Writing is a critical skill, no matter what field of work you are in. Even if your job description doesn't specifically require writing, you still had to write a resume and communicate with HR in order to get the job. And with just about any job that has more than one person working, you will have to communicate with others well in order to do your job well. Inevitably, that communication will sometimes take the form of writing.
And that makes good writing critical in all walks of life. Plus it answers why we need to concentrate on significant ways to improve student writing in schools from early grades.
The earlier our students become comfortable with writing, the easier it will be for them to implement it into life later on when they need it.
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The National Center for Education Statistics did a study on writing skills in schools. Specifically, they tested grades 8 and 12. Unfortunately, the results of their study were quite disturbing. The chart below describes their findings, which you can find the full report for here.
Note: The totals do not come out to exactly 100% because of rounding to the nearest whole percent in the study.
Interestingly, the scores for both 8th and 12th grade were remarkably close. And unfortunately, they showed a serious lack in the writing skills that students need to have to function normally in society.
It has become a huge frustration to teachers year over year. Their students come to class already short of the skills that they need to know. And progress comes to a grinding halt.
Finding a Solution
I did some research to find out what teachers are doing to try to combat this huge problem. Here is what I found out as well as a few ideas of my own.
So here are 12 significant ways to improve student writing that will help you to encourage students to learn to love writing and love the process to get there:
- Give them enough time.
- Don't give them too much time
- Encourage technology
- Guide their thinking if stuck.
- Start small and build.
- Don't critique their grammar.
- Interview famous authors.
- Be there for them--support.
- Evaluate examples of good writing.
- Make a display board.
- Encourage parental involvement.
- Have a writing party.
Let's take a closer look at each one of these.
1. Give them Enough Time
Just about universally, every child acutely feels the pressure of time constraints, especially when they are trying to figure out new concepts.
When students, regardless of age, feel pressure when trying to learn new concepts, they tend to shut down or just walk away from what they are working on. And that accomplishes nothing for the student or the teacher.
Giving them enough time to learn the process and put it into practice is a critical first step. They may be having a hard time grasping the concepts. If they feel like they can take the time they need to learn it, then they will stick with it. This becomes especially true if the following steps in this article are implemented.
There will be a little bit of difficulty for the teacher in respect to the time factor. Some students will get concepts quickly or will already know them while others struggle to learn. The joys of teaching larger classes!
But if you have procedures in place to give early finishers plenty to do and students having difficulty extra time, then the time factor will not be a problem.
2. Don't Give Them Too Much Time
On the flip side of not frustrating students that need more time is students that are done early and get bored easily. One of the most impossible situations with elementary and middle school especially is that you need to keep them moving constantly. But most classes have 20+ students all different levels of knowledge and ability. And there is no way they are all finishing anything at the same time.
Classroom assistants help with this if you have them. And by now you most likely have ways in place to deal with the students that are finished early and need to find something to keep them productively occupied while you finish up with the last students that need assistance/guidance.
A Great Workaround
But one of the best ways that you can bridge the gap between the students that are done early and the ones that are still working is to have your finished students help out the ones that are still working. There are a couple of things to be mindful of in doing this.
- Make sure you are pairing up kids that will get along well and don't have other issues with working together.
- Confirm that the students that are finished and helping already have a proficient enough knowledge to be able to help.
- Make sure they are actually being productive and not fooling around.
This is really good for the students on both sides. It is good to develop student leadership at an early age. Because of the direct supervision involved, you can work with leadership issues that arise with children that are not very mature yet. And it is good for students to work together on projects rather than only feeling like the teacher must teach everything. The earlier they realize that learning occurs in many forms, the more their education will take off!
And honestly, sometimes the students just have fun working with each other rather than just sitting and staring at a talking teacher.
3. Encourage Technology
I realize we really don't have to do much to encourage kids to use technology these days. They do pretty well on their own. And I am also not unilaterally encouraging the use of electronics for whatever the kids want to do.
But one of the reasons that technology is one of the significant ways to improve student writing is because it can show the students exactly what they need to fix and allow them to fix it.
Using spell check rather than auto correct is helpful. But using Grammarly is an even better option! Both are great options for what they are and it would be advantageous to use both at different times in your classroom.
