“As punishment I have my students write a response to an ethical question when they are done with their social studies test,” a colleague said during a recent professional development session.
I’d been asked to lead a discussion on writing in disciplines other than English, and I’d asked the attendees to share out the various types of writing they have students practice in their classes.
“That’s pretty much the only kind of writing I do in my class,” he said, “That’s why I’m here.”
I might have stuttered a bit as I caught myself from falling down. I guarantee my neck turned red as it does when I am frustrated.
PUNISHMENT?! Did I hear that right?
What does a writing teacher do with that?
Imagine if I sat in his history classroom and boasted that I punished students by making them learn the historical context of a text prior to reading it. Imagine if I made a disparaging remark about his content at all. The nerve.
Therein lies a big part of the problem with student writers. Many people, teachers included, think writing is boring, or too much work, or punishment.
Then, it’s left up to English teachers with a passion for the craft to push and prod and plead with students to put at least a tiny thought on the plain white page. Somewhere someone ruined that child for the written word, and we have to undo some damaging false notion.
Don Graves reminds us that children want to write before they want to read. I know this is true. My own children reached for their dad’s pen or the random crayon before they ever sat still long enough to read a book. The two-foot-tall art on the clean white walls of my brand new house was evident often enough.
Children want to write. We must protect that desire. Nurture it with freedom and ideas and time.
Shame on the teacher who ever makes writing a punishment.
And yes, in case you are wondering, I spoke my mind.
“I challenge you to never call writing a punishment again,” I said as he squirmed just a bit, “Students will write, and they’ll love writing. You have to be the model of what that means in your own classroom.”
I believe that with all my heart.