Young Writers Need Daily Practice

As a teacher of writing I want my students to come to the realization that there is a real purpose to the writing we all do. I want them to understand that through writing they can gain a greater understanding of themselves and the world in which they live. I want them to understand that through writing they can communicate with a specific audience across time and space. I want them to understand that through writing they can find a voice for their thoughts and ideas and that their writing efforts are valued.

To achieve these goals I accept that my students need adequate time and space to develop as writers. Available research data shows that when children are provided with opportunities to write every day they begin to compose even when they are not actually writing. In other words they begin to think about their writing beyond the confines of the classroom. As a teacher I have always gained immense satisfaction from hearing students, who upon entering the classroom first thing in the morning announce ‘I know what I’m going to write about today’ They indicate clearly that they understand the power of writing. They think as writers do.

Unless your students have this daily opportunity to write they will not develop the ability to think through their writing. They will not fully understand the process of writing. Donald Greaves suggests that young writers require a minimum of four days per week to write for their own purposes. This, he believes will assist this ‘learning to think’ process to develop.

It is therefore important to approach the teaching of writing from the position that students will be able to write independently. This needs to be supported by consistently exposing writers to models of good quality writing and literature. The links between reading and writing need to be constantly reinforced. By drawing these links it supplies
a rich source of ideas for all young writers to tap into, as the need arises.

Teacher attitude is vitally important to the success of the writing program as well. If students are to be ‘risk takers’ then the teacher must be prepared to take the lead in this respect. This means that as the teacher you must be willing to write for and with your students.

I believe I add authenticity to my writing program when I write alongside my students. It adds ‘credibility’ to the messages I give them about writing. By my actions I demonstrate that I value writing as a craft.

As a teacher of writing my primary responsibility is to show my students how to write and how to develop the skills necessary to make improvements in their writing. I accept that this takes time and so I patiently guide and support this development by providing daily writing opportunities within a predictable classroom environment.

I gradually move them towards independence as writers by teaching them how to assume increasing responsibility for such aspects as topic selection, revising, editing, proofreading, publishing etc.

In the classroom it is critical to incorporate the teaching of reading and writing into a daily literacy block of at least ninety minutes. These complementary aspects of language need to be taught in a manner that highlights the contribution that one makes to the other.

It is a fact that when children have the opportunity to write on a daily basis they have little trouble choosing topics. It becomes part of the process to ponder the next ‘hot’ topic for their writing. It comes back to teacher expectations. If you have great expectation of your students in respect to their learning in general and their writing in particular, they will rise to meet that expectation.

And it follows that if children are expected to choose their own independent writing topics we can therefore expect more of their writing. After all, they have ownership of the writing.

If, on the other hand we are constantly choosing the writing topics for our students, or otherwise exerting control over their writing then they will write to fulfill that particular curriculum requirement, but their writing will probably lack an essential honesty. Is it not better for your developing writers to come to know that writing is a medium through which their strongest feelings and emotions can be expressed?

I still have strong memories of my Grade five teacher imposing a weekly writing topic on the grade. I recall with little joy writing about ‘My Life As A Pen and “Autobiography Of An Ant’. She prowled the room as we wrote on ‘her’ topic of choice. The ‘composition’ books were collected at the conclusion of the allotted time, taken away and corrected When they were returned the following week they were covered in red ink where she had vigorously corrected our writing. There was no other feedback apart from a mark out of ten. We only found out what was wrong with our writing. There was never any attempt to build on what we knew about writing. All her effort on correction was largely a waste of time.

My early experiences as a writer are what motivate me to provide explicit feedback and support at every stage of the writing process. Young writers need to feel that their efforts to develop as writers will be valued. By doing this, each child is more likely to achieve what it set out to do when they commenced writing.

I introduce the writing session, by modeling or sharing some aspect of writing. It is a chance to highlight specific aspects of writing. On occasions, I might introduce the session by conducting a shared writing activity, or an innovation on text. I encourage my students to follow the writing style of authors that they admire. It provides a framework so essential for developing writers. .

When a writing session reaches that part where the children ‘go to’ the actual writing I move about the classroom connecting with them, conducting brief conferences and ensuring that each writer has what they need to settle into their writing. They may be at different stages in their writing, but my observations will be used to guide my comments during the share time at the conclusion of the session. I make notes, both mental and written to assist me. When my students are all settled into their writing I frequently sit among them and write in my own notebook. The room takes on a quiet, productive, calm as the writing takes hold of the room.

At the conclusion of our daily writing session, I bring the class together and encourage the exchange of writing experiences. Two, or three students share their writing while the remainder of the class plays the role of attentive audience members. They are encouraged to respond by asking questions that support the writer to further develop their written piece. I then encourage general sharing that includes talk about those strategies used during writing that proved helpful, or experiments that didn’t quite work. I may ask a child to share an aspect of their writing practice that I noted during my roving conferences. This could involve their use of leads, effective use of words, genre selection, problem solving strategies, or aspects related to setting, characters, voice, dialogue etc.

All the time I am working at building the climate surrounding our group. My aim is that they come to see themselves as a community of writers. I know that through the creation of a safe, predictable, and supportive environment, where learners are free to experiment, that the most educationally fulfilling things will begin to occur.

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