How to Help Your Students Get Over Being Defensive About Their Writing?

When we try to teach kids how to write, you and I have both seen it dozens of times. We simply offer some helpful advice (or worse yet, we point out a mistake) and our child goes ballistic [ballistic is a simple term concerning motion and balls…but has come to mean suddenly angry!]. All we are trying to do is teach kids how to write.

Homeschool Child Not Listening

In teaching kids how to write, we’ve learned that we have to unravel their fears about the quality of their writing so they can receive some helpful input for their improvement. After all, writing is basically about trying, getting help, and doing a little better. Here’s what we’ve seen work with countless writing students over the years:

Show Him the Three Stages of Writing

The stages of writing are OK…GET HELP…MAKE IT GREAT

The goal is to stress that you don’t want a perfect paper, story, or sentence. All you want is something that is OK. In fact, ask them if they can write something OK. OK is where everything begins; you can’t start with perfect. The next step is to get help. When you are giving feedback to a writing student, just ask him, “Does this sound better?” When you share your idea he might say it does or he might have his own great idea. This is a powerful habit. Help him to settle into writing in 3 stages; OK, GET HELP, then MAKE IT GREAT.

Help Her Realize She is Not What She Writes

The idea here may seem a little esoteric, but it is really practical. Your student needs to realize that she is not what she writes. Her writing will live long after she is gone (if it is kept or published), so we already know she isn’t her writing. What she writes will have a life of its own and touch people even when she is asleep or not in the room. This is rather vital for a student to grasp. If she is what she writes, then she must write something that is ‘good enough’ to justify keeping. She’s thinking that if her paper isn’t good, she isn’t good. They call this an issue of identification. She actually thinks the paper says something about her…and it does, somewhat…it says that she is learning!

Once a student begins to grasp that she isn’t her paper (she was there before the paper was written), she is freed to look at it honestly. We call this the Principle of Separation (kudos to Robert Fritz). And, once a student begins to grasp that there isn’t a good way to start out perfect, she can start writing in 3 stages; OK, GET HELP, and MAKE IT GREAT.

Blessings to you,

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
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