Do we teach kids to hate writing?

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How many people do you know that write for metacognitive purposes? I don’t know that many. How about ones that write for pleasure? Sadly, if I wasn’t connected to a network of amazing bloggers, I may not know any.

As I sit here taking a break from making revisions to my awful report card prose, I’m reflecting on the myriad of ways we turn our students off of writing, in some cases, for life. I’m wondering if it is caused in part by the shear volume of mind-numbingly uncreative, bureaucratic writing teachers are either mandated or implicitly pushed to do. We all know that math classrooms around the world are frequently sabotaged by us teachers bringing our own math anxiety and baggage to the proverbial table. I wonder if it’s the same thing with writing. Why do we always bring our own adult issues with writing into our classroom of writers?

And by writing, I mean writing words into sentences and paragraphs. I’m not talking here about the amazing ‘writing’ we do when we are making infographics, comics, or movies. Few kids are held in at recess to create an Animoto slideshow apology for kicking Timmy in the shins, yet we litter our schools with implicit messages about the torture that is writing beautiful sentences with words. You write when you have to.

If you are an educator in a school or similar organization, I challenge you to, first, look at the ways in which you either model or teach the people you work with to develop an aversion to writing, and second, please stop doing it.

Here’s one place I think we could start. How about providing more time for kids to just write for fun? Write something, share it, and have people respond to it. That’s it. Keep the literal or figurative red pen in the pencil case. Why do we have this double standard in which we acknowledge the need for kids to ‘play’ in almost every other area except writing? When it comes to writing, we micromanage, we scrutinize, we almost interrogate. Even with our move towards assessment for learning frameworks, I feel we are overly obsessed with standardization in writing. Am I just a hopeless romantic here when it comes to the art of prose?

There your go, your rant for the day:)

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22 Comments

  1. Beautifully said!
    Let’s all reflect and engage our colleagues in this conversation about writing,
    If writing is a food what would it be to you and why?
    Angie

  2. I agree. I think giving students room to enjoy writing is essential.

    I’ve found that blogging has helped a lot of students write convincingly and effectively about things that matter to them. I’d also argue that giving students this freedom makes it much easier for me to talk them about other forms of writing. For example, when a student effectively replicates the style of sports writing on his own (language, structure, etc), we can have a real discussion about how he can do this in other forms.

    Are “we” part of the problem? I’ve often wondered about our choices for novel studies at the high school level. They are great for students who are going to study literature; unfortunately, they are not always a great fit for those who aren’t. Are we projecting our preferences on our students? There needs to be some room for choice/interest.

    This might apply to the way we teach writing, too….

  3. I worry about all skills that we make work in school. Reading, writing, speaking eloquently, all skills that we develop for purpose often, but are connected to a sense of pleasure. We make reading work by having students identify reading strategies they use, we make writing work by having them write for our purposes, not theirs, we make speaking eloquently work by having them perform for us on topics we choose.
    I think we need to make opportunities for students to use these skills more often and more authentically.
    In terms of writing, the way we provide feedback of students’ writing is extremely problematic. Nothing says, “Enjoy writing, do more,” than a page full of corrections and “notes” to improve.
    Nice post, it’s got me reflecting….

  4. First of all, I think an Animoto apology is GENIOUS! It would make the bruises on Timmy’s shins all but disappear. Secondly, I think we might benefit from turning the tables- having students create their own report card comments. Metacognition at its finest, while teachers create Wordles “for fun”.

  5. It’s important to help students (and teachers) to understand that some forms of writing need to be scrutinized and to expect it. Other forms of writing are allowed to flow more freely without the “red pen.”
    Knowing the differences is like knowing the different levels of play: fun, practice, scrimmage, real game, and tournament time; each calls for its own coaching style.
    Making each writing attempt a tournament saps the energy out of the joy of writing. Students need the workout sessions-and that’s ok; students also need to let go and write without every word watched-and that’s ok, too.

  6. Brilliantly put. Got me thinking – as a fan of creative writing I’ve never been overly keen on writing lines for punishment. An animoto apology or similar would be great though!

  7. Fantastic quick calling out to remind us all to leave adult issues at the door and become ambassadors for a live of writing. Give kids options, bring down your guard open up what you deem is acceptable (especially for boys) absolutely make sure you allot time for proper sharing and celebrating of writing, even small pieces.
    Celebrate the process not just the product.

  8. Fantastic points both in your post and in everyone’s comments. Last year in my Future’s Forum class I found that after a few weeks of making them write and share, (and then eventually publically blog) with no criticism of their writing, they gained both confidence and habit. In the beginning they really wanted me to direct their content, but after a while they embraced writing about whatever was of interest to them in the moment. Few continued after the course, but it was a start. Encouraging the boys particularly that it was okay to write about video game monsters or a creative piece involving world annihilation ended up producting some great work. I worry that too often we stifle the content of our male writers.
    Thanks for thought provoking read.

