Developing Writing Fluency and Getting Unstuck
Imagine the scene – you need to write something, and nothing is coming out. You stare at a blank page – Google Doc or lined sheet – and there is no inspiration. Well, that was me earlier this year. Anything I started writing about paled in comparison to the crisis in Ukraine, so I deleted it, said a prayer for world peace, and continued to stare at my blank page.
I have seen kids and teens go through a similar experience as they work on writing assignments that are difficult. Some people love writing, and it comes easily to them; for others it’s more challenging. And yet for others, when told to write about something, they freeze.
I have watched one of my colleagues, Ms. Anne, bring her magic to our school. I call it magic because I have witnessed students who struggled with writing for years blossom in her classroom. I have seen beautiful, eloquent writers who can manipulate language artistically become paralyzed as they approach a writing assignment.
In Ms. Anne’s classroom students keep a blog about something that interests them.
By giving students a choice to write about something they love and are interested in, they find their voice. Not only that, but they also learn to appreciate the process of writing. Writing is now a medium for expression.
Through their blogs, our students identify something that piques their interest that they will write about for the year. Since it is a subject that they are familiar with, the writing is not measuring knowledge, but rather it’s a type of journal about something they’re naturally curious about. It’s all typed so their hands don’t get tired. In this way, the focus is fluency, and like anything in life, the more you do something, the better you become at it.
The goal is to give students an opportunity to write and write often.
Through practice they become better writers. All that is asked of them is to give the process a chance and to try to open up on paper. “Talk” to the page (or computer) the way you would to a friend. And if you have a hard time getting started, set a timer, and just write for that period of time. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be error-free. There is no judgment, just effort, and it’s about something you enjoy. The objective is to get your thoughts on the page.
I have used this same technique in the economics class I teach.
I reserve a few class periods each year for current events. We read an article from The Wall Street Journal related to what we are studying in class, and then we “write a response.” Students are used to having prompts to answer, but I want them to get used to formulating opinions and working in ambiguous, open-ended situations as we mirror what the professional world is like. Usually, the ones who struggle most with this type of assignment in my class are my high achievers who want to know the rules in order to do well. My guidance is usually the same, just write for the next 15 minutes. I just want to know what you’re thinking. We’ll go from there. There’s no right or wrong.
So, that’s what I just did.
I have pretended to be a student in Ms. Anne’s class, and I have “just written” for 30 minutes. Next time your child is struggling with putting something down on a page, ask them to tell you about something they love – be it a video game or a friend. As they start telling you about it, ask them to write it (or type it) for you. Do it for five minutes, and go from there. The five minutes is the first step.