Popplet is an incredibly great mind map program. Teacher love it. And so do students. It has a lite version as well as a paid version. The one disadvantage that Popplet has is that it is exclusively Apple. So if your school is not equipped and you don't have any apple products you can contribute, then it isn't a possibility for your class.
Sentence Builder is also exclusively Apple. But it just may be the absolute favorite of teachers. Teachers are saying that their students are literally having fun with grammar with this app. It allows elementary students to learn the structure of grammatically correct sentences while playing games. If that doesn't teach a love of learning to write and read, nothing will!
4. Guide Their Thinking if Stuck
One of the significant ways to improve student writing is to help inspire them to write about what they love.
It is really important to let your students try to use their own creativity to promote their own writing. But sometimes we all get stuck. Even professional authors get writer's block!
So if your students are having a hard time with their writing, it is great for you to give them some guidance. You don't have to tell them what to write or force them into a certain area.
The best way to guide them is to just talk for a little bit about life. Talk about their interests, what they have been doing, any special trips or vacation time they have taken recently, involvement with extended family, pets that they have. The list goes on.
Almost certainly, within a few minutes you should see your student's face light up as they instantly recognize something they want to write about. And they will feel like they are the ones who loved the idea. Because they actually did. you just got their mind thinking.
5. Start Small and Build Up
This is true especially in the elementary grades. But sometimes, you even need to start small in the middle school years as well just for the sake of review. Even if their knowledge of sentence structure is good, it is always beneficial to make sure they are well grounded in the level of grammar they should be at.
Working this out early in the school year will save you so much grief for the rest of the year!
One great way that you can start small without boring your more advanced students to tears is to make them assistant teachers for the class period (this actually works in all of your subjects and can put lots of advanced students to work in ways that will grow their leadership skills).
You can start with the basic sentence structure, then paragraph, then on to short stories. You will already be covering this in greater detail in their grammar lessons, so no need to dwell on the details. Just help them brush up their skills.
Another great way to review grammar concepts is to play grammar games. There are tons of games you can play that have all different levels of knowledge and amount of time to play. It will be easy to fit a quick review game into the beginning of your class. Then you can assign the writing task and they should be fresh and ready to go!
6. Don't Critique Students' Grammar
This is one of the most significant ways to improve student writing because you never want to critique students grammar when you are focusing on their creativity.
This is their outlet to learn creativity and expression. It is far better to concentrate on correcting their grammar in their grammar lessons.
By splitting up grammar from writing, you are allowing students to focus on their creativity and thought processes. If they aren't worried about getting their grammar correct, then they will be able to think more clearly about their writing.
With the pressure off, you will be surprised at how much creativity emanates from your students.
Make sure you celebrate their thought processes! Giving them all a small reward (bookmark, extra recess, anything to encourage their good work) will reward them using their thinking caps and encourage them to keep it up.
7. Interview Famous Authors
This is one of the most fun ways you can encourage your students to become great writers.
There are notable authors from most any genre in most localities worldwide. It may not be the most famous author or the author of your students' favorite books, but with a compelling life story and work history, your students world of literature can be opened up by an inspirational author.
Most local authors appreciate being asked to come in to class for an interview with your students to inspire them with their story. It is such a great opportunity.
But you don't even have to stop there. You can find a more notable author that is maybe not in your immediate area but resides or works regionally. They may be able to coordinate a trip to your area with something else that they may have going on.
And if you really want to think big, then bring in a famous author through Skype if they do not live near you.
If that is not an option, however, you could always find an interview that was done online recently and play it for your students. Then you can "interview" your students based on what they learned from the online interview and how it inspired them.
8. Be There for Them--Support
There are a few students in every class that get very frustrated with the writing process. Because they haven't had the confidence to put their thoughts out there, just the thought can be more than they can handle. And that just makes grammar as well as reading and writing miserable for everybody involved.
So how do you draw out those creative thoughts that you know are in there somewhere?
The biggest thing you can do for these students is to allow them to find some confidence in themselves. It will take more time than for the other students. And it is time that you don't feel like you have. But if you can figure it out, and patiently draw their ideas and dreams out, you will also be able to draw out a love of writing for them.
The more they see you as an advocate rather than the teacher standing up in front of the classroom, the more they will be willing to share their thoughts and feelings.
