Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Winning Over a Reluctant Writer

What does a giant chicken sculpture draped
 with Christmas lights have to do
 with reluctant writers? Absolutely nothing!
     Last week I spent five days in a community education classroom helping fifth- through eighth-graders with their creative writing skills. I taught a three-hour class before lunch, and the same class to another group in the afternoon. 'Tentatively hopeful' was the operative word for me before the first Monday morning session. I had spent weeks writing lessons plans, collecting supplies, and fretting that I hadn't enough variety of activities to keep their restless minds and bodies interested.
     Two kids readily admitted to me on the first day that their parents 'forced' them to take the class. One of them spent much of the first day sighing very loudly each time we tried a new writing exercise. When he hit a new level of frustration - a sigh AND an eye roll - after I asked for a volunteer to share his or her work, I silently vowed to help him see that writing could be tolerable, even fun (gasp!) by the end of the week.
     A quote - "Reluctant writers aren't born, they're made" - came to mind. Had he been frustrated by writing assignments that kept him from expressing what he really wanted to write? Had he been overwhelmed by the 'rules' of good writing? I told the class early that there were no rules for the week, other than the general 'no cell phones/no-talking-when-I'm-talking/be-respectful-to-your-classmates' variety. Creative writing should not be restricted by rules.
     The week moved along at a quick, energetic pace, and I'm a little biased, but they seemed to enjoy it. Everyone plotted an incident stemming from a time when they got in trouble. They made a character collage, filled out a bio sheet, then 'talked' to another character in the class when we studied dialogue. They had a tasting party, and used ALL of their senses to describe the foods. For ten minutes half-way through each class, they used a beach ball to play a word association game. They had so much fun with the game, we also opened and closed each of the following sessions that way. I let them take turns picking music on Spotify to listen to while we did our timed writing spurts. I was determined to show them the fun in creating characters, settings, and stories.
     By the end of the day on Tuesday, I counted only a handful of sighs from the reluctant writer.
     On Wednesday, he surprised himself by coming up with some pretty amazing observations when we did character exercises.
     On Thursday, he volunteered to read his work FIRST during share time.
     Before he left class on Friday, as his mother signed him out, I asked him what he had thought of the class.
     He smiled. "It wasn't so bad," he said.
     "What was your favorite part?" I asked.
     He didn't hestitate. "That I could write what I wanted."
     Mission accomplished? Yeah, I can live with that.

   



6 comments:

  1. That's wonderful that you really went out of your way to help reluctant writers enjoy writing! I'm so glad that kid came around. Yay!

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  2. Good for you! How satisfying it must feel to know you took the sting out of writing for a reluctant writer. I'm a former classroom teacher, and boys do seem to have the most trouble with writing, probably because of the type of assignments given. Your approach sounds great!

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  3. It sure is tough writing creatively when someone else dictates the subject matter. It is an accomplishment that you turned a reluctant writer into an enthusiastic one!

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  4. Lovely. I love that he found out writing can be something he does with his own ideas. The students were lucky to have you for the class. I'm hopping along the #KidLitBlogHop. StanleyNKatrina are now following your on twitter. Have a paw-riffic rest of the week,
    Cool Mom for
    The Stanley & Katrina Gang

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  5. Great post! I'd say you had success! Sounds like you are a wonderful teacher!

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  6. Sounds like a total success to me. . . and nice timing, as I'm working on putting together some kind of fun writing workshop for Jr. High kids. It's part of our plan to put their after-school time at the library to better use (since most of it now seems to go into flirting and texting).
    Rebecca at The Ninja Librarian

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