by John Hardison (from gettingsmart.com)
I can’t even begin to quantify how many times I have been blessed with the challenge of working with a reluctant writer. During 14 years in the Language Arts classroom, I have heard “I hate writing” a thousand times. Sure, everybody loves those students who scan the writing prompt a couple of times just before their minds and hearts connect with the pens and bleed ink onto the paper in an effortless representation of creativity and mastery of rhetorical strategies. Taking natural writers to the next level is also a daunting task, but I will forever be grateful for those who stare at the paper with confusion and anxiety while hoping words will magically fill up the empty lines. Their apathy for writing shakes me to the core in such a way that leaves me scratching my hairless head and searching for any angle to prove how essential self-expression is to living. To me, life is writing.
How to Ignite Passion Into Reluctant Writers
Some of my attempts to ignite a passion for writing in my students have failed, and no doubt various students have left my class on the last day of school still detesting the writing process. Any teacher faces this reality at times. However, the one bona fide solution that continues to yield excellent results in our classroom is one rooted in common sense. When prompted by a student’s unintended verbal challenge in the form of “I hate writing,” I smile, take a deep breath, pull out a chair and give it my best shot.
“So, you hate writing, huh?” I ask. After hearing a courageous and honest, “yes,” I continue. “I want you to pretend you’re sitting on a front porch somewhere absolutely beautiful – near a beach watching the sunset, up in the mountains hearing rain tickle a tin roof, wherever.” I pause just before finishing the final touches on a canvas colored with Southern scenery, “And the one person you trust more than anyone in the world, a person who is a solid rock, a person you can tell anything to, is sitting right next to you on the front porch swing. You’re sipping on that ice cold glass of sweet tea, and you begin to talk about anything, whatever is on your mind. You don’t stop and wonder if your grammar is correct. You don’t stop and check your spelling. You just open up the tap and let it flow.” Usually by this time, I sense if my strategy is working, and whether it is or not, I still end with my best writing advice. “Simply talk to the paper,” I say.
How to Leverage the Dragon Dictation App for Reluctant Writers
Where students see empty lines on a paper, I want them to hear a voice – their own voice. This is exactly why the Dragon Dictation App works perfectly. Some students fight the physical part of writing but can’t seem to slow down when allowed to talk about the exact same topic. Think about it. Have you ever had a student in class who was always more than willing to give his impressive insight or opinion on any given topic only to clam up when you offered a silent writing session to the class? This need not be a problem with Dragon. Simply open the app on a tablet or smartphone and ask the student to talk. This technique serves as a kick-starter for the writing process, and a student’s confidence immediately soars once he copies and pastes his text into a writing app and views multiple paragraphs of a rough draft. The editing comes later.
Use the Tripline App to Write Everywhere & Anywhere
As my family so often points out, I am a nerd. I always want to put myself in my students’ shoes, so when possible I test all my theories before implementing them in class. Whether I am grilling burgers on the back porch, spending some quality time with my family, or riding a road bike in the North Georgia mountains, I feel like I am swimming in a sea of imagery. Every sight, every sound, every smell, every sensation is an invitation to fully participate in life and express one’s self. With this foundational belief in mind, I decided to experiment once again. I figured if students could see every present moment as an opportunity to express themselves, their love of writing would grow even greater. If they could “check-in” to the moment wherever they were and simply write about their experience, I knew they would believe in the power of self-expression.
To test my theory, I took my eight year-old daughter, my thirteen year-old son and his out-of-state friend to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. I politely informed them that at each stop I would complete the following steps:
- Take pictures with my iPhone of any interesting sights
- Use the Dragon Dictation App to talk about our experience
- Copy the unedited text from Dragon and paste into the “story” section in the Tripline App; and
- Send pictures and writing by selecting “check-in” via the Tripline App.
Each time I selected “check-in,” the Tripline website created an interactive, GPS-located map of our travels. Just like the diver we witnessed in the Ocean Voyager tank at the aquarium who was surrounded by whale sharks, manta rays, and other aquatic life, I felt immersed again in a sea of imagery, and I could capture each moment in words and pictures. By showing the pictures, writing and exact location, viewers get a sincere account of our travels. To make my experiment as realistic as possible, I assigned myself the following writing standards during our Georgia Aquarium trip: technical, narrative, persuasive, expository, and descriptive. Furthermore, I chose to keep our trip “private” until I returned home, logged in to Tripline, and edited my writing.
Our trip, and my experiment, was a resounding success. We had an absolute blast. Not only am I excited to jump back in the classroom and offer these tech writing tools to my students, but I am eager to create more opportunities that foster students’ passion for writing. One thing hasn’t changed, however. When I hear on the first day of school, “I hate writing,” I will be prepared.
I will smile, take a deep breath, pull up a chair, and say, “Want to talk instead?” Click here to join the discussion on Voicethread or comment below.