As a teacher of young writers, I can relate to the unique struggles that accompany teaching reluctant writers, specifically boy writers. However, as a mother of a 13 (soon to be 14) year old boy, I can also empathize with the idiosyncratic battle of the boy.
We’ve all heard the saying that begins, “The best laid plans…” and we know how it ends: awry. Well unfortunately, we as teachers frequently experience these moments of amiss in our teaching lives. We’re innate planners. Minute to minute micromanagers. We endeavor to run a tight ship. But in reflecting candidly on our practice, we can ascertain the repeated path that our best laid “writing” plans take, especially with resistant writers. And all too often these unwilling participants, venturing down alternate routes, are comprised of a big heap of boys.
So what is it about the combination of boys and writing that mixes up the perfect recipe for teaching and learning defeat? A recipe that puts us on our way to losing the battle of the boys. How is it that we manage to engage these same complex creatures in climbing in and out, up and down, and all over the learning landscape terrain of our day, until we ask them to tighten their bootstraps and have their way with words? It’s when we round this forbidden corner, that they instantly signal the belay and without blinking escape the opportunity, descending down to the safety of the firm ground. Arms crossed and now unharnessed. Looking back up at us on our writing mountain, with heads turning left to right, over and over again affirming that they are not climbing back up.
We’ve all been there. It’s a helpless feeling. So the question, “Now what?” finds its way into the echoing crevices of our teaching caves. How do we overcome the barriers of these stubborn boy writers?
Being blocked out by boy writers leaves us feeling a little inadequate, however, there are pathways to experiencing a breakthrough with boy writers. Nonetheless, winning this battle does come with a catch…and there is one thing we simply cannot win without. But first let’s examine the keys to crossing over.
Be flexible and open to detours.
Only plan so far…leave space for wiggle room, inquiry, choice, and detours that will result at the same destination. When you are at a pass, become passive. Relinquish control. Don’t plan every step for students, or you will be defeated.
Give a good lead on the rope. Make sure harnesses are not too tight. Don’t over belay. Let choice guide which groove feet get nestled in for leverage. In doing so, sure-footedness will keep boys negotiating their moves up their writing mountain.
When you win a small battle, take a big bite.
Enjoy. Acknowledge. Celebrate. This will give the writer (and you) the energy to dig his heels back into the writing process.
Recognize that breakthroughs are overrated.
Many times we find ourselves let down after a breakthrough. Name breakthroughs for what they really are, posers. A breakthrough shouldn’t be confused with a victory, but it should be recognized as putting us in a good position to win the battle. We may have made progress, but we haven’t won the war. We must keep at it. Relentlessly.
Let them know that you want them to win.
Remember, boy writers are competitive by nature. The “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just have fun” approach probably isn’t going to work. Sharpen their tools, set them up to be successful and recognize that they can’t have fun unless they win…and you must ensure they will win.
Balance the equilibrium of expectation.
When they succeed vs. when they are ready to succeed. This isn’t meant to be a battle of the wills, but a differentiated model of learning. Learning is personal. Growth as a writer is personal. The writing process is personal. We all think and brainstorm, collect, rehearse, draft, edit, and revise in varied ways, utilizing different stages of the process at different points in the writing process. Sometimes our expectations won’t equal reality.
Know that where each writer ends up is often different than where we thought he’d end up.
Believe it or not, we aren’t always right. We don’t always have to be in control. We can experience success and witness students experience success in a situation that is contradictory to our initial “plan.” Be on the look-out for approximations of task and praise student efforts towards the target.
Disarm the reluctant writer of all writing negativity.
Empower them. Encourage them to bring to their writers notebooks what they’ve got. Reassure them that they will win because they have you.
Ok. Now for that one thing…
The one thing we can’t win the battle of the boy writers without is willpower. Drive. Want to. First on our part…then on theirs. I’m going to do it no matter what. I’m not going to stop because my purpose is serious. Our students are shouting- show us your will. Fight for us.
Willpower. Get your fight back. Shout -I shall. I must. I can. He can. He will.
We can’t hide behind pride and allow passive behavior to dominate. Business as usual in a time of war is not the solution. We can’t linger behind the appearance of good teaching, we must activate good teaching.
As educators we have the honor of wearing the experience of defeat. We have had kids in our class that have turned away. Challenged us. Gave us a run for our money. But we can’t make excuses for boys who won’t write. Who don’t write.
Don’t limit them. Defy that. Win anyway.
The unique thing about teaching is that one conversation can change a life. One conversation can change a writer’s life. If they know you are for them, they will succeed.
Be committed to winning the battle. Be committed to the climb. Show your willpower through intention, initiative, expectancy and innovation.
Be victorious over the battle of the boys.