If you succeed with this, not only will you have drawn out their ability to write about their thoughts, feelings, and dreams. You will have opened up a whole new world of confidence to them in all of the areas of their life!
I know it's not always this easy. But getting a start on this is so significant. And any progress you can help provide to an introverted student because they saw that you cared enough to work with them is more huge than most of us realize.
One of the greatest victories for you as a teacher is to see what became of these students years down the road. And having them visit your class one day as an adult (and maybe even with their children who are now in your class) is one of the greatest rewards of being a teacher.
9. Evaluate Examples of Good Writing
This is a significant way to improve student writing in a way that people are trained for many things.
When I was training to be a cashier for a grocery store back in my high school days, one of my training exercises was to study all of the paper money bills in order to learn all of the features of what real money looks and feels like.
At the time, my trainer explained that counterfeit money was not necessary to study in order to be able to identify it. And sure enough, she was right. It was not hard to identify real money versus the counterfeit. At least in the 1980's.
The same holds loosely true for grammar. The more good books students read, the more they will easily identify proper spelling and grammar. And the better their writing will become because of it.
Taking some time to evaluate some great writing in many different forms is also excellent for your students to be able to identify and reproduce great literature.
After doing this just a few times, you will almost instantly see improvement in your students as they catch on to great literature and seek to emulate it in their own style of writing.
10. Make a Display Board
This is significant to improve student writing because it allows your students to display the work that they invested so much into and are proud of.
Many elementary and middle school students crave approval of their work. And this is a perfect way for them to share what they have learned and written about in a way that works great for your classroom and gives them some satisfaction of a job well done.
Dedicating a bulletin board (or a portion of one) for this purpose is a great idea for your classroom. It is only limited by your (and your students') creativity. There are literally infinite bulletin board ideas out there. And many more that have yet to be created.
As a bonus, you can have some of your more creative students design this bulletin board for you. That saves you time and gives your early finishers (or kids who don't want to go outside for recess) something productive and creative to do!
This is a win-win all the way around!
My only caveat to this is to only display those students' work that they want displayed. Never display something that a student wants to keep private for whatever reason.
11. Encourage Parental Involvement
I understand that not all of your students' parents will be involved in your students' class life. Some cannot because of work, family, illness or other pressing issues. And some are just not equipped with what they need to support their children in that way.
As teachers, we need to roll with what we have in that department.
But there will always be plenty of parents that do enjoy and are able to be involved. And there are myriad ways to do that in significant ways that improve your students' writing.
One way is to ask parents to send in a copy of a picture from their family's history that the kids can learn and write about. They are learning so much more than academics in this exercise. They are learning about family and life. And using their writing skills to enhance it.
Another way is to have parents come in to help with special activities that are related to writing assignments in your classroom. Point 12 in this article is a prominent example. But we will get to that in just a moment.
Working Through Difficulties
Before we do, I would like to talk about the children whose parents are not involved in their education in the classroom. Those students could also be having a hard time academically. We just don't know everything that is going on in their life. But if that is the case, one of the most important things we can do for these students is to take the time necessary to help support them in ways that you know they are not getting. You never know what impact you will have on their future abilities and experiences. But you have this one year to do the best you can for them and show them a little bit of caring when they need just a little bit extra. The time that you can give them is more valuable than most people realize.
And sometimes when teachers show these kids a little bit of extra love, the positive response the get from it is exponential. But sometimes it isn't. At the end of the day, you know that you did what you could.
12. Have a Writing Party
So anybody who has been reading my blog for any amount of time knows that I love a good party! And I will come up with just about any excuse to have one, even if it is only a little one.
This is a significant way to improve student writing because it is an unexpected surprise.
It doesn't have to be a huge production. In fact, it would be too distracting if it was.
But if you turned their writing assignment for the day or week into a party, with games, food, decorations, prizes, and fun, think about the ways that would add creativity to their ability to write!
I may have to write a blog post on how to have a short writing party and celebrate your students' creativity. If so, I will make sure to link it here.
So these are my 12 significant ways to improve student writing. There are, as always, tons more ways to accomplish this. But this will at least get you started. And as always, feel free to share what has worked well in your classroom so the rest of us can celebrate with you and try what you have succeeded with.
To read about how to foster a love of reading in your students, click here.
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Source for NCES study: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2011/2012470.aspx