Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reluctant Writers

You know if you have one. You can't coax 'em out of the closet when it's writing time. They'd rather eat fried worms than put pencil to paper. And why is it that there are few things we moms worry about more (academically speaking) than this little thing we call writing? Somehow we think if they hate writing at age 10, they'll never get into college, and pretty soon we've got a shelf full of curriculum, a bald head from tearing our hair out, and one very confused and frustrated child.


Time for a break!

As I look back at our journey, I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and some cracks in the proverbial writer's block wall. There's hope! But it does take time (and work!) for these skills to come together. Give your kids time, and lots of encouragement. Here are some steps that have helped us along the way.

One thing I've found is that writing becomes easier for a student who struggles after All About Spelling Level 3 or so. AAS includes a nice progression for writing, starting with sounds and individual words, then short 2-word dictations, then longer phrases and sentences. By Level 3, children are writing twelve dictation sentences per step (not all in one day). (For more information on using dictation to improve spelling skills, read here). Half-way through that level, an exercise called The Writing Station is introduced, where students make up some of their own sentences from a list of spelling words. Now the fun begins!

Truthfully, when I first saw The Writing Station coming up, I cringed. I just knew my kids were going to hate it, and that this was going to be a very bad experience, judging by our past forays into writing. But my children and the exercises surprised me! The kids not only enjoyed it...sometimes they wrote things that were downright funny! The given words often relate to each other in a way that lends to making up a little story, or in some humorous way. And instead of seeing The Writing Station as something to dread--my kids started looking forward to the exercises and saw them as a time to have fun and play with language.

So, slowly over time kids are building up their stamina in writing, they develop some fluency through doing the dictations and by mastering a lot of basic words, and then they get to spread their wings a bit with writing and editing skills through The Writing Station. Because of this, I find that after Level 3 is a good time to introduce a writing program.

Before that you might want to focus on informal writing such as journaling or free-writing. You can take note of their spelling errors that are in words they know from AAS, but don't focus on that in their writing. Focus on those during spelling time instead by putting them back in daily review. Don't worry about words and patterns they haven't learned yet. For a very reluctant writer, I would focus simply on handwriting and AAS along with narration (which is oral writing to some extent--organizing thoughts, being creative and so on). You can even write down their stories or narrations they tell, to show them that their words are worth being saved and savored. Read them to Dad or send them to Grandparents to encourage children to try to share their words more. Email with friends or relatives can be a good way to encourage writing also. Older children can blog on a subject they are interested in.

My kids (12 and 14) are now in levels 5 and 6, and they are much nore confident about writing than they were 3 years ago when we started AAS. My daughter actually chooses to notebook about her science now, and my son freely chose to do an additional rewrite of a paper last week--I was shocked!

So, it really does come in time. Give children time to put all of these skills together--handwriting, spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage issues, organizing ideas, creativity, trying to form ideas into words, etc... When you think about it, there are a lot of complex skills that go into "just" writing, and it's not as easy as it appears to us.

Some students seem to catch on easily and write reams--while others stall out before they even start, overwhelmed with the task in front of them. Walk them through the skills step by step, and they'll get there. (Spoken as a mom who spent too many years freaking out about this, only to realize that the skills really do come together when kids are ready!)

I'll write about some of my failed attempts at teaching writing next time! What things have helped your kids on the journey to becoming more fluent writers?


  1. This has been really helpful and encouraging. Thanks for sharing this realization, Merry! :)

  2. I'm so glad it was helpful, Karen! I saw your other post on Essentials, and wondered if your 4th grader was to level 3 yet in AAS. BTW, my oldest is in college this fall!