Let's Stop Calling Them Reluctant Writers

I have never been a fan of the term, reluctant writer. I firmly believe all kids want to be able to write with ease. What the hesitant writer needs to build is, confidence and self-belief.

Every teacher at some time has to struggle to help a student overcome self-doubt about their abilities. To grow confident, self-directed readers and writers requires a lot of teacher investment. When teachers create a classroom climate that encourages risk taking, values mistakes as a learning opportunity and works consciously to build trust, students begin to engage with greater certainty. 

Children who experience positive learning experiences feel successful and supported. When a learner has such experiences a greater energy surrounds that person.

Blaming kids and labelling them reluctant does nothing to address the reasons for the student’s behaviour. Where the teacher controls most aspects of the writing from topic to genre, there is little incentive to buy in. Choice and ownership has been removed. Writing becomes an assignment given out by a teacher. The student writer has no real voice.

It is quite possible the earlier writing experiences the student has endured have negatively impacted on their perception of writing and given them a sense that there is little to inspire them in this activity. Writing may be associated with discomfort, - somewhat akin to kneeling on uncooked rice.

A sense of dejection and failure may result. The willingness to take risks erodes with time. It therefore requires remedial action to change the picture the students holds in their heads regarding writing.

Attitude is everything. It is the quality of such interactions; the quality of subsequent instruction that determines success or failure. Setting kids up to feel some measure of success from their own attempts is critical to building resilience and ‘stickability.’

But buy in also relies on what a teacher actually does. So, if a teacher writes and shares the resultant struggles and achievements, this provides authentic support to the less experienced student writer. I share this exchange I saw posted on Twitter by educator and writer, Linda Rief:

Students writing on computers-one googles me-
'Mrs.R, you write books!'
Whole class jumps to see
'OMG, you actually write! 
You're not a fake teacher!'

It speaks strongly about the power of being a credible teacher of writing.

In the writing workshop it is important to remind students about what they know and what they bring with them to the classroom. Help them to realize all the reading and writing they have ever done can be harnessed to work in their favour when attempting a new writing project. Emotional support, encouragement and feedback for effort provide essential re-assurance.

Learning to listen is also critical to student participation. When teachers ask questions and listen to the thinking behind a student’s actions and words, we further encourage students to want to work with adults. Encouraging the metacognitive writer to emerge is essential to ultimate success in the classroom.

Self-esteem and participation rise when your efforts to overcome uncertainty and face challenges result in some measure of success.  As teachers, we are more powerful than we think. Consider this, we control the very climate of the classroom. We can be either, makers or breakers.


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