Writing Should Engage, Enable and Empower!

Most would agree that there has been a general decline in written communication. The lack of reading books over instant entertainment seems to be creating a disturbing trend of a downhill spiral for writing. When it comes to writing, many students feel that they are on a GNVQ course, that is, ‘Going Nowhere Very Quickly!’ Parents experience the agony of their children’s frustrations, of repeatedly feeling the concrete coming at them, when the teacher expects no less than a literary work of outstanding artistry, skill, and workmanship, from a set writing assignment topic, but all that materializes, is the brick wall of thoughts, from the child’s blank stares at his empty writing sheet of paper! Writing should Engage, Enable and Empower!

The Child’s Perspective

Let’s examine this creative conflict of interest, for the child, who is trapped in a situation by being innocently involved in multiple interests, many of which possibly corrupt the motivation and decision-making, about writing for pleasure and purpose. Today’s child is a ‘media saturated’ individual, incarcerated by all the readily available interactive technology which can lead to a lack of intentional action, in regard to writing. From, spell checkers, predictive text on phones, to the use of ‘Ask Cortana,’ for composing personalized e-mails and events, are but a few distractions from focused writing. The child can therefore question the relevance of being a competent writer; since it appears to be automatically done by the various gadgets. For too many children, writing is an inconvenience, it is hard, it is boring, a burdensome chore and not a form of communication.

It is anticipated that each child should be able to effectively communicate orally and in written form. I have seen child and parental anxiety rise, when report cards and parents’ evenings roll around and reflect that writing expectation and reality are running a race but on two parallel roads! The child sees his writing marks and desperately desires that he can prove, that parallel lines meet at infinity or that infinity begins where parallel lines meet!

The child looks at the teacher and inwardly poses these questions about writing. He silently whispers in his head, ‘I am curious, can writing expectation and reality meet? Could this ever happen? Why is writing so important after all? Could my writing marks improve and become better? Could this writing expectation race with reality, on parallel roads, every meet?’ The child self-interrogates. After this inward deliberation, the child learns that in this context, there is no such thing as “infinity” and parallel lines do not meet! The first step is to help the child come to terms with the basic benefits of being an effective communicator.

Benefits of Writing

Both parent and child appreciate that writing should engage and is essential and that it is imperative to be able to communicate effectively. Writing rather than mere verbal discourse has to be done within almost every aspect of life.

Science & Technology

Scientific and technological work events, rely on written communication, in order to convey Scientific and technological principles to present and future generations. Writing therefore, serves as an accurate record, rather than a verbal account which would become flawed. Also in this context, writing should engage.

Commerce & Private Interaction

The commercial sector depends on written documents contracts, agreements, correspondence to clients and proposals between business houses and employees to support business transactions; written clarity is extremely important. Electronic correspondence between businesses and private individuals on social media, is dependent on clear and concise written communication, all this has contributed to the necessity and prominence of writing.

The Job Market & Careers

Written communication skills are vital within job seeking and career activities. Starting with the job application, written communication must be clear and compelling to be noticed from the other thousands of applications. Next, several job screening interviews involve the assessment of the verbal and written communication skills of the shortlisted candidates.

Public & Personal

Libraries of written works for education and leisure, both physical and electronic, exist to provide information and pleasure to readers of all ages, this would not have been possible without writing.

Without a doubt, writing should have a prominent place as a number one activity, to be chosen by all children but often writing is side-lined and apathy rules. Having briefly reviewed the benefits of writing, the next journey is to explore how to ‘engage enable and empower’ the child to write.

Writing Should Engage the Child

Fostering Self -Expression is of great significance within the writing process. Conveying thoughts and meaning is a requirement for effective living and the child must be supported in developing self-expression. It is imperative that the child is taught that a central way of expressing thoughts, and communicating ideas and views to others, comes through writing. Writing is one avenue of self-expression which is open to any child, and especially to the one who finds it difficult to verbalise feelings. This communication tool, provides a means, which permits the child to express ideas, opinions or give insight into existing psychological states, which otherwise, may have remained unknown. Writing is something that any child should enjoy but it is important that the correct approach is used to engage the child, to avoid it being easily loath!

Personalising Writing

When a child is writing about a subject he is familiar with and enjoys writing about, then the writing becomes easier and much more enjoyable. A child writes more, if writing about a topic, that is of interest. Many older children, from year 7 and up, are fond of keeping personal diaries, this informal writing practice should be channelled towards more formal writing approaches.

