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Keep Writing Instruction Real if we want Real Writers!

  • 1.  Keep Writing Instruction Real if we want Real Writers!

    Posted 03-14-2019 06:27 PM

    Promptings. To Prod or To Inspire?

    Jerome just showed up at our door after school. He's a 4th grader who walks our dogs every now and again to make a few bucks. We're grateful because he gives our aging pups a little change of scenery and a chance to do their business. We typically chat for a few minutes as he gets their harnesses on and locates a bag for carrying their leavings back home.

    "So, what are you writing in school these days?" I asked him, out of the blue.Two upper grade writers. One stuck for what to say and one enjoying the chance to compose.

    "Prompts," he said.

    "Prompts?" I ask, though I am fully aware of this common classroom practice of making up clever but totally inauthentic reasons for children to write.

    "Yeah, we write five paragraphs," continued Jerome, explaining in excruciating detail what I consider to be the sure-fire formula for ensuring that children will learn to hate writing, or at a minimum, never do it again once they escape school.

    If their only experiences with publishing are working on "prompts" assigned out of the blue, written for nobody in particular, or  when usually nobody they care about will actually receive their efforts, their lasting impression of writing will naturally be "Ugh!" Prompts are typically written just for the teacher, and of course, a grade. We can't expect kids to hunger and dive in to work for developing their unique compelling voices if we feed them such weak literacy nourishment.

    1. Read More   2. Write MoreWhy, I wonder, is it so hard to help children to develop a set of potential authentic recipients for their written creations. All children carry with them built-in audiences of people they care about: family and neighbors, public servants, deployed military, sports and entertainment figures, even school writing contests and class books or newspapers. For each child what must be present is a heartfelt need to become a contributor to the lives of important others, to reach out and touch people in a way that these young authors can develop their potentials as beneficial voices in the world.

    The power of writing is NOT in developing some technical skill to be error free in composing something to satisfy or amuse the teacher. Of course, teachers can make wonderful audiences, but guiding children in becoming authors, and that should be the focus of all writing instruction, gets obscured and weakened with prompting kids to respond to concocted situations when truly inspiring school curricula could offer plenty of inspiration worth sharing.Read all kinds of wonderful things!

    If there was more kid-fascinating sizzle in what is being taught in school, we wouldn't need prompts for writing, just more time. Writing opportunities should prompt the fires of creation and the possibilities of fulfilling communication, not just slowly use up the lives of the kids.

    Mark Condon
    Vice President
    Unite for Literacy
    Louisville KY

  • 2.  RE: Keep Writing Instruction Real if we want Real Writers!

    Posted 03-18-2019 10:00 PM
    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of letting childrens' ideas guide their writing.  In early childhood, we talk alot about following a child's lead, letting the child direct his/her own learning. Why should that ownership of learning disappear in elementary school?

    Recently a child in my pre-K class has taken to asking for help in writing the words to books he is writing/illustrating. Today he started his second book, "a chapter book, so it is going to be really long". I assured him that we could add as many pages as he needed. The topic for both books has been spies. This little guy has had a challenging year; has spent a good chunk of the year wanting to spy on his classmates. Inevitably, the spying has gone sour and led to frustration, especially for his classmates. He struggles socially. When he came over to write a story last week, he boldly announced he was writing a book about spies. With each page he dictated, he looked a bit incredulous that I was writing every single word he spoke, even when he said the "big boogy bionic spy".  His understanding of story shone through, as there was truly a beginning, middle and end. Rich vocabulary was sprinkled throughout. After reading his book to the classroom group, he was proud, and his classmates were genuinely impressed. The point of this story is that the urge to write and illustrate a book came from his interest, not mine.  I feel like I have struck gold, as another challenge for this child has been to really invest himself in activities, as he tends to flit from one thing to another. Today he sat with me, alongside other storymakers, for at least 20 minutes. Tomorrow I am confident he will want to spend more time on his book. Now my homework is to go find some good age appropriate books about spies that I can share with him!!

    Hilary Laing
    Orono Discovery Center
    Orono MN