Writing opens the door to the future

June 17, 2016 | Posted in: Elementary, Middle Years

Up until third grade, my son fought reading on his own.

I kept buying books that I hoped would light a fire inside him, but failed repeatedly. And then one day, it happened. He discovered a book that made him laugh. Its characters were engaging. The story was entertaining, and luckily, it was the first in a series, which beckoned him to read more and follow along on multiple adventures.

He now carries a book around with him most places he goes.

I’m hoping that same type of switch will be flipped for him when it comes to writing. He says he dislikes writing almost as much as he reportedly hated reading. I’ve tried engaging him in writing short stories on his own or with me but have met little success.

I’m not ready to give up though. Writing has the ability to open—and close—doors leading to his future successes.

“Those who write effectively have an advantage in applying to college, seeking employment or earning promotions. They can also use writing to think through ideas and assimilate new information. However, writing can also act as a gatekeeper because those with weak writing skills face limitations on what they can achieve in schooling and the world of work,” according to “Writing Now,” a policy research brief by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Educators have long recognized the value of being able to clearly communicate via the written word. And despite—or maybe because of—the popularity of communication via text messaging and email, teachers continue to stress the power of the written word.

“It’s really incumbent on us as teachers to make sure we are taking the time out of the day to make sure kids are writing,” said Ellen Tapley, a language arts resource teacher for grades K-8 in the Fayetteville-Manlius School District. “In order to get better at writing, you have to practice writing.”

Many teachers use journals, or “writer’s notebooks,” in their classrooms. The student notebooks serve many purposes: a place for students to reflect on the day’s events, to brainstorm writing projects and begin drafts or to be used as an individualized reference guide of writing definitions, terms or tips.

Teachers often encourage students to decorate the notebook covers and make them unique.

“At this age, it gives them a sense of ownership of their work,” said Amy Wendell, a literacy consultant working with elementary students in the Valley Central School District. “It tells them, ‘This is something special just for you.’ We really believe if someone is not passionate about what they are writing about, how are they going to get the readers excited about it?”

A writer’s notebook serves as a place where students can figure out what their passions are and how to communicate about them via the written word.

“When you write, you think. You’re thinking on paper,” Ms. Tapley said.

The notebook also serves as a place where teachers can check in on the development of their students’ writing. As the year progresses, teachers look for growth. They review if students are following the teacher’s lead and taking direction.

“We’re looking to see if you can communicate what you want to say in a clear way,” Mrs. Wendell said.

Practicing authentic writing in the classroom, as well as at home, is one way to engage students in the writing process, Ms. Tapley said. Authentic writing is the type of writing that occurs in real-life situations, including grocery lists, persuasive writing, thank you notes and letters to friends or family members.

“We’re always trying to get back to the real world with what they’re writing,” she said.

So why is practicing writing so important?

“Writing is essential to communication, learning, and citizenship. It is the currency of the new workplace and global economy. Writing helps us convey ideas, solve problems, and understand our changing world,” according to the National Writing Project, which offers professional development to teachers at about 200 sites across the country. “Writing is a bridge to the future.”

For most students, their future eventually includes employment. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, written communication skills tied with problem-solving skills as the third most sought after attribute on a candidate’s resume.

Parents can help their children practice writing at home. Mrs. Wendell suggests setting up a special writing spot and allowing children to use a variety of writing utensils: pens, markers or chalk. Ms. Tapley suggests having children read their writing aloud so they hear the nuances of the language they chose.

“Good writers do think about what words they use,” Ms. Tapley said.

Looking for some ideas to get your child started writing? Here are some possible writing topics:

  • It Happened To Me
  • Places I Have Been
  • Unusual Pets
  • Exciting Jobs
  • Things That Make Me Feel Good
  • Talents I Have
  • Talents I Wish I Had
  • 10 Wishes
  • Favorite Games
  • Creepy Bugs
  • Sweet Treats
  • Snow Days

Source: K5ChalkBox.com

Why students should write in journals

  • Builds student confidence
  • Allows the teacher to gain student insight
  • A safe haven for beginning writers
  • Indirect growth in grammar and mechanics
  • Helps some students to deal with issues
  • A fun way to practice writing to a prompt

Source: K5ChalkBox.com

Here are some books to encourage your child to write

  • “My Weird Writing Tips,” by Dan Gutman
  • “A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You,” by Ralph Fletcher
  • “Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words,” by Ralph Fletcher
  • “Stone Soup,” literary magazine that publishes art and writing by children
  • “Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink,” by Gail Carson Levine

Nancy Cole is a public information specialist and grant writer for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Onondaga County with her first- and third-grade sons, both of whom love to make up stories with her about a talking cow named Bert. Here’s hoping those stories make it into print someday.

Copyright ©2016 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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