Education consultant Alan Wright says effective teaching begins with teachers understanding and better relating to students’ joys and struggles in writing.
It can often be tough for teachers to construct meaningful writing lessons. But for Alan, the key is for teachers to immerse themselves in the writing activities alongside their students and to be a prime example of a writer within the classroom.
Alan recently joined literacy expert Sharon Callen on Episode 62 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy to discuss how teachers can deliver effective writing sessions.
The education consultant and author brings a wealth of international experience, promoting best practice in primary and secondary schools and at a systems level across the United States and Australia.
Alan revealed that this struggle is universal, and for teachers to remember that they’re not alone. In fact, they can bring many resources and authors into the classroom to support their teachers.
“Teachers often lack confidence because they feel a sense of isolation in going to teach writing. And some of them may not have written since they finished their studies and they may not be in the habit of being writers themselves,” Alan said.
“So one of the things I try to reassure teachers about is the fact that you do not enter the classroom on your own. You bring with you all the reading and writing that you’ve ever done. And every single book in your school library in your classroom, they are unwitting collaborators. They are authors and illustrators that can go with us and support us in our important work of helping kids to become confident young writers.”
But the best way to build one’s confidence is to focus on your own writing first.
“My starting point is you need to know something about writing and you need to know something about how we best teach writing. And one of the best ways to find out about writing is to commit to being a writer yourself. And it’s not just me saying this – the research indicates that kids are more likely to engage in writing when they see their teacher is willing to participate in the very craft they’re asking young writers to embrace,” Alan said.
“So I would suggest that they grab themselves a writer’s notebook and quarantine just a small bit of time in the day to write down maybe some stories or observations from their own life. There’s a whole host of things that they can do to show the writers in their care that they too are risk takers and they are people who value writing.”
When sharing and demonstrating to students, Alan also encouraged teachers to be transparent and show that you understand their challenges and struggles, especially when focusing on specific genres.
“It’s the notion of being a writer yourself and understanding the joy and the struggles that other writers encounter, particularly a young writer,” he said.
“One of the most powerful things a teacher ever said to me was ‘I went home last night and tried to write a persuasive essay, and now I understand the difficulty that my writers have’. And I nearly did cartwheels. It made my heart sing because she understood the dilemma and the whole idea of sitting down to write in a particular genre. The teacher understood finally, and that was a major breakthrough in the way that she went back and she spoke to them about how she understood the difficulties and what she found was supportive of her as a writer and the parts that she now had to work on.”
This honesty not only allows the students and teachers to better relate and engage with each other, but it also builds trust.
“When that teacher shared her new understandings of the challenges that were inherent in trying to write a persuasive essay, her young writers really appreciated what she had done. So her credibility rose exponentially within that writing community,” Alan said.
“It’s that notion of building a community of writers and the biggest factor in all of that is trust. They have to trust you as a teacher of writing and what better way to build that trust than to show them that you are willing to be a risk taker and try the very things that you’re asking them to do, and you’re encouraging them to follow your lead and to come with you on a journey together of discovery about writing.”
Alan went on to explain how teachers can sometimes be the only example of a writer within a child’s life, and therefore they have an even greater responsibility to be a visible writer.
“Often kids come out of households where they may not actually see living models of readers and writers. And so the teacher may be the only person in their life who actually practices these things in a visible sense. So there’s an even greater need for the teacher to be doing this. So one of the messages that I’m continually giving teachers is that your reading and writing life has to be highly visible to the children in your care,” he said.
“So let you, as a proficient writer, influence the attitudes and the confidence of the young writers in your care. Because if they see that their teacher values these things, they’re more likely to embrace them and go with them and want to be like their teacher.”
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