How many times haven’t you (the teacher) had the best lesson plan ever for getting students to write, and then it bombs? I have taught writing several years to junior high, with fantastic plans, but there are still three students who are writing nothing, sitting there staring into space. You try to encourage them along, but their pens remain idle. One is fidgeting in her desk, looking for a better pen, another wanders out to the bathroom for the third time that day. I’ve tried different tactics to get them to at least write a few sentences, but this particular day I decided to approach it from a different angle.
At the end of the period, several students still had blank pages, and they looked at me a little sheepishly. I smiled at the class, and praised them for their good work. “No homework today, you all worked hard, whether you were writing or contemplating writing.” I saw some surprised looks, and continued “If your page is still blank, it means that your thinking skills have been overly active. Let me share the story of E.B White when he was writing “Charlotte’s Web”. He was an established newspaper writer, but wanted to do a children’s story, and spent many days and weeks and maybe even months staring at his empty notebook. Then one day he started watching this spider making a web, and he was fascinated by the intricacies of it. It reminded him of his childhood, and the barn in Maine, and from there he wrote what is one of the most favourite of children’s stories.”
Encouraging your students is critical in getting them to put their thoughts on paper. Students with learning challenges need extra support and encouragement to write. This increases their confidence, and knowing that a blank page is acceptable gives them a boost. Writing is hard work for anybody, even someone who enjoys writing. One of the students who had a blank page was so relieved that he went home and wrote a two page story which he handed in the next day. I asked him if he would be willing to share the story with the class, it was an “aha” moment for me to see his accomplishment. He was too shy to read it, but allowed me to present it. This was a way for him to have a larger audience, and for the whole class to celebrate the piece of work! The glow on his face afterwards made me realize that often it’s the teacher who can get in the way of a child’s learning, and if we step aside and give the “wait” time needed, they will be able to contemplate and think, and eventually write. Then the stories will come out!
“Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one.” E. B. White