So many times teachers wonder why kids can’t write. “We’ve taught them.” “We’ve showed them.” “They just aren’t doing it.” “Why don’t they get it?” As a teacher coach I frequently hear these comments not only from English teachers but from social studies, science, and even math educators.
The problem is students aren’t given enough time to think and process before writing. Yes, we give them pre-formed organizers, but those don’t work for every student. Let’s talk about that in a moment.
The bigger issue as I was discussing this week with a literacy-minded science teacher — and those are hard to come by — is that students need to be able to think and play with a topic in their minds on their own before we ask them to put pen to paper.
We push them into writing without trying to grasp ideas on their own. Thinking gives the brain an opportunity to get adjusted and absorb some of what they have just heard or read.
Students are so used to immediately being ready to respond that in my own classes or when I’m modeling for other teachers I frequently have to remind students to wait and think. When arms are in the air thinking has stopped. In a world of immediate action, our students are used to fast action. Hands up right away means kids are only thinking about what they are going to say — they are not still playing with the concepts in their minds. They are missing that depth of thought. Teachers need to push for depth; only if we push them will they become used to thinking and searching more deeply for answers — not the first response that pops into their head.
After that minute or two of thinking and even jotting a note or two — not sentences — about the topic, students need to further process.
Then when students have the opportunity to turn & talk, speak with their elbow buddy, or share with a partner or or small group, this interaction provides an opportunity for validation and hopefully an “aha” moment of concept realization. It adds additional thoughts to help them think through their own conclusions. But they have to have that moment of introspection or they just rely on the others for answers.
Share-outs are perfect formative assessment time. The teacher gathers information on each student’s contribution — or lack thereof — as well as the insight that is shared with their peers.
For the student who struggles in a subject area a sentence starter might help them think on their own. But they still have to have that deliberation time to consider the subject. We do our learners a disservice when we force them into writing before they are prepared.