| Getting Students to Write by Judi Fenton
I’ve always hated writing on demand. When I go to workshops and professional development sessions, I get frustrated when we are expected to reflect in writing about the topic at hand. I stare at the blank page and cannot connect my thoughts, my teaching practice, and my life with what is supposed to be on it. I glance at all the prolific writers around me filling up their pages and I feel completely inadequate.
I write best at odd times, usually when I don’t have a pen in my hand—in the shower, in the car, vacuuming. That’s when I get my ideas. I run downstairs from the shower to my computer and my mind goes blank again. I’ve debated getting a voice-activated tape recorder, but I’m not sure that it would help me. Sometimes, there’s something about having the tools to write with that gives me writer’s block.
It leads me to wonder about how, in our classrooms, we expect our students to write on our prescribed literacy block schedule, in their assigned spots. I wonder if, through this structure, we are not serving their learning needs well. I try to think about what kinds of writing opportunities would help me in a learning situation. Here are a few ideas that may helpl your reluctant writers.
Keeping a writer’s notebook
Enabling students to keep a writer’s notebook shows deep respect for our students. It tells them that we trust them to write when they are moved to write, that when they see something in the world that interests them they will want to record it for safe-keeping, perhaps to use later.
My friend tells me that we need to exercise our writing muscles by writing 10 minutes a day. She believes that we get better at writing by writing, yet we don’t want to burn ourselves out. By writing for only 10 minutes a day, I usually leave myself wanting to write more, instead of exhausting myself. If there is one more sentence or idea that you have (and won’t lose) save that to help you get started next time. Definitely a great trick!
Responding to text
I love to write based on quotes from some of my favorite books (usually books about how to create learning communities in schools!) Students may have favorite books, fiction or non-fiction. Have them write about whether they agree or disagree with an author, how a text is meaningful (or not) to them in their daily lives, or what a piece of text makes them think of. Make it purposeful by encouraging them to actually send their responses to the author.
Comfortable writing spots
Who really sits at a desk to write anymore? Let students write all over the room, wherever they are comfortable. If they need to write at a computer, try to make one available for them. If they want to lounge on the rug, let them. If they need to talk about their writing, allow them to. If they need absolute quiet, let them use earplugs, if they can’t use a nearby empty classroom. Work with another teacher during independent writing time so you can have one silent classroom and one noisy one.
Help students brainstorm writing ideas
Be available for your students to confer during writing time, as well as other times throughout the day. When they say something interesting, let them know that it would be a fabulous writing topic. When they have a problem, encourage them to write it out to determine what next steps to take. Help them notice the writing ideas and stories around them. Be their mirror (or magnifying glass) when you notice something that they seem interested in and give them some resources to follow up on their interests and ideas.
Being flexible and excited about when and how our students write may be the most productive gift we can give them.