Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Students Must See Themselves As Writers

When I was growing up, I loved to write. At the age of 7, the feeling of writing on the first page of a new journal couldn't be beat. I would come home from school and write and write and write.

However, I never saw my writing as something that would help me learn or succeed in school. Writing in school was often painful, tainted with red ink, and mostly boring. School assignments rarely captured my attention; I simply rushed through them with minimal effort.

As an adult, I find it almost hilarious that writing caused me so much trepidation in school. However, the constructs of school didn't allow me to use my talents in ways that made sense.

I believe this problem continues to exist in schools largely today. Just last week I visited a vibrant ELA classroom and did a mini-lesson on the fact that EVERYONE is a writer. To begin the lesson, I asked the students to contrast what "real" writers do with school writing. See their responses below:
Generally, writing in school isn't as authentic as it needs to be. The students noted that they don't write very often, their work isn't published, and they can't pick their topics. We can easily change this! Blogging gives our students an authentic audience, topic choice, and the ability to be extremely prolific.  As soon as students start to see themselves as writers (in school nonetheless!), their orientation towards writing will change. Instead of seeing writing as an assignment, students will begin to see writing as a journey or process. External rewards or completion will fade as questions move to the forefront. (What could I have done differently? What might confuse my reader?)

Here are a few tips that you can use in your classroom to help students view themselves as writers:
  • Provide students with time to write every day. During this writing time, allow students to choose their own topics, try out new strategies or ideas, and share their work as desired.
  • Spend less time focusing on perfect mechanics and more time focusing on stories, ideas, and feelings. Sure, we all want our students to write with impeccable grammatical accuracy. However, if we only emphasize mechanics, then writing becomes hard and laborious for students. (A great strategy is to only edit for 1 or 2 things at a time. This helps students acquire new skills without being overwhelmed.)
  • Give students lots of opportunities to explore model texts. Reading makes us better writers. Use stories and texts in your class to help students see what good writers do. Reference the authors as if they are mentors. For example, "Oh, I like how you used repetition like Leo Lionni does with that sentence you wrote!"

Given today's ubiquitous access to texting, email, and the web, writing has never been more important. Let's teach our students to honor themselves as writers with a valuable craft!


  1. Best thing I ever did, besides instituting personal reading time, was give my students their own blogs. One essay a quarter does not a writer make. We write every week-my at risk sophomores, my AP Lit seniors and my World Lit and Brit Lit kids too. They know themselves as writers when They finish with me.

  2. That sounds great! Is there anywhere we can check out your students' blogs?

  3. Thanks for this post!



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