One of the biggest challenges I face is getting my students to enjoy and take risks with writing. Too often they get bogged down with the fear of not knowing what to write or nervous about experimenting with vocabulary they do not know how to spell. There are two critical approaches I take in helping my very reluctant writers to engage in the writing process. The first is to help them understand the stages of writing (Idea, Plan, Draft, Edit/Revise, Publish and Share). Each stage is explored and its purpose discussed and demonstrated in multiple ways. Once a student understands that the edit/revise stage occurs after you are able to get your ideas, thoughts and/or feelings into print form they become more likely to take risks in getting their ideas out. When they give themselves permission to let their ideas free flow without word-by-word critiquing, the quantity and quality of their work improves. A completed draft version allows them to separate I have good ideas and can write from I need help in making sure my writing is correct and ready to share with others. I also experience a huge drop off in the question “How do you spell _____________”. That focus typically grinds the creative process to a complete halt.
The second element that greatly assists me in helping my reluctant writers is to as often as possible design a writing focus around an event relevant to their life. This may be something going on in their school community like writing a persuasive writing piece on allowing students to wear hats in school. It may be a news event from their community or a global situation that will help connect my students to a bigger audience.
Several years ago when the Chilean mining catastrophe occurred we had taken time to have it as a part of our morning circle conversation. That lead to a brainstorming session on what might we do to help out. The final decision was that we could write letters of support to them. I found the address to the Chilean Embassy in Ottawa and we mailed our letters to them. The power of the contextual relevance automatically tapped into their emotions. When emotions are involved in the learning process the lesson, the message, the focus becomes more consolidated in their cognitive realm. A magical bonus on this project was that my class received a letter from the Chilean Embassy acknowledging our letters and honouring the efforts of my students. Our next writing unit was accepted with little or no resistance.