Rome was not built in a day. Neither is a good story written in a day, let alone within an hour.
Yet every year, in every school, thousands of students are being graded on a piece of writing that they have to produce from scratch within an hour.
This has often left me flabbergasted.
Authors take months, even years to plan, draft, edit and rewrite their stories before they can finally be published. The famous Dr Seuss said, "I know my stuff looked like it was rattled off in 28 seconds, but every word is a struggle and every sentence is like the pangs of birth." and "The Cat in the Hat ended up taking well over a year." (Seuss, 1941).
So, why do we expect children to squeeze out a story, complete with a captivating beginning, interesting problem with a climax and a perfect ending, in one sitting?
Moreover, how interesting a story is, is totally subjective. If the teacher who is marking your composition likes your story and style of writing, you might get a higher grade. If he or she is not impressed with your composition, you might receive a lower. The only objective areas are grammar, spelling and punctuation. These are where students can work on to have a more or less "guaranteed" minimum score. However, grammar, spelling and punctuation form only a part of the overall composition grade.
No wonder kids are being taught to memorise chunks of texts, good phrases and model compositions, because, honestly, who on earth is able to produce an original and captivating piece of story in a single draft, within 50 minutes?
Friends who are Secondary School teachers have remarked that they were 'put off' by students' writing which were full of clichés. They were surprised that primary school kids learnt to write composition by memorising phrases and model compositions.
A concerned parent addressed this issue in an open letter to the Education Minister. She wrote:
"Many teachers today are told to mark the language of a composition based on how many "good phrases" are used. In my son’s school, a commercial book of good phrases is part of the syllabus and the kids are told to learn these phrases, even for spelling. These phrases are often so bombastic and pretentious that nobody in real life would actually use them."
How do we want to teach our children to write?
I am not for teaching children to write by copying or memorising model compositions and bombastic phrases.
I believe children should be taught to write, from scratch.
Writing is a lifelong skill that is needed even when kids grow up and enter the workforce. They should learn to write not just for the sake of doing well for a composition exam.
Many have lamented that it is difficult to teach kids to write well. I agree. It is one thing to get kids to reproduce a model composition to score for an exam, and another to get them to be motivated to write and enjoy the process of writing.
These are some ways we can get our kids started on their lifelong learning journey of writing:
1. START WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG
I believe children are born to write! Look at a toddler. Once you hand him or her a pencil, he goes scribbling away. The best years to get children to write and enjoy it is before their schooling years. There is no pressure of writing for tests and exams. Let your preschoolers write whatever topics that interest them. Get them a journal or notebook. Let them write daily, if possible. At this stage, their writing does not have to be perfect. They do not have to write draft after draft. The goal is to let them enjoy the act of writing, even if they are simply scribbling.
2. LET THEM WRITE IN CONTEXT
Composition topics in school seem to revolve around freak accidents, tragedies and mishaps. However, most children have not personally experienced or witnessed a road accident, kidnapping, fire and such. Let the children write about their personal experiences and topics that interest them.
3. GIVE THEM OPPORTUNITIES TO WRITE MORE
Survey has shown that children do not spend enough time writing in school. One of the keys to teaching kids to write is for them to spend more time writing. I agree that children are not spending enough time writing in school. The onus is now on parents to get their kids to write more at home.
How do you get your kids to enjoy writing? Share with us in the comments!