Writing is something that a lot of people struggle with. Children struggle in school and turn into adults who struggle and hate writing. I love writing. I always have. Heck, I have a degree in writing. My career (although short lived) as a journalist was all about writing. Let’s just say when it comes to writing I have a little experience.
I recently saw a homeschooling mom ask about teaching her son writing. It’s a story I’ve heard several times before. Her son can’t write. He hates writing. She can’t get even a few sentences out of him. As always, well meaning parents reply and tell her that maybe he just isn’t a writer. Maybe he’s just not into it and to teach him the basics but don’t focus too much on it for now.
Every fiber of my body screams, “NO!!!!” when I hear/see this advice being given. If a student is struggling with addition or fractions do we brush it off and say, “Eh, maybe math isn’t their thing. We’ll touch on it but move onto something else.” Uh, no. We’ve all pretty much realized that math is kind of a necessity. So why do we not regard writing the same way.
Writing is not just learning how to write short stories and poems. It is not just about being creative and eloquent. Writing IS communicating. The purpose of writing is to communicate something to another person. I am writing to you right now to communicate to you the importance of writing (funny huh?). People use writing every day in their jobs and at their homes for all kinds of reasons.
Here is how people use their writing from day to day:
- Text messages, emails, Facebook updates, etc…people don’t seem to have a problem writing those.
- Teachers have to write out lesson plans and notes home to parents.
- Law enforcement officers have to fill out incident reports, police reports, tickets, etc…
- Pastors/Sunday School teachers write out their notes for their sermons/lessons.
- Many professions require you to be able to write out receipts, incident reports, inventory list, etc…
- In the office you have to be able to write emails, letters, etc…
- Journalists — pretty self explanatory
- Letters (formal or informal)
- Job applications
- Scholarship essays/applications
- Doctors/nurses have to fill out charts, prescriptions, info for patients
The list really goes on and on. Writing is essential. Most of what I mentioned above is not creative writing, but still writing. In everything listed above the purpose of the writing is to communicate something to someone else. I used to read over job applications. Let me tell you, if you couldn’t form a proper sentence on the application I would toss the application aside. Hard fact, but true. In college students spend a ton of time writing. Because I was a writing/journalism major the majority of the stuff I did was writing, but there is no shortage of writing in other degree areas.
So why do people get the idea that they’re not good writers or just “not into” writing? Typically when people say they don’t like writing it is because of the following reasons:
- They think they are bad writers because they struggle with spelling, grammar, or syntax.
- They spent a lot of time in school writing reports as a form of regurgitation, not communication or writing as punishment.
- They are not writing about what they know.
The correct way to teach writing is to focus on the content first. Get it all out of your system. Who cares about spelling and grammar and order? That’s editing, not writing. Teachers need to allow the students to get their thoughts and feelings out before they move on to editing. Once they’ve got it all out, then edit. I’ve shared this article before, but I’ll share it again. The article goes into depth about some of the things I’m talking about.
One of the big no-no’s (aside from editing before getting content out) is to use writing as a form of regurgitating information or as punishment. Ah, the dreaded research report. Learning how to write a research report is important, BUT should not be used all the time as a way to test a student. Research reports are nothing more than a collection of data about a topic. This is writing to regurgitate, not writing to communicate. Reports are good, but not all the time. Instead of research reports, students could make a power point, make an informational poster, write a commercial, do a speech, teach class, etc…there are several ways to see if a student has retained information about a topic that are more fun and less grueling than a report.
How many of you have ever had to write sentences? No I’m not talking about learning how to write sentences, I’m talking about getting sentences as a form of punishment. “I will not talk in class” written 100 times and turned into the teacher or some other sentence to be repeated. I’ve even heard of parents making children write Bible verses over and over as a form of punishment. This is not good. Don’t do this. Honestly, what does it teach? Nothing except it teaches the child to hate writing. This is useless writing — it’s not for anything more than punishment. Regurgitation and punishment defeat the purpose of writing. When students think that these two things are the only reason to write, they decide that they do not like writing. When children are forced to write without a purpose they become bored with it and start to hate writing. They don’t see the point in it because they’ve always written without purpose.
This kind of relates to not using research reports all the time, but have you ever been asked to write about something that you don’t know about or don’t care about? Like the writing prompts teachers give in class, “Write about what you would do if you spent a day on the moon.” I hated these types of prompts. I have no clue what it’d be like on the moon and don’t know what I’d do if I were on the moon. How am I supposed to write about being on the moon? Well, I have to have a little creativity. Not everyone is a creative writer. Not everyone who is a creative writer has any interest in writing about the moon. In order to become good writers, children have to write about what they know, what they are interested in. If you ask me to write about being on the moon I won’t be able to come up with anything. If you tell me to write about a terrible experience I had as a child, I’ll be able to reach for that and give you something good. Why? Because it is an experience that you want to know about — I have a purpose for writing it. And it is something that I know about, so I don’t have to be worried about writing and being accurate at the same time. When students have to regurgitate facts in writing, they are worried about being factual and writing well.
Let the child pick their topic when they first start writing. Ask them to tell you about an experience, a hobby, something they read about. When they are interested in what they are writing, they understand what they are writing about, and they see the purpose in writing they will slowly become better writers.
And of course, remember, good writers are good readers and vice versa. If your child is struggling with writing, start reading to them more and have them read more on their own. In reading they expand their vocabulary, see how the writer organizes information, sees how words are spelled correctly, and see how to organize sentences better.
If your child seems to hate writing, change gears. Do something different. Try letting them lead. Don’t give up because just like addition and fractions, writing is important and it can hinder the child as an adult if they can’t do it.