You may recall from last week’s post that I shared my thoughts in response to a comment I overheard from a teacher. The teacher said, “My students have great thoughts and ideas in discussions but then they don’t successfully transfer that to their writing. It just ends up being a summary.”
Along with the thoughts I shared last week, I also had a question.
Have these students been given the freedom and tools allowing them to discover and develop their own writing process?
Here’s what I mean.
During our professional development workshops at Inquiry By Design, we ask teachers to write the same assignments from our microcourses that their students will complete in class. After composing, we ask teachers to reflect on their writing process and list the things they did as a writer. They list things like,
Looked back at the text
Checked my phone
Created an outline of my ideas
Wrote an introduction
Crossed it out
Stared at the page
Collected quotes I want to use
Just started writing
Went to get a drink
Cut and pasted a lot
Whatever they list, teachers always discover that their colleagues’ lists are markedly different from their own. We all have our own writing process and for most of us that process is somewhat messy and inconsistent. Many of us require periods of thinking that appear off task to the outside observer—as if we are simply staring off into space.
All this to say that if the writing process varies so widely for a group of adults who all teach writing for a living, surely the same is to be expected from our students. Some of them just need to start writing. Others need to create an outline. One finds a t-chart helpful and another likes to use a thematic map. One needs absolute silence and another writes so much better in a noisy café, like Hemingway.
When we dictate one specific process or tool to a class of thirty individuals, it’s likely that at least two-thirds of them will not be able to successfully express their ideas in writing. If we provide students with freedom and a variety of tools and approaches and then help them discover what works best to get their ideas onto the paper, they assume control and ownership of their own learning. This inevitably leads to increased motivation and engagement.
As a class, or in writers’ notebooks, keep track of the strategies and tools that writers use so that each student can start to identify and record the things that work best for him or her.
This approach to writing is outlined thoroughly in Inquiry By Design’s Creating a Text-Based Culture: Introduction to the Writing Life unit. Teachers report that in implementing these strategies, their students are producing double or triple the amount of writing than in past years. True, volume doesn’t equate quality, but students are much more likely to evolve into strong writers the more practice they get. The more you write, the more you write. But that’s another topic for another day.
What things have you found to be successful in helping students transfer their ideas to writing? Leave us a comment. We love to hear from you.