As freelance writer and editor, I often need to master a new skill for a project. This week has been particularly arduous because my Mac needs more RAM for this job so I’m on a PC instead, I’m editing a version of a book but some of the pages are up to me to create and it’s not clear to me which type of page those should be, and the entire thing needs parts from many other wholes. All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia. But it did get me feeling anew, what it must be like for a kid learning to write.
Think about it. First they have to learn to recognize the letters. Then they need to learn to make the letters properly – most of the kids I work with just form their letters how ever they can to make them look like what they see. Then they need to combine those letters to make words – for that they have to master things like the fact that once and won have the same initial sound. Then they need to put the words together into a sentence, remembering to have an initial cap and some form of punctuation at the end – while making sure what they write makes sense….
It’s a daunting process. And it is certainly NOT fun. It’s also the sort of thing that if you work on it for hours straight, it all starts to look right. NOT a good way to learn. So that made me think again about the way I work with the kids I tutor. Obviously, the goal is to have them produce well written work that is fluid, grammatically correct, polished, etc. That is clear to all involved, but how do you get there?
My experience is that kids will ask you how to do things “the right way” when they are ready. They know they are not producing totally correct work at the start, but they avoid eye contact until you tell them you know that, too, and that’s okay. So I’m surer than ever after this miserable experience of mine, that the way to go with kids and writing is to encourage them to write. Then to avoid the urge to point out all the errors – at least for the first few weeks. Just let them enjoy the process of getting their words down on paper and hearing it read aloud. That’s a big deal.
Once they feel like old hands at getting it all down, they will ask about the finer points. And if they don’t? Then you can step in and tell them you’re going to start to edit their work in another week and you’d like them to circle anything they’re unsure of in the piece they write today. The kids pretty much always know what they don’t know. And honestly, the majority of them are relieved to see their work is not beyond salvage and that there is a way to do things better.
The final things? Find something positive to say about some aspect of what they’ve done. It’s there somewhere! It’s up to you to find it. Also, pick one sort of correction per week. Trust me, if someone is pointing out five different types of errors at the same time, it’s difficult to keep it all straight. It sort of makes you want to throw your pencil out the door and give up on writing entirely.
And we don’t want that!