you don’t have to shut up and sit down

“Jeff’s friend and colleague Linda Fisher likes to joke that we spend the first few years of a child’s life teaching him how to walk and talk, and the rest of his life telling him to shut up and sit down. This strikes us as the way schools also work. We spend tremendous energy helping kids learn how to read and write, then the rest of their school years constraining how they do so.”

–Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael W. Smith, Going With the Flow: How to Engage Boys (and Girls) In Their Literacy Learning

How can we support our kids without constraining them? How do we help them stand up and say what they want to say?

12 comments… add one
  • jill Mar 19, 2011 @ 6:59

    Thanks for the great sentiment and the wonderful link – just read through chapter 3 of their book. Great examples of how to really do inquiry learning in the classroom.

    • patricia Mar 19, 2011 @ 13:26

      It’s excellent information, isn’t it? Thanks for reminding me that chapter 3 is viewable via that link. I didn’t write more about the book itself, because it’s written for classroom teachers, rather than homeschoolers and parents. But honestly, any parents who want their children’s learning to be driven by personal questions and wonderings could learn from it, and tweak it for their own use.

  • Carrie Pomeroy Mar 19, 2011 @ 21:02

    Patricia, I just had to share a little success story related to this idea of kids being driven by their own personal motivations to write. As you know, I’ve fretted some that my eight-year-old son isn’t writing very much. This week, he designed a board game with his Legos, and he dictated the game rules and instructions to me. But at one point, he got another idea of something he wanted to add to the rules, but I was busy with his sister. He sat down and wrote a page of instructions with LOTS of invented spelling, all capital letters, and no punctuation. And I was overjoyed! It was the most he’d ever written on his own, and once the weird spelling was translated, the ideas themselves were complex, clear, and well-organized. The piece had purpose and an audience. He also revised his writing and his game based on what we found out when we tried to play it–real world motivations for revision!

    So our family is doing things backwards in light of more conventional education–most kids, I think, have to start by being drilled on the basics of spelling and punctuation and may not have much of a sense of purpose and audience, let alone a compulsion to share a particular idea through writing. My son has a sense of purpose and I hope that purpose will gradually inspire more work on the basics.

    I still wish his spelling and punctuation were more “up to grade level,” but as a former college writing teacher, I’m thrilled to see that he already has a sense of writing as a way to share information with an audience who will need that information to use his game. So often, writing in academic settings doesn’t have that sense of purpose and information sharing. I’ll keep you posted on how things progress!

    • patricia Mar 21, 2011 @ 15:56

      Huge hooray, Carrie!

      I love your analogy of “doing things backwards” in regards to writing. I’ve never thought about it in quite those terms, but that’s just the approach I’ve been advocating here. Writing because you have something to say, and a reason to say it is what really matters. Everything else flows from there. All that other “stuff” like spelling and punctuation will fall into place over time, because those are means to that self-desired end. (And I’ll bet you know, deep down, that you’ll laugh at your current grade level concerns one day. If B. is wanting to write at eight, you’re ahead of the game.)

      I have to say, the “mom’s too busy to write for me” trick got all three of my kids writing on their own initially. Not that I ever did it on purpose, but you know, moms get busy! And eventually what the kid is burning to get on paper outpaces his patience!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. It made my day.

      • Carrie Pomeroy Mar 22, 2011 @ 12:25

        Patricia and Rashmie, I’m glad my story hit a sweet spot for you both. I appreciate your stories so much, too.

        I still have to say that B. really doesn’t show THAT much motivation to write on a day-to-day basis, and I would love for him to write more often, but the experience the other day gave me a little glimmer of hope. With all his learning, whether it was reading or learning to swim, he has tended to wait, watch, bide his time, then leap in and do things fairly easily once he gets going. It’s not easy for him to do something as laborious and messy as writing and spelling, where he can’t get it “perfect” or do it easily right away. I was pleased he took the risk.

        I do think your blogging about dictation, especially the entry “They won’t all want to write stories” has helped me see the value in the more process-oriented writing that B. is more interested in. Thanks so much for the support and encouragement. It’s huge.

      • patricia Mar 22, 2011 @ 17:50

        I certainly didn’t mean to imply that since B. has taken on a big piece of writing once, he’ll do it from now on. Occasionally you’ll hear of a kid who becomes an avid writer after a single success. But more often, the child’s desire to take over is much more gradual. With my own kids, it was very much a fits-and-starts sort of thing: they’d write a bunch over a day or two, and then wouldn’t want to do it again for a while. With Lulu and T, they both wanted to keep offering dictation for quite a long time, while writing on their own, occasionally, when they chose to. T still likes to dictate, but he’s writing more and more himself these days.

        It’s hard not to compare homeschooled kids with school kids, who typically write a fair amount each day–although that “writing” is often of the worksheet variety. Even if it seems that kids are writing only sporadically, the effects are cumulative. A kid who writes rarely, but does so because he wants to, is just as likely to become a proficient writer in a few years as a kid who writes daily, but doesn’t care about what he’s writing. If fact, the former kid is more likely to become an expressive writer, because he wants to write, and has some valid reason to do so. I really believe that.

        I’m so glad the encouragement has been helpful!

  • Rashmie Mar 21, 2011 @ 20:59

    Thanks, Patricia, for sharing this thought and for the link. I, as a parent, will learn a lot from this book as much as any teacher will.

    Also, the personal story that Carrie shared is such an eye opener. To have them develop a love for writing, what matters is they finding a purpose to write and an audience to communicate it to. So simple…so sensible. And, so much nourishing for the young minds as compared to the traditional approach to rote writing and learning…

    Here’s another story from my Kid’s 1-2 year old stage. When making my grocery list or any other list, I would involve her by asking her what do we have to buy, where we would like to go over the weekend etc. That was the time, she did not know writing – of-course. Very soon, I found her writing (scribbling and pretending as if she’s writing meaningful stuff!) down her own list. She would ask me similar questions – “what do you need in the kitchen”….From there, she developed a fascination for writing. Though, at that age (1-2) what she did was not real writing but the seed was planted and soon it bloomed into a full fledged passion. Now, she is writing all the time – real letters and crosswords and “office work” and short stories and what have you. 🙂

    • patricia Mar 21, 2011 @ 21:37

      Oh, I love stories of little kids “writing” before they even know how to form letters! They may not know the letters, but they know that writing is important, and so they do it! And I can see on your blog that Pari is now an avid writer. She’s doing it because she wants to!

      The book I linked to is especially directed at teachers of teenagers, and it has a particular focus on boys. So that may not be what you’re looking for right now. 😉 Try looking at the sample chapter on the linked page, and see what you think.

      • Rashmie Mar 24, 2011 @ 22:14

        Oh, I get too excited at the prospect of a new idea. I see that the book may not be relevant for us now and also because – as you pointed out – the focus is on boys…

  • wanderingsue Jul 8, 2013 @ 5:23

    Oooooh, I am equal parts loved-up and head-spinny with excitement!

    H. has 11 more days of nursery school, and I am NOT going to pounce on him the minute it finishes…

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