This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “How do we better instill an idea of risk-taking and struggle in students? How do we do a better job of encouraging their failures rather than punishing them? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?”
Teaching writing is tough. When I speak to colleagues, other educators, or reflect on my own training, how to explicitly teach students to write was something that was missed for many of us in the education world. In fact, I don’t remember learning how to teach writing until I started my graduate work. With the lack of training, what typically happens is one of three things: teaching writing is in the form of grammar, usage, and mechanics rules and memorization; or teaching writing is having the students write a holiday essay or a 10 page research paper; or finally, teaching writing is not done at all, rather it is assigned.
Now you may be wondering how this addresses the question posed above… The most important thing educators can do to teach their students how to write is to write in front of them. I can think of nothing more powerful, or more vulnerable, than when a teacher writes in front of their students.
- Writing in front of students does more to move a young writer forward than any grammar worksheet assigned.
- Writing in front of students promotes risk-taking by the class as they become a community of writers.
- Writing in front of students demonstrates the struggles all writers face on how best to articulate their thoughts, ideas, and messages.
- Writing in front of students helps to demystify the magical aura that surrounds a perfectly polished piece of text.
- Writing in front of students invites the community to know you and your story which propels them to share their own.
- Writing in front of students provides a window into your mind as you work through the process of writing.
- Writing in front of students demonstrates that hardly any piece of writing is perfect the first time, even the teacher’s piece.
- Writing in front of students illustrates writing success is found through practice, lots and lots of practice.
- Writing in front of students releases the protection of the process and struggle to the students.
- Writing in front of students provides a model of real writing by an important person in their life.
- Writing in front of students builds relationships and fosters empathy.
If we want students to be risk-takers, persevere through the struggle, and find success in the process then we must model that as the adult in the classroom. If we, ourselves, are embarrassed or nervous to write in front of and share our writing with students then how can we expect the same from them. The best writing is personal. It moves the readers to have an emotional connection to the story and to get the student’s best writing we must be a model of this vulnerability. The first step in the teaching of writing is to be a writer yourself!