  9. I’m with you on the notion that we’ve made writing into a punishment, but I also think the sheer stop-and-go mechanics of the “writing process” has killed writing fluency for many children. And with it, we’ve killed the joy.

  10. You know that one of my passions is to provide for our boy writers the opportunity to write for fun and pleasure. We’re more than 10 weeks in to term 1 and I’m just now seeing my grade 6 boys start to have a blast while writing. What makes it so? Here are a few must haves. Being social. Boys like to write together. Keep it short and sweet. They have the most fun with short written tasks. If it contains a little gore and mayhem, all the better. Having them choose their own topics has been important too. And of course there is the technology. I am done with dead tree technology. Each and every “writing task” is married with a keyboard, voice recorder or some kind of technology that makes it fun to write. Wish you could have witnessed my small groups of boys recording their radio commercials this week. They were having a blast!

  11. I will not assign ‘lines’ to my students.
    I will not assign ‘lines’ to my students.
    I will not assign ‘lines’ to my students.
    I will not assign ‘lines’ to my students.

    Well said Royan. 🙂

  12. An excellent blog. Totally agree with the idea of getting students away from the idea of writing as a chore to be graded later.

    It’s the flip side of the reading for pleasure idea (http://tinyurl.com/cgnrrnw) we looked at the other day. The key to it all is removing the idea that writing (or reading) is an exercise on which the students will be graded later.

    One idea was that the teacher engages in the activity alongside the student (rather than walk around the class looking over shoulders and correcting) and along with the students presents their work for criticism and enjoyment to the class.

  13. By the time I used to get students in community college, they only wanted to write for grades. The idea of writing for pleasure was long gone. Perhaps the ones who loved writing had already taken different career paths; perhaps they felt that their contract with me didn’t include writing that would not be graded. Some wrote well, but even those who did saw it as part of the job of passing the course rather than a pleasurable activity. Can that idea be changed in the earlier grades? Not sure.

  14. I tried to post before but it doesn’t look like it went through. It I end up double posting, I’m sorry. I would love suggestions on how to get my son who is currently in the 2nd grade to love to read and write again. Somehow within the past year or so he has gone from loving school, reading, and writing to hating it. Where he used to test above average, this year his reports show that he has regressed. As a high school teacher and not an elementary teacher, I would love recommendations on how to help him begin to succeed and love school again. He loves technology and we use my iPad and laptop all the time but these aren’t tools that are currently available to him at his school.

  15. My own children spend more time spelling than they do writing. They hate writing. My son in particular. He hates journal type writing most of all. Why can’t we write a story? is his most frequent complaint. The irony is he has the tools to be a terrific writer but little opportunity to enjoy it. He hasn’t developed a personal writing habit in the same way as he has a personal reading habit.

    @khwett102 do you know what he liked when he liked it and what he is not liking now? That would help to figure out the disconnect for him. My kids dislike busy work. Filling in worksheets and that sort of thing. They did quite a bit of that in the early elementary.

  16. You are so right! One of the most important things I learned in teachers’ college (don’t snicker) was from my English prof who said “NEVER assign writing as punishment. Kids will come to associate writing with something negative and then you’ll wonder why they hate to do it in your class.” Seems so simple. Important message though.

  17. A very thought provoking post and what you have written certainly rings true with me. We forget how much pleasure writing can bring to someone from the everyday mundane communication of email to sending a more personal greetings card.

  18. Wonderful post, Royan. I wonder if we really understand the the perspective that our students have about writing in general. Do we take the time to set a context, think about the role that purpose and audience play in engaging a writer? Do we, to paraphrase Nancie Atwell, lead a writer’s life in our classrooms?

    “The logic by which we teach is not always the logic by which children learn.” Glenda Bissex

  19. Interesting post, Royan.
    Writing for the simple fun of writing is an interesting idea, however, I feel that there needs to be some unlearning before this can happen.
    If I were to invite my classroom of behaviour students to write for the fun of it they would look at me like I had two heads.
    How do we get students who have been punished by writing their entire school career to unlearn this fear of writing? It isn’t as simple as it seems.
    That being said, some writing tasks that my students have enjoyed (that they actually asked for more of) included writing 100 Word stories and creating story starters based on a photo. This got them thinking creatively, looking and commenting on other people’s writing, and removed the fear of writing enough to fill the requirements. Not writing in paragraphs, but it was a start.

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