For the younger child, below year 7, one such strategy which works well, is keeping a ‘verbal diary’ for each day/week and allowing time to talk about the events up to a decided point of the day/week. Then recording these events in ‘reverse order’ or ‘priority order’ of what was special, significant or what didn’t work well, with suggestions for improvement. This all helps to build writing and communication skills; sequencing and chronological order is subtly introduced and reinforced. It gives the writing of the child meaning and focus, without rigid structure and writing rules. The child is able, to identify with this personalized writing, after all it is all about the child and his life activities.

Arguably, for the child, writing can be viewed as a fun aspect of learning because of the sense of accomplishment when a writing assignment is finished as along as the child was finding pleasure from it. Sometimes, reaching the end of a writing task, the heaviness of the atmosphere dissipates, with exhilarating sighs, signaling that the punishment has ended! However, what must be emphasized and established, is the development of pertinent communication skills and the discovery of new ways to facilitate enjoyment of the entire process. This latter part of the writing process can be the most arduous for the child, parent and teacher! Writing enjoyment cannot not be thrust upon a child; writing has to become appealing, and seen as a motivator for an intrinsic reward of just simply feeling good about self-achievement within writing. Therefore, careful thought and planning must be prerequisites for setting writing tasks.

Enabling the Child

Be alert to recognise the child’s true writing ability. A child’s ability is judged by the mastery of his spoken and written language. This ability defines the child as a person, who is on target with learning or who may require intervention to support success. Therefore, within the child’s writing sphere, very often, grammar and spelling mistakes override the actual content of the message being conveyed and opportunities for developing the child’s creativity and imagination can be lost if this focus is translated to the child, rather on his creativity. Therefore, ‘meaning and message’ should be separated from mistakes. Weaknesses in spelling and grammar can be adequately addressed; in short, the child’s imagination and creativity should be the goals to be fostered and highlighted, to maximize and realise progress in writing skill.

Encourage Self-Evaluation

Providing writing activities which both excite and challenge, will engender enthusiasm for writing; tasks which are outside of the child’s ability, scope and interest should be avoided. Scaling tasks to move from simple to complex enables better progression for writing. Support the child in making writing choices that will maintain a vibrant momentum but will not lead to burn out and disinterest. Tasks that are not pitched at the right level for the child produce boredom, which can be a huge challenge, ensure that activities are age and interest related.

Support the young writer to develop a feeling of trust in own abilities, qualities, and judgement. Help the child to build self-confidence. Have discussions about his written work, help the child to self-evaluate and self-assess, more importantly allow the child to assist in formulating the mark scheme for the writing task and then let the child mark his work, before the actual teacher appraisal. Afford the child the opportunity to engage in discussions to compare the ‘self-marked’ work with the teacher marked piece. Explain to the child any differences in the marks and the reasons why. Be prepared to reach a compromise over any valid assessment discrepancies.

Foremost, provide opportunities for the child to write in a variety of forms, letters, essays, stories, to name a few, and for varying purposes; to inform, persuade, describe, and for a different audiences, other pupils, friends, teachers, public figures, relatives, and businesses. Each form, purpose, and audience, requires differences of style, tone, approach, and choice of words. A wide set of diverse writing experiences, is of paramount importance to developing effective writing.

Empower the Child

Both teachers and parents have the power to help the child become a better writer. Writing is not a destination, it is a journey, which the child matures and develops through, over time. Learning to write is not an isolated feat, it encompasses making connections with other writers. The child should be encouraged to read the works of talented authors not merely for ideas, but for the writing skills that are involved in making a book good, skilful and enjoyable. Providing the child with a ‘literature base,’ is a crucial part of the writing process. This helps the child to grow in the ability to explain and present reason, within writing, increasing his understanding of what he has written, and how he can improve it, to explain to the reader in a simple and concise way what he is trying to convey.
Teacher and parent should ensure that the child is well equipped for writing. Writing supplies should be freely available, in the form of paper, diaries, notepads, dictionaries, books about writing, and an assorted collection of classic and good books; newspapers and magazines should also form part of this repertoire. Writing should be a priority but not a forced and restrictive activity.

Acknowledging Achievement

Charting the good progression of the child’s writing, brings about acknowledgement that should be featured where possible in the school’s newspaper or on the school’s website. Encouragement to enter national or international literary competitions, should feature prominently from teacher and parent, the child’s writing should be broadcast to as wide an audience, as possible to emphasise that writing is significant and highly valued.