Teaching young people to write is a messy business. We ask them to express their ideas all the while juggling the conventions of spelling, grammar, and everything else that makes writing coherent. When asked to juggle so many considerations at once, it’s not surprising that the young writer may bog down, overwhelmed by the burden of wrestling writing conventions while trying to express their own ideas. For the emergent writer, multitasking is not a good thing.
Of course, becoming competent in using written conventions is a very important goal in learning to become a writer. Revision or editing can be viewed as the act of cleaning up the mess of a first draft. It is most meaningful when applied to the young author’s own writing.
But how do you learn to clean up the mess of a first draft if there’s little or nothing to clean up? In other words, without first generating a body of text, how can we expect young writers to engage in meaningful revision of their work?
The answer? Writing fluency. Turn students loose on a creative writing rampage. Free them of the constraints of conventions, so they can actually concentrate upon the joy of engaging the imagination to produce an original piece of writing. Yes, it may be ugly, messy, maybe even barely readable. But by turning them loose in creating a wild, untamed first draft, you have achieved some crucial goals.
1. You have gotten young writers to gain the confidence and comfort of applying their imagination to the written word. The more one does this, the better one gets.
2. You have enabled young people to experience the joys of expressing themselves through the written word. They may actually enjoy writing.
3. You now have a volume of writing to work with. All of those lessons on spelling, grammar, etc., will be so much more meaningful now that the young writer has a meaningful context within which to learn.
Obviously, some young people take to writing more naturally than others. However, I’ve learned never to underestimate the potential for any student to gain a sense of confidence and enjoyment given the right circumstances for writing.
It all starts with fluency– the foundation of effective writing instruction.