December 14th, 2012
Question 5: I recently moved from middle school teaching to the high school level, and I have a couple of students in my classes who absolutely freak out when they are asked to do any writing. Some of them would rather just take a zero on an assignment than attempt to write something. One young girl cried all over her paper when I asked her to write something for me. How do you help students who feel that they have absolutely nothing to write about, or who feel paralyzed at the thought of having to write, especially for a state writing test?
Jeff’s response: This is a painful question, Shirley, but one I hear too often. Across the nation students are being diagnosed with PSTT. Post-Standardized Test Trauma. Okay, so I made up the disease name, but not the problem. Many struggling writers believe they don’t have anything to say, nor do they have the skills to do so if they happen to have an idea.
One of my friends — a high school English teacher– says the most important thing we can do to improve writing is to simply get out of the way and let them write. And all the while she says we should talk to them about what they are writing. Sounds simple. Most good ideas are. Let’s go with the premise that my friend Marsha is right.
To get the ball rolling, we have to create a space where writing happens. I write at length about this is my latest book. I call the concept motion. Once a writer starts writing, more writing comes. Writers can get feedback that makes them want to write more or less. (“Motion: Getting and Keeping Writers Motivated,” chapter 1 of 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know.)
As writing teachers, the trick is to know the kinds of activities that get kids writing and the type of feedback that motivates rather than humiliates. To get kids writing, we know freewriting activities of all kinds, especially those that involve prior discussion or read alouds get the most reluctant writers moving. Secondly, students need to share what they have to say with their peers, and they need to hear how writing is responded to thoughtfully. Telling the writer what is strong and then offering focused feedback on one thing they can do better. For more specific information read another one of my recent Stenhouse blog entries.
Entry Filed under: Writing