Tag Archives: practice

Profound yet simple: The key to good writing

Images of activities in which practice is essential for progress.

Practice is as essential in writing as in any other hands-on activity.

Practice is as vital to a writer as to a sports player or craftsman.

Teach students to practice the craft of writing.

Coach them during their practice.

Let them see you practicing the craft yourself.

Praise disciplined effort.

Practice makes progress.

And ultimately, practice makes skill permanent.

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Writers require hands-on learning

I read a short post this morning at Mindshift about visual learning. It’s gist is that, although people may prefer visual presentations, having information presented in multiple ways is best for learning, especially if one of the multiple ways is visual.

For teachers of writing, keeping that fact in mind is important.

To develop a skill,  people have to do more than see someone else use the skill.  Knowing what to do is just the beginning.

To acquire a skill, people need to actually use it.   (If people could learn skills by watching experts, there would be thousands of NFL fans who developed skills to rival Tom Brady or Johnny Unitas just by watching television.)

Ideally, people make their initial attempts to learn a skill under controlled settings where mistakes aren’t catastrophic.

Once they have enough skill not to be dangerous, they need to practice in situations that mimic the actual setting in which they will use the skill.

As writing teachers, it’s well worth remembering that writing  is only learned hands-on and it’s learned best in practice settings that mimic real settings.

Writing teachers, unfortunately, often overlook the need for practice in simulated writing situation.

Writing nearly always involves both visual and kinesthetic activities. Sometimes writers use auditory or oral activities as well, reciting a mnemonic to themselves, for example, or discussing a planned piece of writing with a peer.

Most people, including English teachers, do the bulk of their writing in what journalists call “clean first draft” situations. That means that while we run spell check and try to allow at least a few hours between drafting and editing our draft, most of our writing is not rewritten even once: The edited first draft is the final draft.

I know that makes teachers of the process approach to writing shudder, but it makes typical students happy: They just want to get the assignment done.

The more times students get the assignment done—assuming they practice writing correctly—the sooner they develop skill at writing.

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Long, Slow Preparation Aids Advanced Writing

You can reduce the strain of difficult writing assignments, such as compare-contrast writing or literary analysis, by preparing students as they do other activities over fairly long period of time.

If, for example, you are going to have students write a comparison essay in March, 2015,

2015 Calendar with March circled

2015 Calendar

you probably should being preparing students in December, 2014,  for the intellectual tasks comparisons require.

2014 Year Calendar with December circled

2014 Year Calendar

Josh and Caitlin may know nothing about writing comparison essays, but they most certainly know something about using comparison thinking.

Build on what they know.

Use that knowledge to help you teach something that’s in your December lessons.

Then tell students explicitly that the skill they demonstrated so brilliantly will be used later in the course for the comparison essay.

Once you start looking at your materials with an eye to the cognitive processes students need to write a comparison essay, you’ll find many places in which it feels natural to use a comparison to have student discover or describe a relationship.

Continue drawing on students’ knowledge of comparison thinking to help you convey information and to plant the notion that they have the necessary skills for the project coming up later in the year.

Activating knowledge and activating self-confidence over a period of weeks enable students to tackle difficult writing tasks without undue stress.

When it comes to writing skills, familiarity breeds confidence.

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Writing is key to literature appreciation

Like playing violin or clarinet, writing is a skill. Talent alone—or even talent coupled with motivation, good teaching, and family support—doesn’t produce musical prodigies.

A study by a researcher at the University of Arkansas found that world-class musicians became proficient by practicing music.  Of course, not everyone becomes a world class musician no matter how hard she or he practices. Talent does come into the picture. But those folks who don’t achieve star billing are a vital part of the arts scene. They become the orchestra and the audience for the top performers.

Similarly, those who don’t become great writers become a huge audience of amateurs who write competently, if not brilliantly, themselves. They know from experience how difficult writing is, how hard one must work to become really good at it.

So if you want your students to appreciate literature, require them to write regularly until they become competent amateur writers. They’ll become the book buyers, the book club members, the parents who read to their children.

[2016-02-03 updated link]

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