Archive | November, 2012

Top 3 Reasons Kids Hate Writing (And How to Change Their Minds)

28 Nov

Writing

So many teachers tell me that their students hate to write, but I don’t believe that. (More on that here.) When students say they hate writing, what they really mean is this:

1. They don’t think they can write.

2. They are not allowed to write about what interests them.

3. They are not allowed to write in their own voice.

 

Luckily, all three of these have straightforward fixes.

1. Offer your students lots of opportunities to succeed at a writing task, and praise them loudly when they do. This can be as simple as starting every week with a fill-in-the-blank metaphor contest (“Mondays are a….”) or as involved as creating a pen pal program where your students write letters to each other every week. Try to give at least three pieces of praise or encouragement for every piece of criticism.

2. Give your kids as many chances as you can to choose their own topics for writing assignments. While learning to write on assigned topics is important, so is learning to invent topics and brainstorm ideas. Try to give students at least one “free” writing assignment (poetry, journals, letters) for every topic-driven essay assignment.

3. Give your kids opportunities to write in their own voices, with their own spelling and punctuation rules. While learning to write in standard academic English is important, so is learning to find your voice and distinguish “home talk” from “school talk.” Give your kids free writes and creative assignments in which they can write in whatever voice they like, without being criticized for non-standard English. This even includes allowing slang or profanity, if the student feels that this is the best way to express his or her ideas. (I have some advice for dealing with that here.)
How do you get your kids excited about writing? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

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The Worst Question You Can Ask a Student

14 Nov
Question mark

Question mark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The worst, most annoying, most pointless question that you can possibly ask a student is also, hilariously, probably the most common question in classrooms today:

“Do you understand?”

It seems innocuous enough–it’s important to make sure that your students are keeping up, after all–but let’s look at the effect that this seemingly harmless question actually has on students:

  • If your students do understand, then this question will likely seem patronizing and annoying.
  • If your students do not understand, then this question will make them feel stupid and helpless.
  • If your students misunderstand, then they will remain blissfully ignorant of that misunderstanding and continue to make the same mistake for a long time.

Some other questions that have a similarly detrimental effect are:

  • “Do you have any questions?” (Students, particularly young ones, rarely know how to phrase their confusion in terms of a specific question.)
  • “So we all agree that [fill in the blank here with whatever idea you want them to believe].”
  • “So we’re ready to move on?”
  • “What do you guys not understand?” (Again, if they knew what they didn’t understand, they’d probably have come to understand it by now.)

So what should we do instead? Ask students to demonstrate their knowledge in some specific way. Rather than saying, “Do we all understand what Esperanza is trying to say in this passage?” try saying, “Everybody circle a sentence that shows you what Esperanza thinks of Nenny and then write your own sentence about what you think it means. Share your sentences with your neighbor and see if you both came up with the same answer for what Esperanza thinks of Nenny.”

Then, you can see if yourself if your students are ready to move on. If they aren’t, you’ll have a lot of data to help you figure out what they missed, and how you can help them learn it.

How do you make sure that your students understand what you are teaching? What’s worked well in your classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

How Much Does a Story Matter?

7 Nov

Watch to see how writing and sharing a story affects a kid–and find out what you can do to help more kids share their stories.