Providing Plentiful Opportunities To Write
Available research data shows children provided with opportunities to write every day 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.
There is immense satisfaction gained 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 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 suggested that young writers require a minimum of four days per week to write for their own purposes. This, he believed assisted the ‘learning to think’ process to develop.
It is therefore important to approach the teaching of writing from the position that students will be provided with daily opportunityies 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, a rich source of ideas is supplied for all young writers to tap into, as the need arises. We must constantly foster attitudes we hope to see demonstrated by student writers.
This means teacher attitude is vitally important to the success of the writing program. If students are to be ‘risk takers’ teachers must be prepared to take the lead in this respect. A teacher must be willing to write for and with student writers (I will never tire of saying this). When teachers write alongside students, it adds ‘credibility’ to the messages they receive about writing. By such actions teachers demonstrate they value writing as a craft.
For a teacher of writing the primary responsibility is to show how to write and how to develop the skills necessary to make writing improvements. This takes time, so patience, guidance and support are required. This takes place within a predictable classroom environment.
The longer term goal is to gradually move the emerging writer towards independence by teaching them how to assume increasing responsibility for such aspects as topic selection, writing form, revising, editing, proofreading, publishing etc.
In classrooms it is critical to incorporate the teaching of reading and writing into a daily literacy block. These interdependent aspects of language need to be taught in a manner highlighting the contribution one makes to the other.
It is also a fact that when children have the opportunity to write on a daily basis, they exhibit little trouble generating their own topics and ideas. It becomes part of the process to ponder the next ‘hot’ topic for their writing. They begin to initiate their own writing projects. When a teacher holds great expectation of students with 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, more can be expected of their writing. After all, they have ownership of the writing.
If, on the other hand teachers are constantly choosing the writing topics for students, or otherwise exerting control over writing, then students 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 retain 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’. The teachers prowled the room as we wrote on a topic we didn't own. The writing was collected at the conclusion of the allotted time, taken away and corrected. When returned the following week, our uninspired words were covered in red ink. 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 any of us knew about writing. All that vigourous effort on correction was largely a waste of time.
Through almost fifty years of teaching young writers, I have advocated for growing the climate surrounding the inexperienced writer.I know that through the creation of a safe, predictable, and supportive environment, where learners are free to experiment, the most educationally fulfilling things will begin to occur. In time and with support impressionable young learners will grow to see themselves as a community of writers.
It is important for students to come to the realization that there is a real purpose to the writing we all do. Through writing they can gain a greater understanding of themselves and the world in which they live. Through writing they can communicate with a specific audience across time and space. Through writing they can find a voice for their thoughts and ideas and that their writing efforts are valued.
To realize such understandings young writers need adequate time and space to develop. It's a long game we play...