The reluctant writer label
“My son’s a reluctant writer.”
“I just don’t know what to write when I look at the page.”
“Maybe I’m just not a ‘creative person’.”
As a former classroom teacher, I heard this a lot from kids and parents. And I’ve definitely seen my share of reluctance to write. My own kid avoids it like his chores. But I’ve also been reluctant to assign him the label of reluctant writer. (Also, the word reluctant is starting to look really weird at this point.)
Starting from strengths
Rather than looking at what my son can’t do yet, I wanted to build on what he was good at. So what could I use? He’s an incredibly creative storyteller. Turns out he doesn’t hate writing. He just hates writing stuff down. So I decided not to focus on the handwriting aspect so much as the telling of a story. That can be worked on in other ways.
He also loves technology. Screens can be the devil, but sometimes I enjoy harnessing their addictive nature for my nefarious educational purposes. This was one of those times.
My kid also LOVES to talk. To anyone. Everywhere. I wanted to be able to use his social nature to help encourage his story writing. This would involve sharing his final product with an audience.
Tools for my “reluctant writer”
After thinking through his strengths, I thought about what tools I could use to support his needs: his motivation to get started, his difficulty in organizing his thoughts, and his hatred of handwriting.
To engage him, enter…play! In this case, digital play. When I taught in the classroom, I used an app that my students loved for storytelling called “Toontastic.”
Toontastic is super engaging with its 3D characters and imaginative settings. It helps kids organize stories into sections. They can also add mood background music. And it’s pretty intuitive.
So, I let him play with the app first. For a good long while. After getting used to the interface, he immediately jumped into creating. At first, his creations were a hodgepodge of characters talking and moving around with no clear plot. As a gut reaction, I wanted to help him plan out his stories in advance so they could be more organized. But this doesn’t take full advantage of the role of play as a teacher and driver of learning.
Instead, I let him play around and create whatever he wanted. Then, rather than using a graphic organizer to plan a future story, I worked backwards with him to see the structure in whatever he had already created. I created a packet of worksheets which show elements of a story, and we looked at what he made together. I didn’t do this with every story he made, but as he continued to use the app over time, I would use the packet with him occasionally to guide and organize his thoughts.
By examining his own stories, he was able to think more about sequencing, and his future work naturally became more organized. It’s also helped with his summarizing skills. When we ask him about a trip we’ve recently taken or a story he’s read, he’s naturally adopted the language of “first…then…next…last.”
Capturing the story
I wanted my son to be able to summarize what he had created in Toontastic through writing. But handwriting has always been a point of contention. From working with him, what I’ve noticed is 1. he likes things to be perfect, and 2. his mile-a-minute brain limits his patience. Handwriting seems especially hard for him first because his brain works so much faster than his hand. Also, any mistakes he makes upset him and completely derail him from the story itself.
Because I wanted to focus on story organization and summarizing, I didn’t emphasize handwriting in this activity; although, I will more in the future as he gets more comfortable with those other skills.
At first, we tried speech-to-text software, but it was not very good at correctly capturing what he was saying. Thankfully, my son types faster than he writes, and he enjoys typing. Through scouring the internet, I found an awesome tool that allowed him to record stories without the frustration.
Wrise is a computer application that actually reads as it is typed into. It also has predictive text. Because the computer reads the story as it’s typed, he can self-correct as he goes. There are also different voices included, so he is enjoying creating dialogue between characters and having it read to him with different voices. Wrise has turned out to be an awesome tool to record stories and to encourage typing and writing in general.
What’s the end goal?
One of the major perks of homeschooling is being able to truly follow your child at their own developmental pace. While I use Common Core Standards as guides and check-ins, meeting them is not my ultimate goal. Some of them, my child has already exceeded. Some he’s not close to yet. But my main purpose is to foster a true enjoyment of learning. I don’t want it to feel like “school,” where often lessons are detached from real life. Instead, I want him to learn and create because it’s important to him. Do I do that every time? Nah, there’s still stuff I drill (addition facts, anyone?). But by allowing my kids to learn content in their own preferred ways, I hope to create lifelong learners who pursue their own curiosity.