Men and women climb mountains because they are there. Writers are compelled to put words on paper because they are not there…yet.
Kids want to write. They have things to say. They want to tell stories, and comment on important events in their lives or their world. They want to create and be seen to create. And like all writers, they want to be read.
Think back to those early years, when the smallest children can present incomprehensible drawings and insist that those simple works tell a complete story; a tale that lives and breathes and connects with the storyteller in mind, heart and soul. And to honor the effort, the child’s audience ooohs and aaahs and dutifully tacks the work onto the family fridge and stands back in admiration.
So when does writing become a chore? When kids no longer write for simply the joy of creating and sharing something that wasn’t there before. When they no longer write for an audience that celebrates their efforts, but takes pen in hand and sits in judgment. The effort seems wasted, the message is often lost in the mechanics, and publishing, be it the fridge or final draft, becomes a reward for the skilled.
As a professional writer and teacher, I always look for opportunities to remind my kids that writing exists beyond my gradebook, and that they have worthy things to say no matter their GPA or familiarity with the serial comma. My experience tells me that no matter how adept a writer is with spelling, grammar, usage and structure, it all falls flat if there is nothing of substance to say; or worse, if fear or insecurity take hold, strangling the messenger into saying nothing at all.
To learn to write, kids need to write. Often, and on a variety of topics. In schools we call it developing stamina or volume or whatever buzzword is in fashion. Basically, it’s the same truth as with professional writing: to improve you need to read consistently and write consistently. Sounds tailor-made for a classroom. But few things cause a student to ask for the bathroom pass more quickly than putting a pen and paper writing prompt on the board. So what’s the answer?
Hit them where they live. So much of the information they take in on any given day comes from cyberspace. Bloggers and Youtubers now pass for celebrities, and kids eagerly await the newest episode or entry. My goal is to turn students from passive consumers to creators in control of their own content. Using online publishing opportunities enhances both student interest and the quality of work. For years, I’ve involved kids in creative writing months and writing entries about our heroes. The only problem was that the creative writing month was, well, a month. And writing about heroes is fun, but limiting. I wanted something I could use all year, for any unit. It had to be easy to use, affordable and offer the privacy protections required by our district.
Last year, I discovered Kidblog and gave it a half-year trial. The results were impressive.
My students adapted quickly to using the site, and when presented with the option of presenting research for our district survival unit in one of several forms, every team of students chose Kidblog. What’s more, they became completely engaged in the posts of fellow teams, and enjoyed reading and commenting. They suddenly took more pride in editing and revising their own work. Their audience was not just a teacher wielding a red pen, but peers. They focused less on grades and more on communicating. They may lack mastery over putting a heading on loose leaf, but they sure know what a good website looks like. They spontaneously collaborated on adding photos, music or links. They began asking to write on Kidblog.
Kidblog offered enrichment opportunities to the least-served group of students in school, the kids who really love to write. I gave them carte blanche. Write, my lovelies. Write. My top students finally had a platform for their voices! They wrote personal essays and serialized creative writing entries. They shared things they wouldn’t have shared verbally in class and made connections with kids with whom they initially seemed to have little in common. Writing does that to young and old. Last year’s group left 6th Grade Survival blogs for incoming classes, and when a few popped in to say hello one day, my new students treated the visiting writers like cyber royalty.
“You’re Amy and Amelia? I know you! I read your blogs!”
It was real and it was right in the kids’ wheelhouse. Writing for an audience makes a difference. And when I told my current students they’d also create their own survival guides for incoming students, they knew they’d be published. Read.
It’s early in the year, but they are excited to blog and several have already taken me up on the open door policy and are writing just because. Because it’s not yet there.