False Confidence and the Conforming Young Writer

I’ve just returned home from an incredible week with writers and teachers from Chappaqua Central School District. They hosted a Make Writing Pop-Up event that brought all of us into a shared community. Kids wrote from 8:30 until noon, teachers engaged in lesson study around and among them, and we reserved the afternoon for professional conversations and learning.

I left with a spinning head, a full heart, and a reminder of this simple truth: It’s one thing to write a book that others appreciate. It’s quite another to bring that book to life inside of their schools. Inviting teachers into a make writing workshop in order to study kids and one another in action remains my most gratifying work.

When I meet teachers for the first time, most are eager to know exactly how making and writing connect. This is new thinking, and while I’ve been steeped in it for quite a long time now, each discovery is new to me as well. I’ve shared my own findings here before, and I plan to unpack them further one post at a time over the next two weeks. In short, I find that making motivates, instigates, and elevates writing. It also inspires writers to be far more innovative.

I learned much about motivation from my earliest work with resistant writers: Kids who knew how to write but claimed to hate it so much that they refused to. Every time I asked an exasperated student what they would rather be doing if they didn’t have to write anything at all that day, they told me they’d rather be making. They didn’t use those words of course—this was over a decade ago now—but the activities that most interested them involved some kind of experimentation with loose parts and stuff that looked like building. This trend continues, ten years later.

Something else: When resistant writers  spoke about those alternate interests, they came to life: They lifted their heads, looked me in the eye, and owned their learning and their work. This isn’t at all how they presented when confronted with paper or screen. And when I revealed great interest in their maker lives? They used many, many words to describe their projects.

I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if I just let these kids who hated writing so much work on the stuff that mattered most to them.

So, I tried, and a whole bunch of interesting things began to happen that I’ll say more about in the posts that follow. In the beginning though, it was all about motivation: Letting kids use making as a gateway to writing. I wrote about this in my book, and whenever I work with teachers on the ground, they talk about this simple shift and how it’s changing their practice.

I’ve learned more since publishing that book though, and this is the greatest thing: Making doesn’t simply motivate resistant writers. It motivates conforming writers as well.

These are the kids who are well practiced with certain forms and capable of pounding them out quickly and proficiently. These are the kids who often develop false confidence about their writing skills, too. They think they write well because it’s easy and they’re high performing. They believe this makes them powerful, and it might, inside of the four walls of certain classrooms. They don’t know that beyond those walls, influential writers are more than mere masters of print, though. And they don’t distinguish form from medium. That is…..until the other kids around them start integrating making and writing in ways that engage real audiences.

The most important thing I’ve learned since writing Make Writing is that resistant writers aren’t the only ones we need to motivate. Conforming writers need to be challenged, too. They need to be given permission to distinguish form from medium. Making serves them well, too.

I’ve been using this image in my face to face sessions with teachers, and I thought to share it here.

We’ve been using it to rethink unit design, in light of these discoveries. What I’m noticing isn’t nearly as important as what you’re noticing, though. I hope you’ll share your thinking and your work. Jump into the #MakeWriting stream on Twitter if you’re looking for like-minded friends. Join us on Facebook too.  I know this makes designing a unit of study just a tiny bit more complicated. I’d love to talk this through with you.

FormandMediumFinal

 

 

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