shared writing · tier 1 · writing process

Predictable Barriers for Writers– and Some Ways Around

Several years ago, I drove around a “Water Over Road” sign in my oversized SUV with several children in the back, not all of them mine. The roadblock was not much of a barrier since there was plenty of room on the side of it. The water wouldn’t be a barrier either since my Sequoia could go through anything. The police officer on the other side was a bigger problem. He stopped me, scolded me, ticketed me, and made me a lot later than driving the detour would have. (I did fight that ticket on the grounds that the road wasn’t closed. There was water over it. I won.)

Just as there were barriers along my driving way, some I could get through and one I couldn’t, writers face barriers throughout the process. Identifying those barriers and teaching into ways through, around, or over them will help writers not only with their immediate process, but also with their future endeavors. 

Look for additional barriers that I will address in a future post. In the meantime, here are three I commonly talk to teachers about with a few ideas for navigating each one of them.

Generating an Idea

If a writer is working to:Then you might try:
Generate ideas(in any genre)Working to understand WHY, HOW, or WHERE does the student get stuck:
Is it only during writing? 
Do they use charts and tools?
Is it on specific days or at specific times?
Using shared writing where student is only responsible for a specific part of a writing piece.

Considering the relatability of mentor and demonstration texts students are experiencing. It could be that writers don’t see themselves in stories or as authors. Planning for Representation is a chart Kelsey Sorum and I created that is part of our book, The Responsive Writing Teacher which will be published in early 2021.

Providing a story starter, notes, outline, topic, writing plan, or other, leaning on the concept of backward chaining and considering where in the process a student gets stuck. 

Initiating Writing

If a writer is working to:Then you might try:
Initiate writingCueing the child to envision and verbalize what it looks like to begin writing. Never underestimate the power of picturing how something will happen!

Creating a list for the child of what they need to begin writing or how they need to do it. Keep that list on the child’s desk or in the writing folder. 

Creating an individualized process chart for the student enumerating what they need in order to get started.

Teaching whole class lessons on the structure of workshop. Many students might benefit from a set of shared expectations!

Maintaining Writing

If a writer is working to:Then you might try:
Maintain writingAllowing, maybe even encouraging, students to start new pieces– sometimes when they are done, they are done.

Interviewing student about the conditions that help them stay on task.

Reviewing the writing progressions and making sure that the task on hand is within the child’s independence level. Few people can maintain a task that is way too hard. 

Helping students understand how to self-monitor. Try spot checks for engagement. 

Considering physical strength and positioning. The following might help:
Writing tools- Flair pens or mechanical pencils change the pressure writers use
Changing position
Slant boards
Lying on the floor if possible

Building and reinforcing the use of an environment that fosters independence including but not limited to:
Demonstration writing pieces

Trying interval training for writing

I don’t recommend driving around barriers and through water, especially with other people’s kids in the car. (Although when those kids grow up, it could be a constant source of an entertaining story when they are sitting around your dining room table. #rememberwhen?) However, I do love to think about what’s in the way of young writers and the creative and effective ways to help them grow into confident, productive, effective communicators of stories and ideas.