Over and over their comments come.
“…I hate writing…”
“…Please don’t make me write…”
“…Writing is soooo boring…”
And with each comment, I am grateful for my 7th graders honesty and also very, very challenged. How do you make writing fun again when all of the joy has disappeared for some? How do you make writing something students want to do, or at the very least don’t hate, when you have a curriculum to get through? How do we continue to inspire students to become writers, even when facing so many old writing demons? Two weeks off have given me some time to think, so here is what I have realized.
- Writing cannot be for me. Writing has to be personal and for an audience. Not a made up one, although they can come in handy, but an actual real live audience that will give feedback on the writing. Whether it is for a class across the hallway, the local paper, or any connection you can make; establish a purpose and then have that audience give feedback. My students’ writing grew immensely when they knew they were writing for “real” kindergarten and first grade classrooms. This also is why we blog, they know people are reading their writing.
- It is okay if they don’t write. I forget that I only write when I am inspired and how hard writing is when it is “on demand.” Yet, on demand writing is what we ask students to do every single day and we expect it to be great writing! Sometimes, we just need time to think, to ponder, to reflect, to doodle, to stare into nothing. Not every day, because yes there are still things to cover, but we seem to have forgotten that a lot of writing happens in our head before anything is even written down. So allow students to think, help them along if they are stuck, allow them conversations and to look outside of themselves for inspiration. Yes, this takes time away from covering curriculum but writing needs to be less forced and more organic.
- Know when to publish, rather than revise. We get to so caught up in having students continually revise that sometimes we forget to just let a piece go. Even if it is not perfect. Even if it is not finished. Too often we force students to revise, edit, and revise some more so that we can see their best writing for every single piece, yet writers don’t do that. They pursue their best piece, abandon others, and sometimes circle back. We have to offer students an opportunity to decide when something is finished and then let it stand by itself. Even if that means publishing a blog that is not their best writing, even if it means showing me unfinished work.
- Allow for 5 minutes of free write. I plan on incorporating 5 minutes of free write into my tight 45 minute schedule. Just as I devote 10 minutes to read independently, I have to devote time for them to just create, think, and possibly write something. Whether it is a story, a journal, a doodle, a poem, whatever it is, they need the time to get into writing mode. This will not be graded, nor will it be read by me most days.
- Enough with the grades. I am not a fan of letter grades or even scores when it comes to all writing. Yes, there is a place for teaching writing through final feedback, but we tend to get so grade heavy that students can’t see any of the progress they have made, nor the feedback they are receiving. As one of my colleagues told me regarding her writing experience in high school, “…There was so much red pen on my papers when I got them back, I just threw them away without reading any of it.” That’s what an overabundance of grades and feedback can do. Instead, have students pick a piece they want graded and have them explain why this represents them as a writer. Our lens should be on providing specific and short feedback that can boost their writing skills, not continually grading their practice writing.
And yes, as always there is a plus one…
6. Use different types of writing tools. This idea is stolen right form Kindergarten, still has merit with our older students. Why not have them write on post-its, big posters, or anything else that can take some writing? Why not bring out the markers? The sparkly pen? The paints? We get so confined in what constitutes writing that we forget to have fun with it, and while this is a superficial fix that will lose its luster, it can still inject the beginning push for writing to be viewed as fun again.
On Monday, I plan on having students critique my ideas. They are, after all, for their educational benefit. I will share what they say but in the mean time, I would love to hear from you; what has brought back life in your writing with students?
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 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. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.