Teachers are funny creatures. We go into teaching to help our students. However, too many times, once we’re in the classroom, we forget they need our help.
For example, in teaching writing, we just assume they will figure it out if we encourage enough. I was guilty of this for years. I did my best to give interesting writing prompts, making the time for students to plan, write a rough draft, revise, edit, etc. I thought that the less I talked about writing, or directed their writing, the more they would develop their own style.
However, I have since come to realize that isn’t really the best way for most of our students to learn to write. Don’t get me wrong, there are some natural writers in each class that don’t need much help from me. Give them a prompt and some time, maybe a hint or two about conventions and they’re all set. Most students, though, need more direct instruction,
In the last couple of years, I have spent at least half of my school year giving students step by step instructions for their writing. Think of it as the wine and painting class craze that is sweeping the nation. When we go to one of those events, we don’t want the artist saying something like, “paint a picture of a moonlit night”, then walking around encouraging us to keep at it. Most of us need more than that. We’re very happy to follow the step by step directions given to create a “masterpiece” that looks something like the sample the teacher has in front of the room.
Does this mean we can’t eventually branch out and start painting our own ideas? Probably not. But without some direct instruction, we leave thinking we’re “just not cut out to be a painter”. Do we really want our students to grow up thinking they’re “just not cut out to be a writer”?
To help my students, I now use a writing guide. This scaffolds the writing process for them by telling them what to write in each sentence. For instance, when writing a story, you start by introducing the characters, so I put that at the beginning of paragraph one. You can see one here Guide to Writing a Mystery
By telling students explicitly how to begin their story, and why, we help them internalize this information.
This method lets students complete a rough draft in a class period. The more they write, the better they will get (just like any other skill), so being able to complete a rough draft quickly allows for more rough drafts.
What do you do to help students write well? Comment below – I’m always looking for new ideas!