Teaching Reluctant and Remedial Writers in the Inner-City January 31, 2010
In the inner-city of Los Angeles there are many “year round schools.” On quite a few of my vacations I have taken over classrooms that were “without a teacher.” These are classrooms where others “did not” or “would not” stay. They are challenging. They contain many, many reluctant and remedial writers.
I have experienced these “extreme teaching situations” in both inner-city elementary schools and inner-city middle schools. No, I have not taught high school. (My guess is it is easier than middle school. It would almost have to be.)
A huge task and the main key to classroom management in these situations is you have to get the kids working. If you really want to pull the class together you have to get the kids writing. If you want to make it a “normal class” you have to get the kids writing… and it has to be thoughtful work that they take pride in.
In these middle school situations… there are some students who are reluctant to even pick up their pencil.
Can You Draw a Circle? “No. It’s too hard.”
Here is an example of reluctance. It involves a middle school student in one of the situations described above. We were drawing a rather complicated multistep illustration. The illustration starts simple enough. “Draw this circle.” He wouldn’t. “It was too hard.”
Now I assumed… it was not the circle that was too hard, but it was the aspect of the following steps that made this student reluctant to even start. I ended up having a student come over from another class and help him draw circles. That was the last time this student would not start.
So part of the solution is you need to motivate students to “begin.” They cannot give up before they even start.
A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step.
Lao-tzu (c 604-c 531 bc)
Then it’s Step-by-Step
With a lot of the writing instruction reluctant and remedial writers think, “Stop with the words. Just tell me what to do. Make this a “how-to” and not a cryptic message.”
When you tell these reluctant writers in clear and simple terms “how-to” … they will do it. No one likes to fail. Kids and adults alike will not even begin something if they know they are going to fail. “No. I’m not going to do that… because I don’t understand how to do that… and I’m not going to do something that I just know I am going to fail at.”
For many people this will remind them of how they feel about singing, public speaking, dancing, or sports. This is how these very reluctant student writers feel about writing.
The solution here is to break down the writing process into manageable steps… while also maintaining student interest. With these very reluctant writers, if you do not tie all the steps together they will lose interest or give up.
These students do not want “information.” They want “how-to.” If it does not connect you are just giving them information. They don’t want that. They already have heard that same “information” a thousand times. “How-to” means it is all connected to an end result.
Middle School and High School Reluctant Writers
If you start by saying exactly what they have already “heard a thousand times” these students will not be interested. “We know that already!” The truth is they do know it… they just don’t get it.
I’ve been getting more and more letters from middle school and high school teachers and parents asking if the “Pattern Based Writing” program will work with their remedial and reluctant writers. The answer is… YES.
Is it going to be too easy? No. This is not a childish writing program. The fact that it works with 3rd graders from the inner city just means that it’s effective… not simple. Older kids will not be insulted by the language or the ideas.
Most of the program is simply approaching all the ideas they don’t understand in a way that will make sense to them. This is a “how-to” system.
In a Perfect World
In a perfect world we would not have reluctant or remedial writers in middle school and high school. My honest (and maybe biased) opinion is that “Pattern Based Writing: Quick and Easy Essay” is the solution.
In good conscious I have to call “Pattern Based Writing: Quick and Easy Essay” remedial for middle school and high school. Why? Because if it is used in elementary school they will be FANTASTIC WRITERS in middle school and high school.
The questions to ask are:
• Are your students reluctant or remedial writers?
• Has other methods failed them?
• Are you planning on doing exactly what has not worked already for these kids?
• Is the language you are going to use to teach them writing boring and tired?
• Do your kids say, “We already know that?”
Here are just a few of the problems middle school and high school teachers and parent have written to me about:
• My students don’t even write in complete sentences.
• My students say the writing prompt is stupid and they won’t write about that subject. When I let them choose they can’t think of anything to write about.
• My middle school students don’t write in paragraph form. I’m shocked and am not sure what to do because… they are in middle school. Why don’t they know this?
I have had great success in the most extreme middle school classrooms that one can imagine. The program is transformational for these struggling students. No, I have not taught high school… but I have seen high school writing that I knew “Pattern Based Writing: Quick and Easy Essay” would greatly improve.
Remember, there is a 100% “no funny business” money back guarantee… so be sure to check out the writing program on the main page. Don’t be worried that the pictures show some kids who may be younger than your students. The program will make your mind spin at times… and then when you see how the entire puzzle fits together… there will be clarity.