How to Get Students to Write Well

What are the best methods of getting students to write? Not just to write though, to want to write well. I have reviewed three scholarly articles to try to help me grasp how to get my future students to understand what they’re writing about, to get them to write it well, and to get them to want to write it instead of just fulfilling the assignment.

Two of the three articles make a solid point that the children need to be interested in the material in order for them to write well. Katie Wood Ray’s states in her article, “Why Cauley Writes Well: A Close Look at What a Difference Good Teaching Can Make” from the magazine Language Arts (Vol. 82.2, 2004), that one of the reason kids write well is because they like the topic. Ray’s article recounts how Lisa Cleaveland, an elementary teacher, gets her students to write well by letting them be their own authors with their own ideas. They get to choose their topic and they get to make their own works about what they want to write about. This is what makes them write, and through the process of writing they get better at the mechanics of writing.

Jill Dillard and William P. Bintz share similar reviews in their article “Seeing Writing Instruction Differently: Lessons with Lasting Impressions” also from the Language Arts journal (Vol. 82.2, 2004). Dillard is a third grade teacher who focuses on children who are behind in writing for their grade level. She struggled with getting her students to want to write, but after adopting the style of Donald Graves, which is to relate to the students personally so they want to share themselves with you and then have them write what they were telling you down, they were clamoring to write stories. Dillard and Bintz point out that having them write personal experiences makes an explosive start. It makes them want to write, the first step in the writing process.

Gregory Clark, on the other hand, writes about how the students need to participate in a collaborative group in order for them to write well. He doesn’t address how students need to want to write, his is a more assignment focused article. His article, “Refining the Social and Returning to Responsibility: Recent Contextual Studies of Writing” from The Journal of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (Vol. 48.3, 1997) is a review of books and articles on the subject of community writing for students. Clark’s whole point is his belief that students should learn to write in a group as well as individually. If students don’t learn how to write in a group they won’t have several necessary skills in their adult lives, like working well with others while still having your voice heard and being able to incorporate other view points into your own writing.

He also incorporates the internet into the end of his article, addressing its presence and how different in writing it is. Writing on the internet is social, yet disconnected from place when writing is usually deeply connected to place. If a student is writing about an experience, their landscape and common background hold a huge part of their tales, but that disappears for the most part in collaborative internet writing that can span countries. I love the fact that he addresses this because I feel that students need to learn how to adapt for internet writing in a world where the internet is constantly becoming more of an everyday occurrence. Learning to write effectively on the internet will help students learn how to adapt to other cultures while still making themselves known in a culture-less place.

Clark’s article isn’t a jem of understanding, however. He writes very thick for me, and I struggled to understand what he was saying in the most basic of sentences. He also didn’t focus enough on individual writing for me. I do find that writing in a group is very useful and important, but I don’t think it is everything. Students have to know how to write well on their own before they can go and write well in a group. I would much rather like my students to collaborate with other students and then to go and write on their own, so that they have the understanding of other people, yet are still showing me themselves and developing their own style of writing.

Lisa Cleaveland, the teacher in Ray’s article, agrees with that style. She constantly has her students talking about their works: what they want to write about, what they are writing about, and what they have already written with other students. I think this is a very useful teaching tactic. It makes the students writers while still letting them learn things they wouldn’t have thought of on their own. It is a continuing process of learning and writing.

Dillard and Bintz only have the students writing individually and they really stress personal experiences as their teaching method of choice. This may be because Dillard is teaching such young students that are struggling, but I find it to be a flaw. Personal experiences may get the students initially in to writing, but other forms of story telling and academic writing should not be neglected. Personal experiences can only take a writer so far before they start looping back on ideas, especially new writers. After the students initial response I would want to move on to further techniques, while still going back to experiences for reference.

Ray’s article is all about the story telling form of writing. While this is good for getting the students to write, I again don’t think that all other forms should be neglected. They should be incorporated so that the students become well rounded in personal and scholarly writing. Students need to learn how to write academically if they are to succeed through high school and college. After they gain a love of writing, there should be a few lessons incorporated that show the students how to write academically.
Clark is different from the other two articles and their teachers because he is focusing on upper division writing, not to mention he was reviewing several other works to help along his point. There’s not much background or personal connection in the article, though some of the articles and books he reviews do include that personal touch. Overall I found Clark’s article too hard to read with not output for me as a reader of his work. If I can’t understand the article, no matter what he’s trying to say, it’s going to be lost. Ray, Dillard and Bintz, wrote in an easy manner that I could understand. Dillard and Bintz’s article was my favorite because the history (of those in the article) it gave and the information of how to get students started in writing. Ray is where you can go to get an understanding of how to get students really into writing stories. And Clark is the technical man that stresses group writing.

I chose to incorporate Clark because I plan on teaching in the upper levels, and I chose Ray, Dillard and Bintz because they go back to the basics of teaching writing, and sometimes every teacher needs to go back to the basics.

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