Realistic Expectations for Writing

publication date: Sep 25, 2016
author/source: Steve Rogers

I recently read an article on Edutopia about teacher burnout. The author goes on to explain 12 ways in which teachers can help keep perspective. Often times our day is dictated by what we expect or want to happen.

The same burnout can happen with writing. We get excited about the upcoming lesson. We have prepared the resources and have the copies sitting on our desk. We picture perfect papers and easy grading later in the week. Then reality sets in.

The result? Frustrated students and one exhausted teacher. The following tips are designed to keep you sane and build student confidence.

1. Model. Model. Model.

Writing is hard. Adults often struggle with the process as much as kids do. The biggest hurdle to overcome is what am I supposed to do? This is why we must model every step of the process for the class. If you are using an organizer, have the students watch you fill it out. Be sure to think out loud. Let them hear and see what you are doing and why you are doing it. A detailed and well-planned modeling portion of the lesson reduces the number of hands that pop into the air once you say "begin."

2. Anchor Papers are your Anchor.

We all know what an anchor paper is, but do we use it often enough? This one simple resource provides you the opportunity to model exactly what your expectations are. Show the anchor paper each time you teach. Copy it for the students so they can reference it. Let the struggling students follow its form and layout. The anchor paper is your anchor through rough seas. Always refer back to it and I promise the quality of the writing will improve.

3. Ideas are all around us - just look in the boring places.

Kids struggle with generating ideas. I'll be honest, we all do. So how do we find things to write about? Take a step back and reflect on our boring, routine-filled, daily lives. Why? I want to write about something exciting! Because readers want to read things they can relate to. The best books are written by authors that can turn the most mundane tasks into riveting prose. Your students can do it too. 

Every school year, millions of students are asked to trudge through a personal narrative. This is the perfect place to practice with a boring idea. Let me give you an example. The first thing that almost every human on the planet does when they wake up is to use the bathroom. There you have your topic, now get into the details. You are probably already cringing as you read this. Perfect. I did my job. You reacted. 

Can you imagine all the places your students could take this? No doubt a humorous narrative would top the list, but I imagine a few other emotions might show up as well. Even if you don't like my example, understand that the boring things we all do is a goldmine of ideas. Students who struggle with generating topics think that they never do anything worth writing about. Show them they do. Everyday.

4. Don't let conventions stop a good draft.

Let's face it, the understanding for conventions in this country seems to have left and I wonder if it will ever return. That doesn't make them less important. Conventions are vital to the reader being able to comprehend a text without stumbling and giving up, but don't worry about correcting conventions until the drafting is complete. 

Once a student has an idea, let it flow to the paper without harping on indentations and punctuation. An idea is like a tiny flame in a strong storm. The child must nurture it and keep it safe. Once the idea is down on paper, then we can go back and revise. Drafting should be fun. Revising should be purposeful, but more on that another day.

5. Keep early examples of student work.

We often fail to see how far we have come unless we take a minute and look back at where we started. This is true for writing. Your class will hear you commend them on what they have accomplished, but they will not have a point of reference unless you give them one. Keep that early work. File it away on your computer or desk and save it.

When you see your class doubting itself, stop what you are doing and pull it out. Let the students read through those pieces and watch their faces. It will not take long and the kids will understand how much better they are doing. 

This single action often incites a drive within the kids to try harder and push themselves to create something they will be proud of. 

The writing portion of our day is a challenge. It can burn us out and before we know it our subconscious looks for ways to avoid it all together. These five ideas can help you keep the expectations grounded and move forward. Good luck and keep writing.

Steve Rogers

The Page Writer.