Like Fingernails on the Chalkboard

Teachers seem to want to make life more and more difficult for themselves.  Despite the overwhelming evidence around how children learn, the developmental stages they progress through and the importance of operating from a strengths and interests base, teachers continue to roll out the same teaching methods year after year – and then act surprised when children in their class struggle to comply with the instructions or actively avoid the task. 

Writing.  The mere mention of the word instigates much groaning and eye-rolling from teachers.  They labor over daily writing programs, working with resistant writers, children who struggle with recalling basic words, constructing sentences, thinking of ideas, letter formation….even holding a pencil.  And yet, they battle on, working to meet the expectation that all children will work towards the appropriate literacy standard in written language.

Writing.  The mere mention of the word instigates increased heart rate, sticky palms, tummy butterflies, groaning and eye-rolling from students.  Especially male students.  They labor over daily writing tasks, sitting at their desk having to think about a story, draw a picture that resembles the story they are already struggling to retain, find a pencil that’s sharp, remember the story, work out where to start, use a capital letter, remember the story, hold the pencil correctly, find an unknown word on a word card, form letters correctly, oh and remember the story.  And all this needs to be done before morning tea time, or they will be kept in in order to complete their unfinished work.

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Sounds like fun?  It would appear both teachers and students, if participating in the ‘standard/traditional’ mode of learning/teaching writing have lost sight of the purpose of learning to write.  As adults, we do not sit down on a daily basis and write a story about our weekend, or about our previous day.  Furthermore, we do not have another person sitting beside us, ready to prompt the moment we glaze over, or need help to think of a word or a spelling.  We certainly don’t have someone beside us, sounding like a confused chimpanzee when sounding out initial letter sounds or blends – “a…a….a…a” or “fl …. fl…fl ….fffffllllll”.  The pressure that this would put on us would be enough to put us off writing another word. 

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And yet, as I sit in classrooms during writing time this is the scene I see on a regular basis.  A pressure cooker approach to getting writing completed daily.  To ensure children are producing pieces of writing, at the cost of their own personal enjoyment.  Children who find it difficult to hold a pencil without their hand hurting, children who find drawing their picture difficult, or children who really have nothing new to write about are those now engaging in non-compliant, disruptive, off-task behaviour.  They would rather spend their writing time under their desk than sitting at it through the lesson.  Other students will be prepared to completely upend the classroom, suffering far more severe consequences for their behaviour than sit and attempt their story for the day. 

We need to relook at what we are asking our children to do.  At the very heart of all learning should be enjoyment and connection.  Children should feel connected to those around them, and their environment.  Once connected, they should every day enjoy their learning.  If they are not enjoying their learning, it is not their problem.  It is ours.  Teachers need to constantly reflect on the tasks they are asking their students to complete, and if there is any issue of lack of engagement or motivation, then teachers need to change tack, or work harder to gain student engagement.  Activities need to be geared to student interests and abilities.  Students need to be so involved in their interests, they have no idea the task is writing.  They need to be so engrossed in what they are doing, they create the need themselves to put pen to paper as part of their own self-directed learning. 

The way we teach writing needs to change.  We need to return to the idea that fundamental to successful student engagement is connection and enjoyment.  Learning should be fun.  For both teacher and student.

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