Make Time for Writing

 As I look back at all my past blog points, I realized that I had not shared my thoughts about writing even though I believe it is one of the best ways for students to take their thinking to a higher level. I observed younger students who were eager to write and share their stories with others. Then somewhere in their educational journey, students lost their interest to write. I think it happened at around third grade when the focus became high stakes testing and students were taught to follow certain steps to respond to writing prompts. I saw so many student samples that looked and sounded similar. They started the same way by turning the question posed into their introductory and concluding statements. “Do you think dogs make better pets than cats? Why?” became “I think dogs make better pets than cats because first . . .” Then they proceeded to name three reasons and concluded with “That’s why dogs make better pets than cats.” It worked for standardized tests but not as a way to measure creative writing. 

When I started blogging, I realized how challenging it was to actually write and publish something for anyone to read. Yet our youngest students never felt that way. They were proud to share and to have others comment or even to offer suggestions for improvement. They were able to revise and to write a final copy that was a marked improvement over their first draft. They were thrilled when the teacher chose to post their writing on the walls for others to see. I think back to my school days, and I don’t think I ever shared my writing with anyone other than the teacher.

I was newly-retired when I wrote my book, Leading with Aloha: From the Pineapple Fields to the Principal’s Office, I realized how challenging writing is. After many hours, drafts, edits, suggestions from others, and lots of soul-searching about whether this was something I really wanted, I persevered, and I’m glad I did. I wish I could share that experience with my students today. 

As I worked on a webpage to promote and advertise my book, I shared some of my thoughts about teaching writing. 

About Teaching Writing

  • If children can think, they can say what they’re thinking. If they can say it, they can write it. Their ‘writing’ may be scribbles, but encourage them to tell you what they wrote. Write it down and read it back to them. This is the first connection children make between thinking, saying, writing, and reading.
  • Just as we realize the importance of reading in our instruction, we need to understand the importance of writing. 
  • Make time for children to write. There is no need to provide a prompt. Young kids have so many creative ideas of their own.
  • Not all students will be at the same developmental writing stage. Start where they’re at and build on their skills. Point out to students how they’re improving. Help them set goals to improve their writing.
  • Writing is hard work for children. Build children’s stamina for writing by gradually lengthening the time allocated for writing. Make sure students are writing during this time. 
  • Encourage students to add to their stories and praise their effort.
  • Even students as young as kindergarten can help with peer editing. Model how to ask questions for clarification. Ensure that students have opportunities to revise or edit their writing.
  • Introduce students to different kinds of writing: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, letters. There are so many ways to express what we’ve learned as well as our thoughts and feelings.
  • All students can self-edit when coached through the process. Instead of telling students what they need to improve, ask open-ended questions so students can reflect and make revisions that work for them. 
  • Share and celebrate student writing with an authentic audience, if possible. Students will have more pride in doing their best writing when they know it will be shared with more than just their teacher or classmates.
One of the initiatives we were working on at our school before I retired was creating and using a  continuum for narrative writing with our students. We hoped to use this tool so our students would be able to self-assess where they are, how they could edit and improve on what they wrote,  and how they could set goals or next steps. With the pandemic and the need for teachers to learn new skills and strategies via virtual learning, I think the writing continuum initiative has probably been put on the back burner for now. Hopefully, though, teachers have seen this pandemic as an opportunity for students to document their feelings and experiences during this challenging time. Whether they do it through writing or some other means, we need to provide time for our students to share their thoughts and ideas. Maybe one day, they will be able to look back and reflect on how the pandemic impacted their lives and they can share these experiences with their grandchildren. “The year was 2020 . . .”