I observed a class a few years ago where the teacher asked students to research and write about cultures of various countries. It was a well-designed activity, and students were engaged as they conducted their research. (Every student was on task!)
But after getting into the research piece, many students tried getting out of the writing piece. Socializing. Sleeping. "Researching" unrelated topics. Going to the bathroom. Anything to avoid writing.
One struggling scribe, who I'll call Terrance, especially stood out to me. He wasn't nodding off. He didn't ask to go to the bathroom. And he wasn't surfing. He was just staring at his screen. It was clear to me that he wanted to do the "write" thing, but felt paralyzed. It's something I could relate to (and have experienced writing this blog), so I decided to check in with him.
"I don't like writing," Terrance said. "I'm no good at it." After first correcting him ("you mean, not good at it"), I told Terrance about my own struggles as a writer. I then asked him what he does like to do or what he is good at. He mentioned music, and I asked him to elaborate. "I mess around with DJ'ing," he said.
That's when I was reminded that writing is much more than the physical act of putting our thoughts on a computer or paper. It's the mental act that enables us to put our thoughts on a computer or paper. And who says you need a computer or paper to get started? I asked Terrance if it might be more productive for him to share his thoughts into a microphone than type them (or contemplate typing them) onto a computer. His grin told me that writer's block had been replaced by DJ's delight.
Terrance and I told his teacher about our conversation, and she was open to modifying the writing process for him. I've had similar conversations with other students and teachers, and their responses have been positive too.
Writing is such an important academic and life skill that we need to ensure all students acquire it. And we need to do this without turning them off to writing or letting them conclude they're "no good at it." Check out Richard Byrne's awesome article in The Digital Shift, Blogging for Reluctant Writers: Have students share their ideas using sound and video, for related ideas and resources.
Image by Mcininch, provided by Dreamstime license
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