Teaching Writing to Gifted High Schoolers

Writing is something I’ve enjoyed all my life, but I am glad that I never had to teach a writing class. When assignments of any length are given to students in high school, one of three things often happens:
  • The paper is filled with discouraging correction marks.
  • The paper has few comments that are really helpful.
  • The assignment is never returned to the student.
Learning to write well is a very personal experience and, to be helpful, teachers need to offer specific feedback while still providing encouragement. Praise needs to be both sincere and specific. There’s nothing I hate more than having someone praise me in general terms. The words feel empty and dishonest. I do, however, appreciate it if someone provides me with very specific positive or negative feedback in a kind and caring manner. That is helpful!!

The problem is that it takes a great deal of time for a teacher to give adequate attention to each student when evaluating writing assignments. This is why I am glad that it was never my task. I knew that if I had to give each student the time needed, I would have no life outside of teaching. It just takes too much. I also believe that giving only written feedback is not enough. To really help a writer develop, a verbal discussion needs to take place.

Publishing adults who are already good writers often belong to writers’ groups where everyone in the group reads each other’s work and comments over and over until each piece is polished.

Even good writers continue to learn.

When teachers are responsible for critiquing the writing assignments of large numbers of students, the task becomes impossible.

So, is there a solution? I do have some suggestions. While your student should still do and hand in assignments and look carefully at comments written by the teachers, this is not enough. The student also needs to
  • Write often. Write letters, emails, keep a journal, etc. It is important to become comfortable with writing by producing.
  • Buy a copy of The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. Originally written in 1957, this book has been revised. It remains the bible for writers. Read and study it.
  • Read books by writers about how they write. A few that come to mind are On Writing, by Stephen King; How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, by Janet Evanovich; and Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury.
  • Find an adult who you know is a good writer and ask that person to read and critique your writing. This person can be a parent if the student will listen with an open mind.
  • Find an adult writers’ group and sit in on discussions. You may be able to find a group by searching online for “writers’ groups” and adding the name of your city. Your local public librarian may also know about groups.
  • Consider taking an online writing course from EPGY (Education Program for Gifted Youth) or the Stanford University Online High School.
Writing is such an important skill. It will open doors of opportunity in many areas as a student matures. In addition, it’s just plain fun!!!

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