It’s nothing less than insanity that we expect children, the least experienced writers, to do what the world’s best writers don’t – edit their writing first. Careful writers get their ideas down first and they worry about editing and revising later. Adults are so quick to zero in on children’s spelling errors, when in many cases we know exactly what children are trying to say. I think adults focus on children’s spelling because it’s tradition. Spelling tests are what many adults remember about school. Also, most adults don’t know how to write but they do know how to spell or at the very least, they know how to find correct spellings of words. Overtime this inordinate fixation on spelling teaches kids a horrible falsehood- that spelling is writing. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Writing is a process
I often told my kindergarteners and 1st grade students that I would rather read a juicy interesting story with a few spelling errors than a boring story with perfect spelling. Was I letting my students off the hook? Was I lowering my standards? No, because I contextualized my statements and explained that writing is a process. We’re brainstorming now, then we get our ideas down, we think about what the most important things we want readers to feel or understand, and then we revise and edit our work so that it is ready to be published. I invited family members or other classes to attend our publishing parties. There was food and drinks. It was a big deal because writing, not spelling, is a big deal.
Writing requires a million different skills all at once
We underestimate or are unaware of the mental demands that writing places on young learners. In my first grade class I had six-year-olds for whom writing required them to be thinking about a million different things all at once. Imagine your teacher tells you to write a story about your trip to the park. That’s a piece of cake, right? Wrong! For some this writing activity may not require much effort, but for many children this simple writing prompt means requires them to consider many if not all ten of the following writing skills simultaneously:
1) Shape of letters
2) Spacing between letters
3) Spacing between words
4) Spacing between lines and words
5) Spacing between margins and the beginning and end of sentences
6) Spelling of words
7) Thinking about what they want to write
8) Thinking about what they want to write next
9) Thinking about whether what they are writing makes sense
10) Handwriting (Is their writing neat?)
Most literate adults do these things automatically when they write, which is partly why some adults get frustrated so easily by children who seem to struggle with simple writing tasks. Here are 5 helpful writing tips that you can use to inspire young writers and promote healthy development of their writing skills.
Tools that inspire young writers
1. Give children a special writing notebook (let them design the cover).
2. Always have children tell you verbally a story or sentence before they begin writing. Verbalizing their ideas helps children process what they want to write. It also helps them catch things that don’t make sense.
3. Write stories with children. If you go on a trip to a relative’s house, the store, hospital, park, zoo, movie theater, take time to write about it with children. These stories don’t have to be about extraordinary things. In fact, the more routine and familiar children are with the trip, the more they’ll have to say say about it.
4. Use the above personal word wall to help children spell words independently that are appropriate for their grade. Click here for sight word lists by grade (K-4) that can be used on the personal word wall. Only words from the list that a child doesn’t know how to spell should go on the personal word wall. If you use this tool, you won’t here these words every five seconds, “How do you spell…”
5. Encourage to make their stories juicy! When I say juicy, I’m talking about adjectives and details that make a story interesting and that makes a reader see, feel, or hear something. The following questions might help children make their stories juicier. How did that make you feel? What did you see? What did you hear? What time of day was it? During what season did this happen? How many times did you…?
6. Look in children’s favorite stories for ideas. Teachers call these books mentor texts. If a kid is thinking about how to start his story, take a look his favorite books start.