way to improve student writing is to ask students to write… and
then ask them to write some more! If students do enough writing
it begins to feel like a natural thing to do… a way to express
who you are… a lot like talking, but more formal.
I know a six year old who contributed to her own literacy development
by beginning to do self-assigned home work at the age of three.
She made rows and rows of variously distorted small circles… progressed
to learning some letters and then began asking for dictation…
mostly peoples’ names. Part way through kindergarten she was suddenly
a beginning reader… partly from instruction, partly from shear
practice… practice that was part of her daily play routine, more
tolerated than supported by surrounding adults. They supplied
paper and crayons or pencils and (sometimes grudgingly) dictated.
It was her work and she attacked it with a vengeance!
I know a thirteen-year-old who began a story at age ten about
her “alien baby sister”, and wrote it for more than a year. It
was all written in longhand in a notebook. Many hours were consumed.
A cast of characters that was finally too numerous to keep straight
emerged. At age twelve she began transcribing her story (now about
20 typed pages) onto the computer. I don’t think it will be published,
but this writing marathon has made producing the paragraphs and
pages for school assignments an opportunity for expression rather
than a daunting task.
I have my college students write every week. They post their comments
about visiting schools and reading articles to an online class
site. They write comments on one another’s work. I join in, commenting
too. Sometimes I feel a need to jump in and correct (privately)
some really scary spelling… but most often I comment on content
and praise the interest and excitement of their ideas. Over the
course of a semester the 40 students generated nearly 1,000 postings.
I think the simple process of writing, even more than teacher
correction, helps students grow in their ability for written expression.
Sometimes we hesitate to assign writing because we worry about
grading it. How to be fair, how to find the time. But reading
students’ writing simply to learn about their ideas can be great
fun; the time it takes flies by. So get them writing at any age
or stage… and do not feel burdened to correct every paper. Once
in a while a “formal writing” can be “formally corrected.” If
we worried less about “grading” and more about getting them writing
their growth might surprise us.#
Lorraine McCune is a professor at the Rutgers University Graduate
School of Education. She can be reached at www.generalcreation.com
in the “Ask Dr. McCune” section, or at www.educationupdate.com
Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
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