Having Kids Write vs. Teaching Kids to Write

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to scaffold writing for kids- how do we help them become better writers? What’s the key thing- that essential piece we need to keep in mind for effective writing instruction?

In the past I’ve assumed that if I have kids write, they’ll learn to write- essentially, that just having kids write is enough.  I don’t think that’s true anymore.  Of course, having kids write and write a lot is part of it- but it’s not enough.

I love Nancie Atwell, an incredibly thoughtful and practiced writing teacher.  Below you can see her conferring with students.  Yes, students are writing, and that will support their development, but I think it’s her (amazingly brief) comments that will help these students truly improve.

What is it that Nancie does for these students?  To me, it’s that she’s incredibly explicit about craft- in a short amount of time, she helps kids see that good poetry writers describe a pebble, they don’t write about pebbles, good poetry writers play with repetition and newness, and good poetry writers think about the message they want to send and convey that through images and words.  And I think it’s also the fact that she creates space for an ongoing, interactive conversation with students about writing, as they write.

I think that if we want our students to become proficient writers, we have to be equally explicit about whatever we’re having them write.  What do computer coders do, specifically, when they write code documentation?  What kinds of moves do scientists make when they write abstracts or conclusions?  We can be explicit through modeling, of course, but we should also be having ongoing conversations with our students about their writing.

Cross County High School, one of our New Tech Network schools, just opened a new writing center.  They’re planning on having students help other students- peers will give each other feedback on what’s effective about a piece of writing and what could be improved.  I love this as a way to make conversations about writing a part of a school- both literally and at a more abstract level.  If kids can be really explicit with each other about what makes good writing, Cross County will be on the right track to truly helping all students in the school become good writers.

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Literacy Coach for New Tech Network

Posted in Writing

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