This is a guest post by Ellen Shubich.
I have always written: letters to friends, poetry just for the heck of it, notes to clear up my thoughts when in an emotional quandary, articles, short stories, and, of course, emails—endlessly. There is no question about whether I like writing.
And yet for so many others, writing seems to be a problem. Many posts on NCTE’s blog have been about writing. Authors have touched upon the difficulties many students face, the negative reactions, the reading/writing relationship, the lack of time to write in class, the reasons why many teachers shy away from writing tasks, discussions of length, established structures, and more.
I see writing problems in my personal life. I have a granddaughter who can talk up a storm, yet dislikes writing and struggles with her assignments. Another granddaughter spells phonetically and gets it wrong in Spanish, a mostly phonetic language!
I belong to a book club. We are not highly intellectual—just a bunch of people who have become friends, who read because we can’t not read. We discuss what good writing is. Some think it is “a good read,” others a meaty text that requires analysis or a masterful technique or beautiful language. And we all like a good story.
But whatever “good writing” is, our efforts to deal with the complex issues presented by teaching writing should continue to be shared. Therefore, I reiterate some of the ideas previous contributors to this blog have suggested.
Talk to students about writing; passionate teachers have secret agendas and talking to students about the importance and joy of writing can entice them and prove contagious. Teachers doing effective, dramatic read-alouds can hook students and inspire them to both read and write. Teachers can write with their students and share their efforts, explaining their own difficulties. A variety of writing tasks, differing in intention and length, can be introduced. Conferencing with students provides encouragement and guidance (as opposed to punitive grading, which discourages). Publication offers students meaningful, authentic reasons for writing. Reducing the burden of constant, overwhelming teacher assessment through alternatives such as peer assessment, self-assessment, or assessing only one aspect of a paper or one paragraph makes things easier on both you and your students. Differentiated writing tasks can be personalized to student needs.
We will not convince every student that writing can be a joy. But hopefully, many will appreciate the possibilities of power, connection, and the beauty of written language.
Ellen Schubich was born and raised in the Bronx and moved to Mexico 48 years ago when she married. She has a B.S.N. degree from Cornell University-New York Hospital and a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from the Universidad La Salle. Ellen has held many different positions: nurse, gerontologist, teacher of nursing, English teacher, coordinator, principal (Elementary and Middle School), and English principal. She is married, has a son and daughter and three grandchildren.