As I sit here with a blank screen, I am transported back to school when I was faced with a blank sheet of paper and was told to write. “Write? Write about what?” I would ask. “Write about anything. Write about what you did last summer,” I was told. There I sat with a blank sheet of paper looking around the room at all the kids busily writing away. Writing about anything was way too broad, and writing about a summer in which I sat around and did nothing wasn’t something I wanted to share. I could make something up, but I wasn’t that creative. What did the other kids know that I didn’t? Were their lives that fantastic that they couldn’t wait to write about it? Were they such skilled writers that putting pencil to paper was actually enjoyable to them? I think I know now…they were not afraid. They weren’t afraid
to make mistakes. They weren’t afraid to share the not so exciting events of their lives. They weren’t afraid of the grammar, spelling, and mechanic rules they were about to break. I was. My past attempts at writing were met with red ink and lots of it. Red ink was all I could see.
Red represented all the things I did wrong. Sometimes the ink was blue, purple, or green, but the sentiment was the same—I wasn’t a good writer.
As teachers, we want our children to develop into skilled writers, and we have the best of intentions when correcting mistakes and giving constructive criticism. What message are we sending our emergent or reluctant writers when we mark all over their stories? The message is clear: HERE ARE ALL OF THE THINGS YOU CAN’T DO, DID WRONG, OR DON’T DO WELL.
My years as a writing specialist, teaching the most reluctant writers, taught me this: 1. Allow students to grow as writers by focusing on and nurturing all that is good about their writing. 2. Take it one step at a time when correcting and asking them to improve upon what they have written. You can accomplish these two things with sticky notes and the acronym TAG. Instead of marking on their stories, I wrote on a sticky note. To keep from writing too much, I stuck to three items. That’s where TAG comes in. T=tell them what you liked about their writing, A=ask them what you as the reader want to know more about, G=give them one, ONE thing to work on. On a side note (a side sticky note to be exact), I would write down all the misspelled words from the week’s writing samples, and those words would find their way to my student’s spelling list. With this approach, by the end of your school year, you would have shared 170- 180 things that were great about their writing and 170-180 ways to improve their work!
Your reluctant writer will begin to see themselves as writers with something valuable to share and will be inspired to continue sharing and growing as a writer. Once they see themselves as successful writers, during this process, you can start the revision and editing component. You, giving them tools to check their own writing before sending their assignments on to the editor-in-chief (you) for their rewrite and publication (putting it out on display for family and friends to enjoy). If you would like lessons on how to get your reluctant writers to write and enjoy writing, sign up for a Writer’s Workshop Consultation at FEAST’s Resource and Retreat Center.