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Putting the Joy Back in Writing

By Juliana Ekren
 | Oct 27, 2021
Student writing

Do you struggle getting your students to enjoy writing? Lack of motivation at writing time was a dilemma I faced until I made a few small changes during my writing workshop to emphasize objective feedback and opportunities to engage students in writing that is relevant, authentic, and challenging.

Writing dilemma #1: Getting started

I tend to be a teacher of routine when it comes to how I teach writing. I teach my minilesson, which includes opportunities for scaffolded practice in the large group, with partners, and then individually. As students get back to their desks and sit down, all too often I hear “I don’t know what to write!” coming from the same student. This particular student, who I will call Max (pseudonym), is one of the most academically gifted students in my class, performing above grade level for all academic subjects. Each day, Max stresses over what to write about, which in turn leads to a brainstorming conference with me to get some writing ideas flowing. Once Max has an idea, he becomes a writing machine! I began to ask myself: How can I help this student to become more motivated to get started each day?

I realized I was missing an important step in the writing process. Perhaps students should work together with a writing partner to brainstorm writing ideas before they get started on their writing. Fien De Smedt, Steve Graham, and Hilde Van Keer stress the importance of allowing students to work in a peer writing relationship because of the positive impact it will have on writing motivation. When students are able to pair up with a writing partner and discuss topics to write about on a daily basis, they can aid each other and ignite ideas, leading to more independence from the teacher.

Writing dilemma #2: Assigning topics

Another writing dilemma that students commonly face is the fact that they are disinterested in the writing topic that is assigned by the teacher. Oftentimes students are not able to relate to a specific topic that the teacher assigns. If students cannot make a connection to the topic, then writing motivation plummets. By allowing flexibility in writing topics, students can pick a subject area that is of interest to them. Teachers can still provide a general guideline of how a writing assignment should be completed and even give a list of idea topics that could be chosen. What if a student still does not find a topic from the list the teacher provides? Allow students to move outside the writing topics if they can continue to follow the writing guidelines.

Writing dilemma #3: Choosing activities that challenge

As teachers, we are constantly differentiating in our classroom to meet the needs of our students for reading and math. Why not do the same for our writers? When students find writing activities to be challenging enough to be successful and achieve the writing goal, then they will be more motivated to write. Researchers Shui-fong Lam and Yin-kum Law state, “a task that is challenging yet achievable is motivating because it enhances students’ perceived value and expectancy of success.” When writing tasks are too easy or too difficult and not in the correct zone of learning, students will not be motivated to complete the assignment. It is our job as teachers to make sure these activities are achievable so students can feel successful. One way to do this is by adjusting the length of a writing assignment to meet the needs of individual writers. If a student struggles to write, keeping a shorter goal may be more motivating for the student.

Writing dilemma #4: Providing feedback

In my early years of teaching, I often found myself with my colored pen fixing spelling errors, punctuation, and grammar on my students’ writing assignments. I was never taught how to properly teach writing when I got my undergraduate degree. Proper training in how to teach writing is a key element to motivating writers. I soon learned that letting my students write phonetically and leaving their writing with spelling errors was part of the writing process for elementary students. Teachers must work toward a growth mind-set with their students, which will in turn lead towards motivation in writing. When giving feedback to students, it is important to find the positives in their work. Providing objective feedback on a student’s writing instead of criticizing errors will help keep students feeling positive about their progress. 

Motivating writers

By making small adjustments to your writing routine, your students will feel more motivated to write. Allowing students to choose topics of interest is one way to motivate your students. Another way is by providing tasks that are challenging yet allow them to feel successful as writers. Last, offering feedback that is objective and positive will help students develop a growth mind-set. By integrating these objectives into your writing instruction, you will motivate your students to become enthusiastic and motivated about writing.

Juliana Ekren is a graduate student at Concordia University St. Paul in Minnesota.

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