I recently spoke to a fourth grade class about writing. The school is a public magnet school and the teacher was attempting to encourage the students’ writing skills. In Louisiana, we have what is called the LEAP test, a standardized test that students must pass in 4th and 8th grades in order to be promoted. The students take the LEAP every year from 3rd grade and up, but the results only count for the students those two years (although the results count for the schools in all grade levels.)
While the LEAP exam involves a lot of writing, meaning it’s not a complete fill in the bubble kind of exam, there is one section that tests the reading comprehension and writing skills specifically. Last year, this part of the test changed, so that the students were required to read a descriptive non-fiction passage and use the facts presented to them to write a fictionalized account of their trip to that location. Many of the students didn’t understand and so wrote stories about visits that didn’t include the elements presented in the story. Others understood but lacked the capacity to create their own story. This part of the exam soured writing for many of the students.
So this year the teacher decided to try to make writing fun, by letting the students keep journals and write about things not necessarily school related. During my visit, she also allowed the students to ask questions they wanted to know from a published writer.
A few years ago I spoke to the third grade classes at my youngest daughter’s school, another magnet elementary. Those students focused entirely on how to get published. They asked a few questions about the writing process, but mostly wanted to know how they could get their works out to the public.
The school I just went to, however, focused entirely on the writing process itself. They asked such questions as how do I start a story, how do I end it, where do I get my ideas, and question of that nature.
The kids seemed interested in everything I said. Some wrote notes. Some had follow up questions. Some wanted to share their own struggles with writing. All in all it was fulfilling to me to be able to encourage these 10-year-old aspiring writers.
I answered their questions, but also told them a few things I learned along the way. I told them that there might be adults in their lives who discouraged them from writing, not because they didn’t have faith in their writing or because they were trying to be negative, but because they were looking out for them and might think it’s too hard to become a published author or think it is a life full of potential disappointment. I told them to understand why these people might feel that way, but to never give up their dream of writing because in the end, it is worth it.
I also told them if they thought their work wasn’t good enough, to keep working at it, because nobody’s first draft is perfect. I told them there were three things they could that would improve their writing, three things they should always do no matter how good or how bad their writing was when they started.
First, they should read everything they could of the same type of work they wanted to write. Second, they should write, write, write, and write some more. Third, they should educate themselves, take any classes they could, read any books on writing they could, and never think they knew enough, because nobody ever really does.
When I left, I was satisfied that some of these budding young authors may have benefited from some of my ideas and advice.
I also realized I need to follow my own advice, by both reading more and finding time to write more. There's always room to learn and grow.