What Makes A Good Writer?

What Makes a Good Writer via Wonder Teacher

A while ago I was visiting a school when I noticed a chart posted in a classroom. It said:

Habits of Good Writers

Good writers remember to…

1- Capitalize the first word in a new sentence.

2- Leave a space between words.

3- End sentences with punctuation.

4- Spell word wall words correctly.

5- Make sure the writing makes sense.

Hmmm… is that really what it takes to be a good writer? Four points about conventions and one for “making sense?” Is that the best we can offer children in terms of writing instruction?

I didn’t always love to teach writing. In truth, even though I have always been an avid writer myself, when I first started teaching I had no idea how to equip my students to become strong writers. In my ignorance and insecurity, I focused on the things that I could easily measure and mark with a red pencil: capital letters, punctuation, spelling, etc. I thought that if I gave my students a prompt and taught the mechanics, the rest was up to them.

Oh, how much I’ve learned!

“Good writing” is about so much more than conventions. “Good writing” is interesting and purposeful and captures the attention of the reader. It communicates clearly and effectively and uses whatever devices necessary to accomplish its purpose.

In my quest to improve my writing instruction, I’ve tried many different approaches and curriculum models: prompts, journaling, Six Traits, writing notebooks, project-based writing, and Writing Workshop. I have learned that there is a difference between a writing curriculum and a structure for teaching writing.

I know that changing one’s instructional practice can feel overwhelming. I’ve lived that struggle first-hand and want to share some of my “lessons learned” and tried and true practices. I will be posting more about it here, and will add the insights of several accomplished peers. However, for today, I offer three steps to take as you seek to improve your writing instruction.

1- Ask yourself this question, “What do good writers do?” Really- what do they do beyond grammar and conventions? What makes writing “good?” What do you love about your favorite books (or blog posts?) 😉 Make a list of the things that come to mind (similar to my list about teaching good reading from personal experience.)

2- Examine your current practice and identify the things on your list you currently teach well and the things on your list you would like to build into your instruction.

3- Set an conscious intention to improve your writing instruction and embark on a self-guided study. I will support you with posts here at Wonder Teacher in the coming months. I’ll share some information on the Writing Workshop format, will interview some writing gurus, and will recommend some of my favorite resources. However, I also encourage you to take one more action step: Think about your school or community. Is there a dynamic writing teacher in your building or district? Seek him/her out! Ask to observe in their classroom. Take a list of your most burning questions and see if you can schedule time to chat about their approach. Learning from my peers has always been my favorite (and most powerful) form of professional development.

Above all, please know this. Everybody, from the most inexperienced to the most accomplished, can improve their teaching practice. Let’s upgrade our writing instruction today!

Will you share your list? I’d love to know your responses to question #1. What does “good writing” mean to you? How does that translate into “teachable lessons” for our students? Post in the comments!

photo credit: Room 216 via photopin cc

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