Give them a reason to write – raising kids who care

I found this list on the kitchen bench. Was it planted? Was it a persuasive plot by our 8 year old to quietly convince us to get what she wants? Was it a clue to lead us to her other book (how to care for Guinea pigs). This is something to write about.

The ways to persuade your parents list is unprompted writing written in secret. Researched, listed and written out nicely. Then left in a place for us to read it. This is brilliant work… her persuasive approach is clever and if this works I predict that she will continue to write about things she cares about her whole life. (A bit like me). And it gets me thinking – THIS is the secret for motivating kids to write – they need an opportunity to write something they care about for a real audience.

When I taught English students a formal language unit (persuasive essays) I encouraged them to change the world. The assessment may have been for credits BUT we didn’t do it for the credits. We focused on the process and the purpose and the rest fell into place. We focused on what we actually cared about. We crafted our writing to make it matter. And it worked.

I like writing and can model the process forever. I wrote a rant about teaching kids about the dangers of posting online and the potential long term harms of digital footprints. It’s something I feel passionately about. They felt the rawness at its source and saw the raw and messy first draft. I talked about how I wasn’t happy with it yet and needed their help to fix it (sharing the power/co-constructing exemplars). I modeled the writing process of writing something that mattered without any edits, leaving it to settle and mature and then coming back with fresh eyes for editing. This process also modeled time management and the importance of drafting, shuffling, tweaking and critiquing.

Then we mined the internet for more opinion essays. More speeches. More activist poetry. Just more. We picked texts to bits and discovered why the good ones were good. We were objective, subjective, objective again and overall reflective. We explored and annotated. We argued. We raised issues we cared about. We debated. We got passionate. We wrote furiously the whole time.

One student wrote about women’s rugby and why professional female players should be paid more. Another wrote about seabed mining. They wrote about climate change, school uniforms, sex education and pollution. Racism, homophobia, exclusion, social media, bullying – stuff that mattered. So the writing came easily.

Then we looked for ways to make a difference. We thought about the audience, the best channel, the decision-makers and aimed our voices at them. (It was never about the assessment). It was about writing with passion for a real purpose. (Incidentally these essays were redrafted again into phenomenal speeches for the school audience).

We collated the techniques from our reading and internet mining and found some rules. Nothing was ‘given’ – techniques were discovered and adapted. And they wrote so well that they broke the bell curve. A high percentage of Excellence grades were rewarded even though it wasn’t about the assessment.

The secret is out. Kids will write if they think it matters. Beyond assessment, words are power.

And so back to that little list. Apparently our 8 year old currently wants Guinea pigs and she will probably get some. Her writing is persuasive after all.

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