Slice of Life Tuesday- Let's Stop Calling Them Reluctant Writers
'On every page, confidence fights with self-doubt.'I continue to hear the term ‘reluctant writers’ when educators describe certain students. It’s a term that causes me a fair degree of discomfort.
When teachers talk of young writers in this manner, they pull up some way short of the mark. The question needs to be asked, why is this student behaving in a way that has them shying away from writing? Asking ‘why?’ is a key to finding out more about that particular young writer and hopefully what is inhibiting their full participation in writing- their connection to writing.
Invariably, what is impeding the writer from experiencing a stronger connection to the writing task is confidence- or rather a lack of it. And if we dig a little deeper it is frequently connected to a poor self-perception in relation to spelling. It may also be the challenge presented by the physical task of writing due to a lack of a fluent writing style. Sometimes it is related to matters of sight or hearing.
I try hard not to acknowledge the existence of reluctant writers. I have encountered a number of writers over the years who lacked confidence when it came to writing and therefore approached the task with a fair degree of trepidation. They wanted to participate in writing just as surely as their fellow writers. They merely lacked the confidence, experience, or the writing tools to launch themselves confidently into the great unknown.
Watch a toddler keenly make marks on paper with a marker or crayon. Such action occurs quite naturally. They exhibit no inhibitions about the task of scribing. It’s natural and immediately rewarding.
Sadly something happens to many of these young writers. Something, or someone convinces them that writing is not for them. Messages and demands from adults usually conspire to make them believe that writing holds nothing that is desirable. They begin to opt out or shutdown their output as confidence declines.
Many years ago, I met a boy named John. He was about to enter Grade three and I was going to be his teacher for the year. The very first thing I recall him saying was, ‘Hi, I’m John and I’m not a very good speller.’ I was saddened by his opening remarks, so I told him, ‘Let’s see if we can work together to change that. Have we got a deal?’ He smiled and shook my hand. Over the next two school terms of that semester, I noticed that while John’s spelling relied heavily on phonetics he had great ideas and interesting stories. He was a whizz with all things technical and articulate and confident in his explanation of anything mechanical. His initial writing efforts were hesitant and somewhat brief. We worked on building volume and learning a range of word attack skills to exercise greater influence over the spelling of the words he wanted to use. I encouraged him to be brave and he took up the challenge. We placed ideas ahead of spelling and correctness. His peers were supportive. While recognizing his strengths and talents they supported him in dealing with his challenges.
In time John was writing more, and his writing samples showed his spelling accuracy was improving. His ideas continued to shine through. His intent as a writer was obvious. His confidence was slowly returning. Then one day near the end of the first semester John approached me and informed me he would like to share his writing piece with the class. This was a watershed moment, He had never volunteered in this way previously. He stood next to me and read his piece to an audience of his peers. They also sensed this was a rather special moment and responded in a most supportive way by spontaneously clapping when he finished reading. From that moment on John was well truly back in the game. He was never reluctant, it was more about diminished self-belief and a lack of confidence.
The real challenge is to change the pictures in the heads of students who regard their writing as somehow, unworthy. Rebuilding the self-image of these writers can be a slow, often protracted process. Writers like John are often inexperienced as writers and need time to develop their writing abilities. It requires a large dose of support and acceptance for their efforts as writers, in order for confidence and trust to develop. We must present as brave writers ourselves in order to show how this kind of risk taking brings discoveries and rewards. We must be a model of what we want, in time for them to become. This requires the most proficient writer in the classroom to reach out a hand and we cannot under any circumstances be, 'reluctant.’