Here’s the thing: teaching writing is hard work and there is no single right path to success.
However, there are things we do that make it difficult for students to succeed. Here are five things to avoid:
Insisting that every student write on the same topic at the same time as the rest of the class.
Solution: Think about what is important about writing. Is it to have an assignment ready to your specifications or is it to show learning and understanding about a subject that genuinely interests the writer? Choice makes a difference in the engagement of the writer and the quality of the writing.
Responding to every possible thing about the writing every time students write.
Solution: Too much information swamps students. Pick your battles. If you’ve been working with beginnings—respond to how the piece begins. If you’re working with subject/verb agreement, comment on that issue. “Squeeze it once and let it go,” might be your new motto.
Talking and talking and talking about writing.
Solution: Stop talking about it so much; just do it. Model writing for students. As you write, reveal what you are thinking so they see what choices you are making and why. Keep it short. Just a few sentences will give students a real glimpse inside a writer’s mind. And, just let them write. You might be amazed at what happens.
Using worksheets to practice writing skills in isolation.
Solution: Don’t go there. Let the students’ writing be a personalized, differentiated place for them to practice new skills. Whatever skill you’ve just taught, ask student to turn to a piece of their writing and put that skill into action.
Using textbooks to teach writing.
Solution: Use mentor texts to show students how different writing skills appear in published works by authors they admire. Use narrative, informative/explanatory, and argument models of what writing looks like when it’s good—really good.
Focus on what works, what helps students become the writers we want them to be, and not just what gets a cookie cutter product to turn in on Friday. The students’ writing should come from an authentic reason to write, in an environment where they know—deeply and forever— that they are writers. Yes, you can lead a horse to water, but unless that horse has decided it is thirsty, you can’t make it drink. Help students realize they are parched and you are there to help them quench their thirst for language.