Questions and Answers
Q. What can I do to encourage reluctant writers?
A. Reluctant writers usually dread writing because of two main reasons. One, they feel vulnerable sharing their thoughts and creativity. They’re afraid of rejection, ridicule, or criticism. Two, many reluctant writers associate writing with activities that are tedious and uninteresting.
- Provide a safe, noncritical classroom environment.
- Teach your students how to give and receive compliments and suggestions.
- Model by writing for your students.
- Prepare writing experiences that incorporate a variety of learning styles.
- Bring in engrossing books, films, and objects of interest.
- Provide items that can be touched or tasted. Encourage the sharing of opinions and discussion. Ask your students to draw before they write. Provide digital cameras, disposable cameras, computers, clip art, the internet, special speakers, field trips, etc.
Q. Should I correct and grade student writing?
A. No! Lead students through guided, layered revision and editing instead. Don’t make all corrections for them. The goal for your students should be content and creativity, not perfection. Grading writing is tantamount to grading someone’s performance in an opera, a play, or a sporting event. Assessment is infinitely better. Assess what is RIGHT and offer ONE or TWO suggestions for improvement.
Q. Why is it important for children to draw before they write?
A. Drawing is a visual activity and enables the brain to picture things and add more details than if kids just start writing “cold.”
Q. What is the most memorable way to validate young writers?
A. Specific, sincere compliments work wonders and are remembered for life!
Q. What is the best way to keep writing projects organized?
A. I recommend a self-contained writer’s notebook. These notebooks are described in detail for you in chapter three of Dynamite Writing Ideas!, published by Maupin House. Self-contained notebooks have a plastic zipper bag full of pencils, pens and supplies, paper, and sectioned dividers. Kids love using real notebooks.
Q. Do kids have to finish every project? Do all projects have to be assessed?
A. Kids like to try a variety of writing projects: some they will finish and some they will not. Some will be assessed but many will not. Learning to write is like learning other useful skills: cooking, painting, tennis, or sewing. Kids need lots of practice. They need opportunities to write about their likes and interests.
Q. What about spelling?
A. I believe teaching good spelling is an important part of education. However, when it comes to the writing process, the most important thing is to get thoughts down on paper. If kids have to spell every word correctly as they write, they invariably get bogged down along the way.
“ I can’t write because I don’t know how to spell such-and-such.”
When teachers put too much emphasis on perfect spelling while kids are trying to express themselves, it inhibits creativity and stifles the natural flow of thought. Encourage your students to get their thoughts down first. Put the emphasis on content and creativity. Urge them to write with details, reasons, descriptions, emotions, and opinions. Spelling can be corrected in the editing stage.
Q. How much spelling correction is needed? Should every word of a final draft be spelled correctly?
A. This is a matter of personal opinion. I like for most grade level words to be spelled correctly. If kids use creative spelling for longer, more mature words, and I can tell what word they are trying to use, that’s okay with me. I love seeing how inventive they can be. Creative spelling is a charming hallmark of developing writers.
Q. Some kids are insistent about only writing with words they can spell. How can I get them to loosen up and move past the quest for perfection?
A. Model, model, model. Tell them, “Good spelling is great, but if you wait until you can spell every word correctly to begin with, you’ll never get ahead in your writing. Loosen up! Be daring! It’s okay to draw a little icon, put down a few letters, write a word the way you imagine it could be spelled, or just draw a box where the word will go. You can look it up later.”
Model this on the board or the overhead. Say as you write, “ ‘Brian’s bull was huge.’ Hmmm. Huge is good, but ‘gargantuan’ is even better. But how in the world is gargantuan spelled? gar-gan-chew-un. That’ll do for now. ‘Brian’s bull was garganchewun.’ I’ll check the spelling later.”
Q. The kids in my class are on many different levels. How can I teach writing and meet all of their needs?
A. When it comes to writing, there is no such thing as one size fits all. Every child is unique and has a personal learning style, attention span, and interests. As you plan your teaching and modeling, remember to include components for auditory, oral, visual, and kinesthetic learners. Program success by incorporating a variety of tasks that reflect the abilities of high, medium, and low students. Group your students so they can help each other with cross-strengths and abilities. Schedule one-on-one time with each student.