3 Modern Ways of Teaching Writing in 2021
Brad Kelly of The Writing Hedge spends his days helping teachers improve writing skills. Here are three mindsets you should adopt in 2021 to teach writing more effectively – and the eye-rolling obvious part of the solution (but more on that later).
For those of us who have been working away at improving how we teach writing in school for any length of time, it should be obvious by now that formulas can only take us so far. The search for a better teaching writing strategy is a well-worn path as program after program seems to fall short of its promise.
Why is that?
Simple. Our definition of writing is too narrow. Too many of us see writing only in terms of structure, sentence and syntax. While those elements are undoubtedly important, they are just not the first thing.
Thinking is. Ideas are. Writing is the expression of thinking and we had better take that fact seriously if we are to improve how we teach writing.
Here’s 3 ways you can freshen up teaching how you write in 2021.
1. Understand the one difference that makes all the difference
Teachers teach writing. Students write. That’s a big difference.
At The Writing Hedge, we think that experiencing the act of writing gives teachers an insight into the writing process that outsmarts all the grammatical correctness and structure in the world.
Why? Because when you write, you realise that there is so much more going on than sentence structure and syntax. In fact, I hazard a guess the terms ‘simple, compound, complex sentence’ or ‘nominalisation’ never pass through your mind when you write. We think you were wrestling with a big idea, trying to use the available evidence to hammer it into shape, to prove it, to bring order to it, to express it as clearly as possible using the writing tools at your fingertips.
Perhaps you were mainly concerned with content knowledge, slicing quotes and summaries out of the block of information in your head, pushing it into a paragraph with a cute linking phrase and precise vocabulary to shape your readers view on the topic.
If you are going to teach writing more effectively in 2021 – commit to experiencing the act of writing more regularly.
2. Understand that everything is happening at the same time
We have traditionally taught writing one dimensionally. We might stand up the front and give an explicit lesson on strong topic sentences, a paragraph structure or integrating evidence into a piece of writing.
But when we really consider what is happening in the writing process, maybe the better path to improving how we teach writing is to become conscious of all the moving parts. Let’s consider what happens when we write, because it is a complex, holistic skill.
First, how we feel is an important part of writing. Let’s call it the affective domain; the ability to summon our motivation, manage our distractions or overcome our frustrations during the act of writing.
Then, we have the location of useful information. Try being asked to write about the impact of interest rates on the US housing market and then locate information from the Bank of England; pretty soon you can see that the writing is going to charge off in the wrong direction. Or the student does not have the skills to read the y or x axis of the interest rate graph.
But the real superpower of writing is selection of evidence. What are you going to select to support an argument you have built (assuming you have such a strong handle on the topic you have an argument and have the architecture for one)?
Then, you need to express your ideas with a strong control of language; variety of sentences for rhythm, vocabulary for precision, key terms and concepts for context, evidence for fluency, linking phrases for transitions, and the list goes on.
But understand this one this – all of that, all of it, is happening at the same time.
3. Stop marking writing and start spotting vocabulary
Teacher need tools to teach writing effectively and get classroom improvement. So, hold your collective breaths for the eye-rolling obvious, number one tool that every teacher and every student to can start with today to improve teaching writing in 2021.
The thinking power that has to go into using words like ‘but’ ‘so’ ‘because’ and ‘however’ propels clear writing. It demonstrates that students have ideas. That they can counter or qualify an idea – ‘however’ – or extend an idea into the next part of the paragraph –‘therefore’.
Never underestimate the power of linking words. Because sophisticated writing is not long sentences and big words – it is linking ideas together. Check out more in our course Vocabulary that Spots Thinking or our other courses at The Writing Hedge.