Our school systems are structured around the simple plan that students learn to read for the first few years and then they read to learn. This basic strategy has been so ingrained into the psyche of educators that it is rarely questioned, but it may be time to reevaluate it to take into account the increased use of educational technology, changes in what we perceive as literacy, developments in our understanding of learning styles, and how different young minds work. Before any review, one step we can take is to encourage young learners to produce more creative writing and to use their devices to express themselves in text.
The ability to read in any language, and especially English in the US, is essential for success in school and probably in life, but writing is just as important. Of course, the two are interdependent, but all too often, young learners are not given enough time nor the explicit instruction needed to develop their writing skills. By experimenting with their creative writing, students will understand more about literary devices and their reading will improve, as will their comprehension. Overcoming the fear of starting to write on a blank page or screen is in itself a major milestone that can open the floodgates of opportunity to writing persuasive essays, lyrics, research papers, poetry, emails, novels, letters, reviews, and reports.
Not only does writing boost memory and encourage imagination but it also can help children understand their feelings, deal with trauma, and allow their voices to be heard. For many people, it’s far easier to write about emotions and feelings —be it on paper or a screen—than to talk about them, and sometimes the very act of putting experiences and upset into words is enough to start the healing process. Writing is a very valuable tool in the social–emotional learning process.
Timetables, curricula, and literacy targets restrict many teachers’ ability to allocate the time and resources to writing that they may desire. Far from being a dying art, writing is probably more popular now than ever, so one way to encourage students to write may be to capitalize on the texting obsession and ask students to text more elaborately. Predictive text can be used for guidance as long as students are made wary of its pitfalls and encouraged to check suggestions.
Traditionally, writing instruction follows reading instruction and is not given the same attention, based on the presumption that good readers make good writers, which is often the case, but writing is more proactive and can change lives in different ways from reading. It’s a vehicle for expression and creativity with endless potential that deserves more emphasis in our schools.