Motivation to Write

snoopy writing

(With credit and appreciation to the great Snoopy)

When a small child learns to walk there is no end of motivation. There’s the intrinsic kind – the child wants to go where others go, see things which are too high from a prone position, touch things that others can reach and generally be a part of the ‘walking world’. Then there’s the extrinsic kind of motivation – every attempt is applauded, there is visible delight from all around every time the child tries, whether or not they succeed. Failures as well as successes are welcomed with equal glee. perhaps as important, the child gets to learn from the feedback of their own body. Nobody sits them down and takes them in to endless detail about balance, body dynamics, energy etc. And nobody sets them up in artificial competitions where the quality, standards and speed of their walking are continually compared and contrasted with their peers. What wonderful conditions for learning – should any of us wonder that 100% are successful learners?

Cut to a few years later, a curious and enthusiastic pre-schooler, fascinated to explore the world around them, to learn about it, to understand it and to engage with it. Arriving at school for the first time they can be forgiven for believing that this is a place that will offer them endless opportunities to explore, to learn, to satisfy their curiosity. But, hold your horses! We know where this story goes and we know that for far too many children the ending is not a happy one.

Even before school, when being read stories, seeing books, the child becomes vaguely aware that we humans have a way of setting down the thoughts and ideas from inside our heads in a permanent code that enables us to share them with an infinite number of other people. To most, this seems like a pretty cool idea. Sadly, they are soon to lose their rose-tinted glasses.

Dull as dishwater sessions in the classroom making the same letter over and over, colouring in pictures of letters etc. would be bad enough. However, then they go home and are made to do more of the same there. All the focus and feedback seems to be on finding the mistakes, the faults, the ones done badly. Negative comparisons start to get made. Other children in the class may be praised for how beautiful their writing looks. other children’s writing may be considered beautiful enough and diligently mastered to deserve to be displayed on the classroom wall. For some, the torture comes from being expected to learn the capital forms, the lower case forms and then cursive/ joined up before anything else has really been mastered. This is like being expected to learn to run and hop at the same time as the child is still getting to grips with basic walking.

As the child gets older they start to hope that they will now get to use this code to express their creative, imaginative ideas, to weave magical tales and to share thoughts and knowledge. However, when they get the chance to write, their freedom is wrapped around with all sorts of limitations, they’re still conscious that the writing won’t look as wonderful on the page as some other children’s and therefore won’t get the same attention or praise. Worse, when it comes back to them, their piece of creativity will have graffiti all over it highlighting spelling errors, punctuation issues and their failure to use paragraphs properly. What happened to being praised for the effort? What happened to all that motivation to share?

Should we be surprised, in these circumstances, if too many children lose sight of the connection between these endless mechanical processes and the perpetual obsession with form and their motivation to share and express their ideas, the thoughts in side their heads in writing in such a way that they can be conveyed to others.

I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with parents of children between classes one and six/ seven who, when asked whether all is going well with their child’s learning, replies; “He/ she won’t write.” This sounds sometimes like a terrible damnation on the child. In the parent’s mind you can see the equation unfolding – won’t write – won’t learn – won’t pass or do well in school – won’t go to a good college – won’t have a good life – will fail to fulfil their potential.

There are things that can help (until we really get to grips with the processes in the school and home that do the harm in the first place). I’ve seen, first hand, the transformative impact for a child invited to orally tell a tale to an adult while they transcribe it, either on paper or to a computer. Then, the children were invited to select clipart and borders to decorate their writing. What came out was their ideas and creative minds presented in a way that was pleasing to the eye and that they were proud to share. I’ve also seen the wonderful impact from writing games and exercises that can free children from worry about how their writing looks. In such circumstances, all attention is on the creative use of ideas, none on spelling, punctuation, grammar or the mechanics of writing.

I write because I choose to write (sometimes a lot!), because there’s an audience. Yes, thank you dear reader – you are the motivation for why this blog grows and grows. You fuel my desire to share ideas and thoughts and to continually strive to do so in the most effective ways. Yet, for our children in school, all too often they feel like the only real audience for their creative writing is their hyper-critical, process-focussed teacher. This hardly fuels high motivation.

So, I share here an idea that I’ve shared with a number of parents, especially when they have talked about their children struggling to find the motivation to write. The internet, today, offers every writer a potential audience. For example, in the last twelve months, this blog has had visitor readers from 57 different countries!

This idea of writing online has been a big motivator for my son over the last 3-4 years. So, with his help I’ve gathered the following resources to provide a start for any student who wants to write for a real, live audience. There is enormous motivation to write something – a story, a poem or a piece of commentary and to put it out in to the public domain. Within hours, a student can potentially have feedback from peers all over the world. For a parent or teacher it’s a good idea to do a bit of research on the suggested sites. Some are limited to young writers over the age of 13, but there are a few that allow younger writers. The sites are generally all moderated so they are a safe place on the internet for your child. The contributors are encouraged to reflect on each other’s writing, as well as publishing their own. Some limit the amount each child can publish on the basis of points gained for critiquing the writing of others. However, these are vital skills in becoming a better writer and in understanding and handling the feedback that comes from others.

The links below also offer some useful starting points for the motivated student writer who wants to enhance and improve their skills, to hone their techniques and to attain higher levels of mastery in their writing.

Cool Tools for Schools – Writing Tools

Larry Ferlazzo – The Best Places Where Students Can Write Online – 40 Best Websites for Young Writers

For those interested, I’ve written before and shared my views on the teaching of cursive writing. If you want to read – type cursive in the search box at the top of the page.

Finally, I finish with a confession – I am a motivated writer. However, if I had to present you with a handwritten document every time I wrote, that motivation would evaporate rapidly. I have ugly handwriting (the product of Primary School teachers who tried to undo my obvious left-handedness!). Thankfully, technology means I don’t need to worry about such things. Instead, I rely on your critique on the quality of the writing as it conveys my message and my ability to express coherent views.


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