Teaching writing without worksheets

Overwhelmed by all the material on teaching writing at You-Can-Teach-Writing.com, a man who described himself as “just a dad, concerned for his 8th grade son” asked me how to entice his son to start writing.

“Do you have simple worksheets from 1-10 (A to Z) that he can start, practice, and systematically go through to comprehend your writing topics?” he asked.

His question is one I get regularly in one form or another and not just from parents. Even those of us who teach writing have days when a simple worksheet sounds awfully appealing. But writing is not a task that can be learned from worksheets.

Writing is a complex skill like playing trombone or driving a car or swimming. You don’t expect a trombonist to develop skill and enthusiasm for music by doing worksheets about correct lip placement, do you?

Of course not.

Can you learn to drive by practicing turning the ignition key until you do it really well?

Of course not.

Can you teach swimming without getting in the water with students?

Of course not.

People learn complex skills by doing an entire process repeatedly and getting feedback as they go through the process. The feedback is not just some observer saying “good job” or “you better try that again.” Feedback is built-in to the task.

If the clarinet squeaks, that’s feedback.

If batter misses the ball, that’s feedback.

If the writer cannot add an assertion to a topic to create a sentence, that’s feedback.

Writing is not just about memorizing strategies or recalling processes, although strategies and processes are part of a writer’s toolkit. Writing is also about developing a feel for writing, an intuitive sense of what’s likely to work well. Those feelings and intuitions are learned from the feedback that occurs in the process of writing.

If my correspondent wants his son to learn to write, he will have to get him into the writing process, just as he would get him behind the wheel to learn to drive.

Photo credit: A Driver by Cylonka

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2 Comments

Filed under Teaching writing

2 responses to “Teaching writing without worksheets

  1. I agree that children must get into the writing process to be motivated to write. You have wonderful ideas about all.I’m retired now but taught for many years – and right from the first day, story writing was introduced to first graders and reviewed for second graders. In my combined first and second grade classes, children wrote about various kinds of adventures using much imagination and creativity. When children were writing, they were deeply involved in creative and critical thinking and problem solving galore – and they thrived and grew and become more skillful and cognitively alert. Second graders made first and second drafts of their writing, and first graders were ready for two drafts by mid-year. The second drafts, all corrected, were beautiful – the handwriting, the illustrations, and the cover. See my entry about young children’s writing: http://peggybroadbent.com/blog/writing-stories-in-a-combined-first-and-second-grade-91157.html

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  2. I don't work with pre-teen students or their teachers so my comments are not always applicable to elementary school kids. You were lucky to find one that is.I am glad to see you had first and second grade students write stories. Many schools are trying to make little kids work with content that they are not cognitively equipped to handle or that they won't use for years, if at all. Many teens who hate to write suffered through attempts to teach them to write essays in elementary school.

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