How frustrating is it when your students are struggling with writing, your district poses strict guidelines on the volume of writing they must produce, and all you seem to do is push them?
What should be a creative, rewarding critical thinking experience can begin to feel like rolling a boulder up the side of a mountain. And the more children seem reluctant, the more we feel pressured to have them produce product. Ugh! Not fun for anyone involved!
After studying children, writing, and learning for many years, a few key points became clear to me. There’s a hierarchy of developmental behaviors that can’t really be messed with. Here’s what I mean – we often forget that oral language precedes written language. In other words, if kids can’t say it, they can’t write it. Period.
So, often times when kids get “stuck,” it isn’t that they don’t know what to write – they don’t know what to say. Their vocabulary doesn’t always adequately reflect what they know and have experienced, so getting it on the page is really unlikely.
The missing piece in all of this is MODELING.
Modeling is the bridge between “here’s what authors do” and “now you try it.” As if reading many books by gifted authors alone will produce strong writing! However, when a teacher models she/he gathers the whole class, steps into the role of author, and articulates the thought process of an author so that children can “eavesdrop” on this kind of creative thinking. For example, if the desired skill is elaborative detail, the teacher would present the character, setting, or object to be described, and ask the students a series of very specific, productive detail-generating questions. (We’ve included a video link for you to see this in action.) The teacher elicits a wide range of responses from students, encouraging them to not only share verbally, but through facial expression, movement, and gesture. The teacher takes these responses, translates them into the most powerful vocabulary, and charts them. This “shared writing” is stimulating and exciting to children, and they eagerly internalize the questioning process and vivid vocabulary into their own writing during Guided Practice.
It might feel as though this modeling process takes too long – shouldn’t they be writing independently already? True, engaging in plenty of modeling is time consuming, but the pay-off in terms of student growth, confidence, and enthusiasm is priceless.