Think of the last time you sat down to write something – not a grocery list or a text message or even a quick email to a faraway friend, but a thoughtful, grammatically-correct composition. Chances are, it’s been a while. These days, even the messages we send to our bosses are clipped, abbreviated and misspelled. Ours has become such a fast-paced environment, we’ve shifted from writing to simply communicating as quickly and easily as possible.
With these changes in our daily lives, along with a decreasing focus on the arts in general, it’s no surprise that our writing skills are suffering. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that SAT writing scores for the class of 2011 were the lowest ever recorded. After all, in a world of “LOL”s and “c u l8r”s, what student can be bothered to learn the difference between “your” and “you’re”? And it’s not a coincidence that reading scores also checked in at an all-time low; the two are inextricably linked. Reading makes us more comfortable with spelling, grammar, sentence structure and – perhaps most important in learning to write – storytelling.
Dr. Martha Horn believes the key to developing strong writers is to help them to find a voice. Joy (and confidence) in writing comes from having a purpose, sharing your story – not from correctly using commas and apostrophes. In her article, Help Kids Find a Voice, Then Work on Writing Mechanics, Julia Steiny profiles Horn’s method of teaching kindergarteners to become writers. Horn reminds us that as young children, we are all eager to share our stories. And that by honing in on this expressiveness and creativity, teachers can instill in students an excitement for writing that eventually overcomes the intimidation and rote so often caused by those commas and apostrophes.
When I was in elementary school, we were offered the opportunity every year to take part in the Young Authors program. Each participating student was given a blank, hardback book in which they were able to write and illustrate a story of their very own. Often, at the close of the program, a fair was held in the library for students to proudly show their parents and peers their published work. I remember my classmates being thrilled at the chance to write their very own book. And I believe most of the excitement came from young students being given a vehicle with which they could share their story.
For some quick kindergarten-through-college tips, check out the National Writing Project’s 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing.
What methods have you found successful in your writing lessons?