When I first started teaching the focus was on getting students to read and get better at math. For me, that was what my focus was on.
I didn’t really have a ‘writing program’ or really any structure to get my students writing and writing consistently.
Then there was this defining moment when I had my class list for the next year and I was talking with my teaching partner whose students I would be getting for the next year. We looked at my class list, saw that it was 2/3 boys and she began to tell me how much the boys from her room ‘hated’ writing and refused to do it.
This is a thread that I hear over and over….’my students hate writing’….’how to I get them to care about what they write’.
Fast forward to today in my room writing is the favourite time for the majority of my students. In fact, one group made me switch my workshop rotations because they had one day in the cycle where they didn’t have writing and this just didn’t sit well with them.
Now writing looks like
- highly engaged students who beg to write
- early finishers immediately start working on writing
- we think of ourselves as writers
- we love writing and seeing our growth as writers
So how did I get there?????
Honestly, I don’t know how I started or where I got the idea. I know it was from somewhere and I wish I could remember so they could get the credit.
Writing in my room has three components
- We study good writing through reading
- We write every day on things we are interested in
- We focus on the grammar and mechanics through editing and revising mentor texts, our own work and the work of our peers.
This is what I don’t have as part of my writing program…
- I, as the teacher, do not choose what they write. This includes topic, theme, genre, form, or style.
- Everything we write is not worthy of being published
- We don’t do spelling and grammar out of context. No whole group spelling tests, worksheets, textbook programs etc.
- Everyone is not doing the same thing at the same time.
- We focus on the craft of writing and the writing process not on replicating a specific genre of writing.
How To Motivate Reluctant Writers
Students hate writing when they are told what to write. Writing is a form of expression and people write better when they are passionate about the topic that they are writing about.
Nothing sucks the life out of this passion than being told what you need to write and how you need to write it.
Many of my students love writing about video games, or non-fiction research reports on random things in their world.
I have zero interest in any of these things … but for them, it is there everything.
They will write and be excited about doing it!
It won’t be good… at all!
In fact, the first time these reluctant writers write about something they love it is bad writing….really bad writing.
But they are excited about it and I am happy for them because the first step is just getting them to write their ideas on paper and like doing it.
From there we make goals and get them to write more, and more, and more.
We convince them that what they thought about writing was wrong and that they actually have a great voice and ideas when they are writing.
Little by little we encourage them to write more and more improving their skills in baby steps.
Get Out Of Their Way
Sometimes as teachers we make things more complicated then they need to be.
We make all of the rules and plan every little detail so that we can cover a list of things we are mandated to cover. Then we stress that we didn’t get it covered because that thing we thought would take two weeks really took four because our students didn’t get it.
Then we blame our students for being a ‘weak group’ or ‘challenging’
Is it them? or is it us? or a little of both?
More autonomy leads to more engagement
Think about yourself would you rather have a principal tell you what to teach when to teach it, and how to teach it.
Or would you rather a principal give you the autonomy to choose these things.
(I know easy answer….autonomy)
Well, your students want this too.
You are their boss…but you don’t have to be a micro-manager.
Giving them some freedom, and choice will help them to buy in.
Get It All Covered
First, when I fully embraced using a cyclical writing program that harnessed student voice and choice to engage students in writing this was my biggest worry.
“How do I make sure I cover everything in the curriculum”
Well at the end of the year, for the very first time. I can confidently say I actually had evidence of everything covered.
- Students choose what they write
- They start with choosing either fiction or non-fiction
- They write
- We conference
- Students get bored of writing the same thing all the time so they naturally seek different forms and genres.
- Studying good writing through mentor texts helps students to learn about and try new genres of writing that interest them.
- Peer editing and revising helps students to see how others write
- Partner writing helps to try new things
- Student-teacher conferences help students to focus on creating specific goals for each individual student.