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Reluctant Writer?

Homework time.

My son, a kindergarten student, hates homework. It is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad time of day.  He moans, he groans, he sighs, he makes excuses. Is he a reluctant writer?

Alex is reluctant to write sentences with his high frequency “popcorn” words, but he will eagerly grab paper and a pencil to create writing of his own creation, for his own purposes and audiences.

When his friend was coming over to play, Alex decided to make this picture for him. He chose to make it multi-pages and to display it in this manner. While there are no words, his illustrations convey meaning about what he hoped to do on the play date.

Just the other day, he asked me how to spell “Dear Diary.” I have no idea where he learned about diaries, but when he lost his favorite putty he felt compelled to make a diary entry.

He followed up with another diary entry:

Last week, during the spring vacation, we visited the aquarium. Alex wanted to create a book about the experience. He dictated and I typed, adding in images from the day. You can  read the book here.  The last piece of writing I want to mention is a note Alex wrote for the Easter Bunny, carefully written and folded inside a plastic egg: “Can I have a dog?”  (As no dog is planned, this broke my heart- another effective use of writing.)

These recent writings of Alex reveal to me what he understands about writing:

  • Writers write for real reasons.
  • Writers write for themselves and for others.
  • Writers write about their lives, like a day at the aquarium.
  • Writers write to remember.
  • Writers try to persuade through their writing.
  • Writing might bring a change you want or need.

I taught kindergarten for ten years before becoming a third grade teacher. I always felt kindergarten teachers had a very challenging task as writing teachers because not only are they teaching all the foundational writing skills (how to form letters, the sounds letters make, the difference between a letter and a word, representational drawings, etc.), they are teaching young children what it means to be a writer in the world. Not only how we write, but why we write.

As a kindergarten student, my son still needs to learn when to use uppercase and lowercase letters, the proper formation of some letters, and strengthen his letter/sound correspondence. He needs to learn how to spell his high frequency words with automaticity.  But is he a writer? I think of how he runs to get paper and pencil, makes cards and signs, books and diary entries, and I say, yes- yes, he is a writer and there’s nothing reluctant about it.

16 thoughts on “Reluctant Writer? Leave a comment

  1. I’m starting to count a lot more things as writing now that I have a kid who isn’t a miniature version of me. I think it’s okay to come to writing in different ways. As we know, there are many different aspects to being a writer.

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  2. As a K teacher, my heart is broken that homework is being assigned to our youngest learners. I think at this fragile time in their lives, writing should be authentic and not forced. After school, our youngest learners should be playing and having experiences that will become writing prompts themselves.

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  3. What a nice little glimpse into your son’s important work. So important he needed to record it. I started imagining myself back in my own kindergarten classroom and remembering little moments like this. Spontaneous writing. Purposeful writing. I love how you shared it with us today as a reminder that sometimes when we wonder about “reluctance” there might be more to the story.

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    • Kathleen and Betsy,
      Yes, before we decide whether or not a child is reluctant to write we have to decide what we are offering or allowing kids to write. I am wondering if kids (who don’t have Kathleen as a mom) recognize this valuable work as writing? Many parents and educators wrestle with this question and in turn, miss the opportunity to show kids what writing is and why we write. Without the why our work falls flat.
      I feel moved to share this video with you and others who visit this post.
      Michael Jr: Know Your Why https://youtu.be/LZe5y2D60YU

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    • Hi Deb! i was interested in the video you posted. But sadly when I tried to open it, it said that it was restricted and I needed permission to access it. Is there a “secret handshake” I need to know?

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  4. So I am left wondering… if I am facilitating writing workshop & my students are writing for “real reasons”, why am I assigning the sentences writing with popcorn words for homework? Is there really value in these homework activities we assign?

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  5. Great piece, Kathy! I love what you list about what Alex understands about writing. It is true K – college. Bravo to you and to Alex!

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  6. Such a great post. I wish for every elementary teacher in my district to read this. We are too focused on the item knowledge of literacy. It’s not about that – it’s about the authentic use of writing and reading in the real world. You made my day happy!

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  7. This is such an important post. It reminds us all of what counts in raising a writer – choice, authenticity, and purpose. And it shows how much we can learn about kids from their writing, how writing is an authentic form of assessment. I hope your son remains a writer forever! He is certainly off to a good start.

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  8. How many wonderful writing moments and surprises you have ahead with him! This made me think of how Kristine Mraz describes the play in her kindergarten, where children write signs or invitations or…because it fits their play and purpose.

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  9. Homework for kindergarten!! I think that’s overkill. If it’s killing your son’s pleasure, imagine what it’s doing to reluctant writers who don’t have the support that your son has. The types of writing your son is independently engaging in is what children should be encouraged to do at home and at school. If they must do those other tasks, limit them to school, but embed them in purposeful writing. We don’t want to kill the joy in writing and learning before the age of six.

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    • Norah–I agree completely! As a past Kindergarten teacher, this makes my heart sick!
      Now as a Literacy Coach, I continually work with the K teachers to stop worrying so much about conventions and just let their students enjoy writing.

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      • Thank you all for the comments and validation! I just want to be clear I love my son’s kindergarten teacher and he adores her as well. As a former K teacher, I understand the high expectations on both little ones and their teachers to reach a certain standard.

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