“Miss, please do not ask us to write,” a chorus lobbied, as I stepped into the classroom and settled the pile of checked note books on the teacher’s desk. These were the voices of Year 7A, definitely the best group of students I have met in the 5 years of my teaching career.
If I discount Seif’s attempt to regale the class with his ill-timed one-liners or Samantha’s frequent complaints about biased decisions in the inter-house football matches, 7A has the highest average attention span among all the groups of teens I interact with.
Yet, they resist writing tasks with all their might – they whine, cringe, make faces, supplicate in cahoots and conjure up maladies – all to escape writing.
Why? I set about unlayering the truth; I talked with my students during lunch breaks, when they were casual, relaxed and ready to confess. I talked individually and in groups.
I unearthed a set of recurring reasons that make writing a monster.
A. Children look for instant gratification – “I want the pink ball. I want it right now” syndrome. In Math or even in Science (upto early years of middle grade), most children arrive at an answer to a question, right or wrong, much quicker than the time they take to finish even a short writing task. Writing is an unsettling enigma which takes time, beyond their comfort zone, to reveal whether they are on the right path or not.
As a parent, think of the time when you cook a dish for the first time, say Biryani; you do not know whether after all the long hours (and missed opportunity to indulge in something more comfortable), the result will be palatable or not. That is the type of anxiety a young writer experiences.
B. Young students seek safety in predetermined path leading to a promise of reward – “Follow the set of steps with precision and you are guaranteed the star”. They understand the rules in Math or grammar, follow the instructions and are likely to get the correct answer leading to teacher’s reward. English writing, being subjective by nature, does not carry such assurance. Clash of tenses or subject-verb disagreement result in a red-streaked notebook – a traumatic sight for young writers.
Keeping with the Biryani analogy, even if you have the recipe, you do not know how it would turn out when you actually cook it the first time – something may go wrong – a missing ingredient or incorrect cooking time.
C. Writing task, because it is longer, requires crystallization of thoughts and involves interplay of various rules of grammar, is more demanding – it requires students to concentrate for longer than what they are comfortable with, especially for those students who need a break for physical movement.
As an adult we have a stronger power of rationalisation – we will ourselves to engage in a task for longer because it may benefit us in future. Children are not as future-aligned as adults.
So how can parents help teachers to add a ‘pull factor’ to writing?
Demystify it: Writing is communicating. Let your children know that it is just another way to express themselves; instead of using their tongues, they use a pen or a keyboard – let them write to communicate before correcting them on grammar or spellings.
Make it short, simple and cosy: Unfortunately, in a school environment, writing is seldom a cozy task, with limited lesson time and an undercurrent of peer pressure and assessment anxiety. Parents could facilitate this approach by sitting with their children in a relaxed environment and encouraging them to write about something simple, maybe their feelings about a friend or description of an episode at lunch.
Make it collaborative: Discuss writing homework with your child; indulge in short role-plays. For example, if your child has to write a newspaper report on a sports event, ask her to play a journalist and you questions about the event. Once thoughts are formulated through verbal discussion, writing becomes that much easier.
Visit the page for more tips on writing for students with English as second language.