Most people are good writers. I think they simply don’t realize it. For whatever reason, it seems that there is this mysterious disconnect between the synapses in our brains, our mouths, and our hands. I find it rather ironic when a perfectly eloquent person, one who can carry on an intellectual conversation, claims that they cannot write. Put simply, writing is speaking–only with your hand.
Kids are Scared
This can be especially challenging with kids. Today’s children are terrified of making mistakes, and this can be a major hindrance when it comes to writing. Many of my students sit and stare at their papers, not knowing what to write. Frequently, when I ask them why they are simply sitting there, my blood simmering just beneath the surface of my skin, they confide in me that they have no idea what to write.
This is simply untrue. They know what to say; they’re simply terrified of saying it incorrectly.
Is this a product of the society in which we live or is it because of parenting styles that exist nowadays? I’m not quite sure, but children need to truly realize and see that life, and learning for that matter, is messy. Mistakes are essential, and it is impossible to see clarity without obscurity. Think about it: You never realize how clean a car can be until you’ve seen it dirty. Likewise, you realize just how good you had it when going through a tragedy. Learning is no different. You only will realize you “got it” after you really “don’t get it” for a while.
Kids Need to be Strategic Writers
Herein lies the conundrum: How do we actually teach writing then? We don’t want to correct every mistake and make them feel poorly about their compositions, but we don’t want to perpetuate poor writing skills by leaving mistakes uncorrected. Instead, kids need to learn strategies for writing, just like they need to learn strategies for reading and solving math problems, so that they feel comfortable making these mistakes, recognizing them, and fixing them with a strategy. With the help of Regie Routman and Aimee Buckner, I’ve implemented many writing strategies in my classroom, and I look forward to discovering more as I teach.
Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer’s NotebookA Must-Read for Writing Teachers
Lifting a Line (Buckner) – This is, perhaps, one of my favorites, and is excellent for creative writing. I use a gum metaphor for this one, and reference Lucy Calkins’ “stretching out” of an idea. Not only do the kids love when I pull my gum out of my mouth and stretch it, but it makes it a bit more concrete for them. Lifting a line refers to taking one line of text you’ve written, channeling all the senses, and writing about what you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel, essentially stretching out a small moment.
Try Ten(Buckner) – This strategy is excellent for that sentence that “just doesn’t sound right” or the hook that “is missing something.” With the Try Ten strategy, the student is required to rewrite their sentence ten times (sometimes less), so that they are changing parts of the sentence slowly. Personally, I refer to this as digging for gold. You know that, somewhere deep down, there is a box of treasure waiting for you. Unfortunately, before you find the treasure, you need to get dirty, so you dig and dig through the dirt. Some of what you find along the way is interesting, while some is awful. However, you have to get through the bad stuff (your “bad” ideas) before you can reach the buried treasure. I like this, because it shows kids it is perfectly acceptable to write down unpublishable ideas and fix them as you go.
Personify – This is Mr. France original strategy, and works well for teaching personification and mixing up sentence structure and word choice. I actually modeled this over a year ago, when I was first experimenting with teaching writing strategies, but couldn’t determine a catchy name for it. I was trying to get my kids to avoid beginning every sentence with “I.” In order to do this, we would take the object of a sentence, make it the subject, and personify it.
Before: I saw the sun shining outside.
After: The sun smiled at me through the window.
Not only does this add voice, but it helps to vary the sentences a bit. I didn’t know what to call it, but then one of my students, in his absolute brilliance said, “Let’s call it ‘personify!'” And the name stuck.
Teaching kids to be strategic about their writing is critical. Writing is an art, and a major problem-solving task. They need to have a toolbox in which they have ways to solve problems when writing. This is only a few of the strategies that we use. I’ll save the others for another time. If you’d like to hear more, comment and follow! I’d love to share more later.