Forcing me to choose my favorite subject to teach would be like choosing between pizza, tacos, or chicken wings. For some it may be easy, but if you love them all equally, it’s pretty difficult. Reading, writing, and math each have a unique quality when you teach them. Qualities like: The ‘aha’ moment in reading when it begins to click; the pride of comprehending a math equation enough to feel confident in doing a new equation with different numbers or symbols; and the joy a student has when sharing their written ideas or stories. For this entry, we’re going focus on the joy of writing.
As a primary educator I know I can influence my students drastically. Mark Twain said, “if you want to change the world, pick up a pen and write.” I like to break down the teaching of writing into three categories—foundation, expression (or joy), and grammar. Foundation comes first, and like all primary foundational skills, it is done with much patience, repetition, a lot of modeling, and praising every step of the way. A few foundation examples are holding a pencil, writing from left to right, penmanship, spacing, and using the lines on the paper. After a solid foundation is laid, we transition immediately into the joy of writing. To focus on grammar after foundation is doubling down on the “how” of writing and not the “why.” When grammar comes immediately after the foundation, students associate writing with a strict list of rules that must be obeyed, and it strips the joy of writing away.
“The goal is to emphasize the joy of writing prior to the rules.”
Let’s be honest and think about a time when you wanted to post something important to you or write an email to your boss. How many times did you reread your own writing, typed one word in Microsoft just for spellcheck, or use programs like Grammarly to confirm your grammar was proficient? None of us want to be accosted by the grammar police, made to feel less than because we wrote definitely with an “a”, or put the comma in the wrong place, or like myself, had a plethora of run-on sentences. I want to be clear that systems like spellcheck and Grammarly are excellent tools, and they are the reason I feel confident enough to share my own writing. The thing is, primary students aren’t learning to write by typing on a computer. Primary learners work with pencil and paper, and that does not include the same handy tools mentioned above. Eventually, they have to be taught about verb noun agreement, tenses, ending marks, comas, encouraged to spell words correctly, and all the rules that come with writing. I see the importance in learning these rules that come with writing, and do not want to take away from them. Instead, the goal is to emphasize the joy of writing prior to these rules.
Students have so much they want to express! It is meaningful for them to have multiple avenues of self-expression, and writing is one of those avenues. The truth is, writing is an incredible way to explore the depths of their creativity. Writing can be a major source of joy whether you are writing a novel, a poem, a journal entry, or a blog. My students have handed me hundreds of the MOST hilarious, creative, and unique stories I have ever read. When I read their stories, I did not hand the paper back to them highlighting and circling their mistakes, instead I asked them questions about what happened next or about if they could describe what it looked like. They would run back to their desks and eagerly add more to their writing.
“Writing is an incredible way to explore the depths of creativity.”
Writing can be a powerful way to tap into your thoughts and emotions. Cassandra Clare said, “We live and breathe words… It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, and dreamt.” As an educator it is important I convey the joy they can find in the writing process. Therefore, it was important for me to be strategic about how I taught writing. They must understand the basics first, then recognize the joy of writing, and then later, to perfect our writing we dive into the grammar.