As I’ve written before, children’s writing doesn’t often look the way we adults expect it to look. But we adults are often the audience our children are writing for, so our reactions to their writing wields great powers! Unfortunately, we adults don’t often use our power correctly and we can often affect a child’s writing confidence when we make comments like, “I don’t understand,” “It doesn’t look nice,” or “Rewrite it!”
I cringe when I think back to my first year of teaching. I can remember the sadness in one particular students’ eyes when I asked her to rewrite her draft before our writing celebration on Friday. No wonder my students were not eager for writing time!
Well… a lot has changed since then. And so today, I’m sharing my new and improved understandings with you parents in hopes that you use your power more appropriately.
After reading books by and receiving training from my writing hero, Matt Glover, I can tell you that my skill as a writing teacher has transformed in my many, many ways. Matt’s catchphrase: “honor their approximations” has become my motto during writing time. I share with you my conference routine as it may help you the next time your child wants to share something they wrote:
Let them share. Whether I can read a child’s writing or not, I ask them to read their work to me. By doing this, I can assess whether they can read their own writing and how organized the story is in their own mind. Then, I conduct my research. I’ll often ask the child where they go their idea, what they’ve been working on as a writer (as it often differs from what I’ve suggested), what they think they need help with, or who has inspired some of the work that they have done (usually an author from my current teaching stack).
Praise. After they’ve read to me…I gush! I give a commendation for a success I see in their writing. “Wow! You have some really fantastic ideas in your story” or “I really like how your pictures helped me understand how the character was feeling” or “I see that you used Mo Willems as your inspiration to add some colored talking bubbles to your story.” Honor the child’s approximations! When children (and adults!) learn something new, it’s important to focus on what they CAN DO rather than their deficits. And this is where we adults often go astray.
Teach. During the next part of my conference, I offer a teaching point. I decide on ONE recommendation I can leave a child with. Using my mentor stack (published books, my own writing, and other student’s writing), I show the child how someone else has done it: “Look at how David Shannon uses capital letters at the start of all of his sentences” or “I made a nonfiction book like you are writing. Let me show you how I labeled my drawings.”
Gentle goodbye. Before I leave my conference with the student, I nudge just a bit. And based on Matt’s coaching, I nudge in three ways:
- Envision: I ask the child to envision with me: “Here’s what it could sound like in your writing.”
- Oral Practice: I ask the child what they are thinking about writing: “Tell me what you’re going to write.”
- Watch them: I ask if I can watch them take their next steps: “Let me see you try that on.”
As parents, our authoring experiences were controlled by teachers who wanted everything to be perfect. Don’t repeat those bad habits! Be a better writing coach for your child by honoring their approximations. In doing that, you may be inspiring the next Dr. Seuss or J.K. Rowling.
For more on this topic, particularly how to support writing in the early years, read: Becoming Authors.