Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Unlucky Arithmetic for Teachers: 13 ways to raise a nonwriter

(This is a post from my blog Mana'o for Educators that I thought I'd share here) - Cathy

Did you have a journal? Were you a writer as a child? Did you lose that passion when you grew up? How long has it been since you, as an adult, have written for yourself -- not because you had to, or it was expected of you, or you were grading papers, but for the pure joy of writing?

Cathy Song, Hawaii's own "poet laureate" started writing at a young age. She says, "our family travels started my writing. I guess I was around nine years old when I decided I wanted to be the family chronicler." My own journey started with a Holly Hobie journal given to me when I was seven as a way for me to fill in the empty spaces left from my parents' divorce. My mother gave me a journal every year for the next 30 years.

Are we nurturing that passion for writing in our students? Or are we killing that passion with our focus on writing for testing, formulaic writing, and the unhealthy balance of reading first?

Choice Literacy, working off the text "Unlucky Arithmetic: Thirteen Ways to Raise a Nonreader" by Dean Schneider and Robin Smith came up with a list for teachers on sure fire ways that we, as teachers, can effectively kill the passion for writing in our students. Just some mana'o to think about.

Unlucky Arithmetic for Teachers: Thirteen Ways to Raise a Non-Writer

1. Tell children that writers write at desks, not under them and most certainly not on the carpet.
2. Correct all misspellings, including letters spelled backwards; Howe kaan wee reed mistaaks? Puuulease.
3. Squash the talk. Writing is for learning vocabulary and sentence structure. Talk is time away from thinking about their writing.
4. Absolutely, positively no writing-in-the-style-of another author. Children have to find their own voice.
5. Don't encourage drawing in writer's notebooks. They're for writing, obviously. If you allow drawing though, ignore the scribbles. There's no story there. Promise.
6. Once kids learn how to spell, throw out the markers and crayons. Only use pencil. That way, mistakes can be erased.
7. There is a time for reading and a time for writing. By no means mix the two. It can get confusing.
8. Limit writing on the computer. Serious writing only happens on the page.
9. Under no circumstances talk about the relationship between art and language in picture books. It's right there; they can figure it out, surely.
10. Lined paper is for writing, unlined paper is for drawing. Get it right. If you don't, who will?
11. Children are writers-in-waiting; you already know how to write so you don't need to keep a writer's notebook, they do.
12. Make sure children revise and edit on days set aside for revision and editing. There is a writerly plan - stick to it.
13. Avoid showing children your own writing (if you do it); they're more interested in published writing, not yours. Come on.

Want other ways to nurture the passion for writing in your students? Join us for the Lehua Writing Project summer institute. Send an email to Jeannine Hirtle ( or me, Cathy Ikeda ( Be nurtured, be validated, be a writer, grow writers.

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