Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
Like many other people, my experience of writing as a student was about essays, taking notes from a blackboard and on occasions, having to write out hundreds of lines. For me, it wasn’t just the writing of lines that felt like punishment. These days, I enjoy the process of writing because it has meaning and purpose. Perhaps one of the reasons that one fifth of Year 9 students did not meet minimum writing standards in this year’s NAPLAN may be because many young people see writing as a chore rather than a craft. What do we do about this?
We need to recognise that our students are living in a world where very few people with access to technology write by hand these days. Invitations and birthday messages are sent electronically, shopping lists are typed onto phones and postcards have been replaced by photographs on Instagram or Facebook. We even have apps to correct our grammar and spelling! While it has saved us time and money, we are losing the opportunity to model ‘writing behaviours’ that are really important for young people growing up in a digital world.
Teachers will often say that one of the biggest challenges is being able to develop students’ ‘dispositions’ for writing. These include being able to take risks with ideas and using more advanced vocabulary. We know that students develop a love of writing by writing about something they love. One approach in schools is to use the students’ interests and passions as the entry into writing. When students are deeply engaged in the process, they tend to put more effort into how they write.
There are also simple things parents can do to encourage writing at home. For example, spend time talking to children each day because oral language is the basis for developing and planning written responses. Set up comfortable writing environments at home with a desk, paper and pens/pencils so that young people have somewhere to create. Encourage them to write fun stories, the weekly shopping list, make Christmas or place-cards for the table or create a digital book of the last family holiday. There are also opportunities during school holidays to attend writing workshops.
The great American writer, Mark Twain said it best: ‘Write what you know’. The way in which we craft a love of writing is to provide today’s learners with opportunities to write often about the interests, ideas and issues that have meaning for them.
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta