difference from where they are right now?

We start with blogging.  By providing them with a platform for putting their voice into the world where they can see their words are being read, and their words carry weight.  Where others can comment and start a conversation.  We then add choice, authentic purpose, and declare our own passion for writing.  We show how writing makes a difference to us in our lives.  How writing matters and should be held sacred, much like we hold our reading sacred.

But then what?  Where do we go from there?  How do we convince our students that writing does actually matter?  That being a good writer is actually something worth their time and not just something they have to do because their teacher told them to.  Or something forced to fit into an already pre-determined box of thought.   How do we help them un-hate writing again or is it too late?


I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.



7 thoughts on “But We Hate to Write”

  1. The older they get…
    The more unsuccessful attempts they’ve had…
    The more awful assignments they’ve been forced to complete…

    Choice matters. Giving students choices, especially over topic, is huge! This is probably the best way to begin. Yes, there are parameters. Yes there are things they’ll have to write. But if they have choice in the materials they use, the things they write about, the process they adopt, etc., the more likely they will buy into this thing called being a writer.

    I think it was Roy Peter Clark who said that you have to promise nothing bad will happen to them if they write. I think that’s where you have to start… to meet them in a place where they know they will succeed by putting themselves out there (pen to paper or fingers to keyboard).

  2. Here’s what worked for me, and take this with a big grain of salt, because it didn’t work with every student; it just helped bring a few more around:

    I wrote WITH them.

    I got up on the overhead (because that’s what I had at the time — now I’d just use a document camera or just project an open Word document) and uncapped my pen and showed them exactly how I constructed a draft, the messiest, goofiest, most illogical trains of thought, the cross-outs, the re-writes, thinking out loud the WHOLE TIME. I would say out loud when I was stuck, even sharing thoughts about how I didn’t really like the topic or couldn’t think of anything…sometimes I would write “I can’t think of anything.” I would show them how I jumped around a lot at the beginning, starting with some section in the middle because that was the part I had thoughts about.

    It made them laugh. It demystified the process for them. And for many of them it made a light bulb go off almost visibly: “Oh,” I could almost see them thinking, “I didn’t know you could do it like that.”

    Pernille, based on what I’ve read from you in the past, I’m guessing you’re already doing this. But if you’re not, or if you’re not doing it much, it may be worth adding more of this in. For me and my students, it brought on more than one breakthrough.

    Thanks for throwing out a great question and for ALWAYS keeping things open and honest. Have a great weekend!

  3. +1 for writing with students. Too often, when we turn kids loose on a writing assignment, we use that time to sit at our desks and grade papers. There is power in getting out of our teacher desks and sitting among out students and writing with them.

    Honestly, after 14 years of teaching, I’ve noticed that students struggle with creative, original thought more than they used to. I have found that students are more successful when we guide them in creating a “bag of ideas” that’s already in place before a creative writing assignment is given. As someone who likes writing and has a degree in it, I obviously don’t feel as panicky when asked to pen something impromptu. However, all of us feel ambushed and panicky when asked to do something on the spot that we don’t already have a talent or interest in. I can’t imagine showing up for a faculty meeting and the principal announcing, “Everyone get up. We’re going to be dancing for the next 35 minutes.”

    1. Hey Mr. Tucker! I’m glad to see you here! I like the idea of a “bag of ideas” — is that what you call it in your class, or does it have a different name? Maintaining a list of writing ideas is also something you can model for students, by telling them when an idea occurs to you and you’re going to write it down for later use.

      I have also found it to be really valuable to spend lots of time talking through the pre-writing stage with students. When I gave a major assignment, we’d spend almost a whole class period just throwing around ideas, listening to what other people were going to do topic-wise, which would help students who had no ideas at all come up with them. Hearing someone else’s topic could spark an idea in another person. That kind of transparency is priceless.

  4. What a great post. I taught writing to elementary students for many years, and the biggest hurdle I faced was getting them past this, “I hate writing,” attitude. I’m an author, so very passionate about writing. I found a few key elements of teaching writing were important for student motivation. This included choice of topic (meaningful to them), letting their imaginations run wild, giving then plenty of time for free writing to develop fluency without the shackles of too much structure, and (probably most important) having an authentic audience (their peers and other readers beyond the teacher) who will read and respond to their writing. I tried to make writing class a rollicking, riotous time where original ideas were zinging around the classroom.

    Over the past two years, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a group of computer scientists and developers from the University of Alberta on a writing app called COW (Creating Outstanding Writers) which infuses these important elements into the writing experience for young writers. It’s free, so if you’re interested in taking a look at it, let me know.

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