Have you heard? Our country is in the middle of a writing crisis. It’s quietly and slowly eating away at one of the most critical education foundations.
Why is it that five year olds love to write, but by the time they’re eight, most of them lose the joy?
I don’t deny my bias in this area. I love writing. As a classroom teacher, writing was my favorite subject to teach. And, for the past five years, I’ve had the privilege of training teachers how to teach writing.
What I see in classrooms saddens me deeply. Children all across the country, not only don’t know how to write, they hate it. On the other hand, writing that is taught well can literally change lives. This reminds me that there is still hope. Needless to say, my experiences have fueled my passion to bring back the joy of writing.
In the last decade of education, writing (along with art, music, and PE), has been set aside. The teaching of writing is heavily focused on skills. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills are taught in isolation, using worksheets and lengthy multiple-choice tests. Children aren’t provided time to actually write, nor are they taught how.
Kelly Gallagher, a high school English teacher, explains the reality.
“In a time when the ability to write has become not only a ‘predictor of academic success’ but also a ‘basic requirement for participation in civic life and in the global economy,’ writing seems to have gotten lost in many of our schools. Buried in an avalanche of standards, curricular pacing guides, huge class sizes, worksheets, over-the-top testing, and yes, even more testing, writing—a necessity, a prerequisite to living a literate life—is not being given the time and attention it deserves.” ~Kelly Gallagher, Write Like This
Not only is writing not a priority, it’s also misunderstood. Contrary to popular thinking, writing is not primarily about grammar and spelling. After all, professional authors hire editors. The best writers spend time focusing on their message, not mechanics. Notably, writing is more related to art than most people think. They’re both powerful forms of communication.
Unfortunately, the heavy educational focus on mechanics (spelling, punctuation, and grammar) only serves to steal children’s voice. Sharing one’s thoughts is risky enough because writing, by nature, is personal and subjective. Sadly, each time a child turns in an assignment, they receive a list (usually in red pen) of all the things they did wrong. They are provided little, if any, positive feedback on how to improve. In this environment children feel unsafe and hesitant to express their thoughts and feelings.
Sadly, by the time children enter third grade, most of them already believe they can’t write.
You may not be able to change the current educational issues with writing, but there are ways you can help your child not lose the love of it.
1) Talk a lot about books, articles, blogs, and just about anything that you and your child read. Helping children to recognize the connection between reading and writing is very beneficial. Discuss how authors use writing to entertain, inform, persuade, and tell stories.
2) Don’t focus too much on spelling and grammar. Children get enough of that at school. Focus on the positives of what they say, instead of how they say it. Only correct the errors that get in the way of the message.
3) Teach your child to write complete drafts before corrections are made. The best approach to writing is to first get all your ideas on paper. It may be surprising to know that authors spend 70% of their time revising their writing. Shifting children’s focus to completely expressing their message before revising and editing will greatly improve their writing.
4) Encourage journal writing. Free writing in journals can result in great growth. Kids can write about what they read, how they feel, and any other thoughts or reflections they have about life. Journal writing can also be used to work through emotional and social challenges. The bottom line is the more children write, no matter what the topics are, the better writers they’ll become.
5) Never use writing as a punishment. It’s okay to require an apology letter every once in a while. However, the old style punishment of writing ‘I will not talk in class’ or ‘I will not hit my sister’ 50 times, teaches children that writing is a bad thing.
6) Combine art with writing. Children of all ages enjoy combining drawing, mixed media, photography, and poetry, to express feelings and thoughts.
The art and power of writing is missing in the majority of classrooms. For most kids, it has become a frustrating mix of worksheets and confusing assignments. When children do take the risk to write, they’re corrected.
Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I can’t agree more. Confident writers are more successful in school and life. As parents, you can help encourage your child to discover their inner voice.
How do you feel about writing? Do you enjoy writing or is it hard for you? Do you think your experiences in school helped or hindered you as a writer?