I try all kind of things to get my students to write. Sometimes they work, other times not so well. Awhile ago it seemed like the entire class was sitting behind the same concrete wall. Glassy eyes, pale faces, limp hands. Not one kid could think of a thing to write on the page. The clocks kept ticking, and the hands stayed still. I was at a loss. I’d had a couple of kid refuse to write, but never the whole class.
Then it dawned on me: I’d set it up wrong. I began the year allowing my students to think that writing was easy. Big mistake.
I paused, allowing myself a moment to re-frame my thinking. I knew I needed to take some time to rewind a bit, slow the pace, and let students grapple more with the thoughts they put on the page.
This was difficult because here’s how my students work:
Them (5 seconds later): I’m done.
Me (leaning over a shoulder): Where’s your punctuation?
Them: Oh, I guess I forgot that.
Me: Yeah, and while you’re at it, where are the capital letters?
Them: Oh, I guess I forgot those.
Me: What’d you mean by this sentence (pointing at whatever on the page)?
Them: Umm, yeah, I guess it doesn’t make sense.
Me: How about you take some time and think about what you’re writing?
Them: But, Miss, I’m DONE. I did it! You can see I did it!
I wish I were joking. I have a whole room full of 9th graders that think their first shot is their best shot. Every year it’s a challenge to change that thinking.
So, the day we’re facing the blank page blues? I knew I needed to change their thinking about what writers do. They needed to know that writing is work. It takes time and effort. It takes practice and more practice, and even then, real writers often think what they’ve done is not good enough.
I needed to call in the experts. I didn’t have much time, so no Skyping or personal connections. I did, however, have time to turn to Google images. I found some quotes that creative people made into lovely inspirational messages. I quickly pulled up a few and led my kids through a discussion about what these writers think about writing.
The next day I put them in teams and gave each group a quote about writing. They had to discuss and analyze what the writer meant and present the message in some form to the class. Most groups did a great job, and students began to see that even authors who make their living writing words on a page struggle. It’s the struggle that makes the writing worthwhile.
It’s a simple lesson, I know. But I got big returns for the time investment. The next time I asked my kids to write, not only did they think about their topics more, they thought about the process more. That’s what I wanted all along. It’s the process that creates the craft. I just needed them to realize that.
Note to Self: Do this lesson FIRST next year.