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Teaching kids to hate writing

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Emerson School and Hacienda School

If you want your child to learn to hate writing and, consequently, to write only when necessary, there are effective resources available to you - traditional writing programs in most public schools. The results are typically students who are poor writers and, worse, students who believe they are doomed to be poor writers forever. The methods of instruction are time tested: highlight in red ink everything students have done wrong; focus on grammar and spelling instead of thought and organization; prohibit students from using effective writers' tools such as dictionaries and thesauruses; test students by allowing them to write only one draft under severe time pressure; and use teachers who grew up hating writing and are unhappy with the prospect of staying up late to read and grade 30 papers on the same boring topic.

If, however, you want your child to write well, you must first ask yourself, what does it mean to be a good writer? Even for an audience of parents dedicated to nurturing outstanding students, the goal can have a variety of meanings. For some, it means that their children get good grades on writing assignments at school and attend prestigious colleges. Others, with a more long-term view, see good writing as the manifestation of clear thinking, which will help their students pursue higher education into professions such as medicine, law, engineering, academia, and so forth. Still others, see good writing as a channel for self expression, which helps young people relieve the stresses of navigating a complex, difficult world. It would be best if, in addition to the other meanings, being a good writer meant enjoying the art and craft of writing, because that is essential to future success.

Rarely, do parents conceive of their students as future authors of important, influential works - which is surprising, because some will be. It is far easier to imagine one's child as a future football player in the National Football League, a star ballerina in the American Ballet Theatre, or a solo pianist at Carnegie Hall, though a child has a much higher probability of being a successful novelist, how-to author, journalist, or consultant as a result of outstanding writing skills.

Writing is a skill-based activity that requires both specific skills and the motivation to improve them. In that sense, it is analogous to learning to play soccer, where everyone - from five-year-olds starting to play the game to World Cup-class players - must continue to practice dribbling, passing, and shooting. It is important for beginners to experience the pleasure of playing soccer games so that they enjoy what they are doing and have a desire to improve. Good players never stop wanting to be better.

Rather than focus on the errors in student writing, a successful writing teacher helps students take pride in their work by pointing out what is valuable about it and emphasizing how each draft represents an improvement on the previous one. That teacher guides students to understand that good writing requires the time to re-read, edit, and re-write their work, as contrasted with the "on-demand writing" that is taught in most schools.


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