The Biggest Secret Your Students Keep From You

2 Mar

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Here at Deep, we recently surveyed several dozen high school English teachers to see what their biggest teaching challenges were and how Deep could help them out. We expected to hear complaints about large class sizes, poor writing skills, and not enough planning time, but the response was surprising and specific:

The biggest problem, teachers said, is that the kids just hate writing.

To which my response is, No! They love writing. They just keep you in the dark about it.

Think about it: they love writing text messages, they love scribbling raps on the backs of worksheets, they love Facebook comments and tweets. They love passing notes furtively under the table. They love scrawling their names in Sharpie on bathroom walls. They love carving stories into their arms and chests as tattoos.

Students love writing. They just love a different kind of writing.

Here are some of the differences between the writing that they love and the writing that they are asked to do in class, with some suggestions for how to bridge the gap and get your students excited about completing your assignments:

1. Ownership.

If you were going to buy a new car, would you rather buy the car that you picked for yourself, or the car that your weird third cousin picked out for you?

Similarly, students prefer writing when they can pick their own topics, rather than topics that a textbook or a principal chooses for them.

Try assigning free writes or journal time. If students know that the writing is theirs, not yours, they’ll be more likely to open up and get comfortable with putting words on paper.

While it is important to eventually teach students to write on specific assigned topics, see if you can give them a little leeway in how they write about those topics—can they write a poem about their interpretation of a story, rather than an essay? Can they write a monologue from the point of view of a character? Can they write an essay that connects their own life experiences to the topic at hand?

2. Technology.

Cell phones today are like an extension of your students’ brains. Working without technology can feel crippling to some students. (Besides, every project feels “cooler” when you have some expensive equipment attached to it.)

What if you let your students tweet discussion questions, or write poems on an iPad? Can they make an audio recording of their poem? What about a video essay?

3. Audience.

It’s a lot more fun, and a lot less intimidating, to write for your peers than for a teacher. Click here for some more ideas on this topic.


11 Responses to “The Biggest Secret Your Students Keep From You”

  1. teeceecounsel March 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Great! Just like you pointed out, teachers used to bore me with their style and approach to writing. It’s amazing what volumes I get to write with my phone but how boring hitting pen on paper could be because it reminds me of school days. I’m still trying to overgrow it but I may just continue with technology. Nice post!

    • thatwritinglady March 2, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

      Thanks! I think we should take inspiration wherever we can find it–pens, phones, tablets, and laptops are all great tools :).

      • jamharl June 24, 2013 at 10:01 am #

        Hmmm… I’m captured by your post. I believe that everyone loves writing and that include students. I think it’s really great to let them write about the topics that they are connected with or they have “connection” .

        They’ll surely keep writing. 😉

      • thatwritinglady June 24, 2013 at 10:04 am #

        Thanks for the comment!


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