National Day on Writing, October 20, 2018

Today marks the National Day on Writing.

For me, writing is something that almost always came fairly easily and I’ve always enjoyed it.  I dabbled in poetry, attempted to be a news reporter and music reviewer, wrote more business proposals and letters than I can count, and still find myself writing opinion and reflection pieces fairly often.  The challenge for me came when teachers began to require outlines to be submitted prior to submitting a rough draft of an assignment.  I had to research and write the entirety of the paper before I could create the required outline–that’s just how my brain works.  I was usually willing to take their thoughts and go back and revise my work (that they hadn’t yet seen) based on their suggestions and then turn in that as my rough draft.  I recall lots of red pen, lots of criticism, both useful and not, and lots of revision.  But I knew all along I was a real writer.

Looking back on my years in the classroom, writing was often a pain point for my students and I.  When I first began teaching, I’d had no formal training in how to teach writing, and found it really difficult to explain “how to write” to kids who had focused mostly on reading skills until they reached the fifth grade, so I found Step Up to Writing and The Write Tools trainings and tried the things those programs suggested.  It was helpful, but I still felt something was missing and I was teaching kids to write to prompts, using formulaic patterns, and wasn’t able to just let them write, teaching universal writing skills.

After I moved to a new school, a colleague gave me words for what I’d been thinking all along.  We are growing writers, not producers of writing assignments.

There’s a recipe for growing writers,  you see.

Provide instruction in a way that allows them to explore all the different genres of writing and understand the purpose of each.  This includes everything from narrative to poetry, a variety of informational writing that includes the kind that requires sources be used and quoted, opinion and argument writing, business and friendly letter writing, email writing, and even prompt-based writing, because it is a part of getting into training programs and college and even obtaining gainful employment.  Kids should experience all of it…

Help them determine who their audience is, and then decide what genre of writing will communicate their ideas best.

Support them while they’re learning the rules of communicating in writing: how to hook a reader, how to structure and elaborate on their ideas, how to end in a way that makes the reader think a bit, and how to use grammar and conventions in ways that strengthen their ideas, not detract from it.

Give them choices in content, process, and product.  Writers flourish when they have the opportunity to make choices about how they will share their ideas.

And when they get stuck, because they will very often, share strategies that actual writers use to move beyond the stuck.  Do they need someone to help and ask the right questions to help them explore their thinking a bit more?  Someone or something to help them get ideas out to start with?  Would tech support help? Would taking a break for a while help?  Writers don’t exist on an island…they have supports in many forms available to help them when they’re stuck.

So many of our gifted children struggle with writing and it hurts my heart to hear teachers demand that students write only to prompts, only write shared ideas, and only write in the assigned genre or format.  It tears at my heart when I hear teachers say that writing isn’t important anymore because collaboration has taken hold, and discussion is more critical a skill.  And my heart breaks when young teachers whose focus in school was in other areas give up on learning to be a teacher of writing because it’s hard, choosing to not pursue professional development in their own area of need because they are afraid of it…and afraid of failure.

A friend of mine has a saying: “We can do the hard things.”  And for many, including our gifted kids, writing falls into the “hard things” category.  We need to grow writers.  In a world full of social media and the anonymity that the internet provides, accusations of fake news, and a serious decline in honest-to-god reading among all age groups, it’s never been a more critical time to grow our writers.

Who will document our future history?

Who will explore our cultural experiences?

Who will create new worlds that exist best between the pages of a novel?

Who will write the poetry that will lift hearts, spill tears, and explore the human experience?

Who will write on behalf of those less fortunate, those in struggle, those experiencing war and poverty?

Who will write the speech that calls for a revolution?

Who will keep the diary that impacts generations after they’re gone?

It’s late, but not too late to find the writer inside yourself.  Use the back of an envelope if you must, but write.  Write something every day.  Model what it is to be a writer for the kids in your world.  We’re real writers.  They are too.

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