Why Teachers are So Afraid of Teaching Writing (and Simple Solutions to Conquer It)
As a literacy coach, I get asked myriad questions in any given week. How do I fit in all my small groups? How do I make a nonfiction read aloud as engaging as a fiction one? What would shared reading in the upper grades look like? What is this data telling me? But hands-down, the question I’m asked more than any other is something about writing. Almost every time, it comes down to the fact that teachers are afraid of teaching writing, so they don’t know where to even begin.
This fear comes from one place–not knowing how. But there are many reasons that fear sets in, and it’s not our fault:
- This isn’t usually taught in teacher prep programs. Sometimes, but I think this is very rare.
- Most of us were just given written assignments in response to something, but not taught the process of writing.
- Reading tends to be the thing that gets prioritized in schools, so very little PD around writing is provided.
- Many schools provide few to no resources for teaching writing…or the resources that are provided are hard to navigate with little guidance provided.
- When we read other people’s writing, it’s always in finished form. We don’t see what’s behind the curtain–the messy, messy process that went into it.
- We don’t write ourselves.
I need to clarify here: I’m not talking about the granular part of writing like sentence expansion and conventions. Those are just one small part of writing. When I talk about writing, I’m talking about the whole process: idea generation, organization, word choice and elaboration, understanding audience, revision, and editing. I’m talking very big picture–the parts that make so many teachers afraid of teaching writing.
I would bet money that you nodded your head to more than one of the above statements. I don’t think it’d be much of a stretch to say that most likely, almost every one of them hit home for you.
Most of these things are completely out of our control, but two are not. And they’re actually the most important two.
If you’re afraid of teaching writing, but know how important it is for students, read on! I have a few easy, sure-fire ways to overcome this fear.
We can’t go back in time and demand that our teachers show us how to write. We can’t get around the fact that almost every state has some version of a third grade reading law, and that because of this, every district is going to scrutinize only reading scores (even though writing goes hand-in-hand with reading!). We shouldn’t have to purchase our own curriculum that will guide us through–and there are very, very few out there that even do justice to writing instruction.
But all is not lost. We can completely control two things: our own learning and our own doing. And these are the very most important.
There are many professional books out there all about teaching writing. Matt Glover and Carl Anderson have a new book all about it called How to Be a Better Writing Teacher. Anything these experts share about writing is GOLD. Anderson also has a very informative blog that I encourage you to visit. Glover also has a plethora of resources. His book Craft and Process Studies is amazing. He also has an incredible website, full of tips, videos, and many webinars he’s done together with Anderson.
Melanie Meehan is another guru I’ve learned from for years. Her newest book, Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Writing is full of ideas and advice that will deepen your understanding of writing. Meehan is also part of the team that makes up Two Writing Teachers, an excellent resource for writing, including a great podcast.
And although it’s old and very long, Calkins’ Art of Teaching Writing is absolutely foundational to understanding authentic and powerful writing instruction.
There are even great podcasts out there to help you deepen your understanding. My colleague Melissa Morrison’s Get Your Students to Write is straight to the point and bite-sized. Amanda Werner’s Empower Students Now podcast is fantastic for intermediate and secondary teachers.
Learning more about teaching writing is something that’s totally within our control. Learning more about it is one of the very best ways to combat the feeling of fear about teaching writing. There are a plethora of resources at our fingertips!
In the list of reasons why teachers are so often afraid of teaching writing, I mention that we rarely do it ourselves. I’m talking real writing, remember–the whole process–not just a model of a response to reading or examples of ways to combine sentences. Nor am I talking about a formulaic, hamburger or Oreo graphic organizer or a provided prompt.
How often do you sit down with pen and paper (or keyboard and blank screen) and just…write? How often do you sit down to do what you’re asking your students to do? Without the help of AI?
If you’re like most people, that answer is probably never.
And that, my friend, is one of the biggest reasons you have become so afraid of teaching writing. If you don’t live it–if you don’t go through the hard parts of the process–all the thinking work–then you’re going to have a very difficult time teaching it.
Writing, like everything we do, takes practice. Just like cooking, playing a sport, driving, reading, and solving math problems.
Here’s the great part, though. You don’t have to do it very often. Even a little bit goes a very, very long way.
So take a look at the rubrics your students are responsible for using. Take a look at your state writing standards.
Then, sit down and try it.
I think the very best time to try this out is over a break. Holiday and summer breaks are the perfect time. Why? Because you’ll quickly see that you need a clear mental space to do this, and you’ll need time. It’s not an automatic process (yet). You need time to flesh out your idea, draft, redraft, and try again. The first day you try it will be the hardest. Every time you come back to it in the next few days, until you reach the point that you think you’re done, it gets easier and you’ll be ready to try out something different to make it better. And each time, your confidence will grow. You’ll need 20 minutes or less to do this each day until you’re done. That’s it. Very little investment for massive benefit.
Even once or twice a year doing this work will make you an infinitely better writing teacher, because what you did to go through the process will stick with you. You’ll be able to explain and model how to write better than ever before, and you’ll be able to respond to your students’ needs in authentic ways.
If you take the bull by the horns, I promise, your fear of teaching writing will go away. But to echo the wise words of Nike, you’ve gotta get in there and just do it.
So I challenge you. What’s one thing you’ll do to learn more about teaching writing this school year? When will you carve out time to do it? I’d love to hear about it–I can even be your accountability partner or help you along the way! I’m here for you, because I want you to love teaching writing so that your students will love being writers themselves. Simply email me at [email protected] or reach out for a coaching call!
Who is Coach from the Couch?? I’m Michelle, a 24-year veteran educator, currently a K-5 literacy coach. I continue to learn alongside teachers in classrooms each and every day, and it’s my mission to support as many teachers as I can. Because no one can do this work alone. I’m available to you, too, through virtual coaching calls!
Or, consider joining my Facebook community–a safe, supportive environment (really!) where you can ask questions, learn ideas, and share your thoughts among other literacy-loving educators!
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