Penning that thought!

Manaswini Sridhar

I teach English for the primary classes. Although my students can read (and enjoy being read to!), they are totally indifferent to my efforts in getting them to write. Students chew on their pencils endlessly and say, “Ma’am, I haven’t finished,” when asked for their work. I have motivated and encouraged them; I have even threatened to cut down on their breaks, but to no avail! Other subject teachers are of the opinion that their students are unable to write the answers correctly and within the stipulated time because I have not measured up as a teacher! Could you suggest some simple techniques to get at least half my class to write?

Never allow your students to get the impression that writing is a chore or an insurmountable task. Encourage Class 1 students to write on the board. You may comment on their handwriting in their notebooks, but never remark on the handwriting when it is written on the board. It is indeed difficult for a child to write with a chalk on the vast expanse of space with at least 30 pairs of hawk-like eyes watching critically, and to gleefully pronounce: ‘The handwriting is so tiny!’ or “Hey, that’s not how ant is spelled!” or “We can’t read your handwriting!” Make it amply clear to the other children that they will not pass any kind of judgment and that they are there to help one another out.

Allow children to choose their chalk or marker colour. Studies have shown that the use of colors helps children retain information. So, if a child is writing a sentence such as:

I like blue, allow the child to write the word blue using a blue chalk. Not only is it aesthetically appealing to children, but the teacher will also understand that the child has grasped the meaning of the word. It may take longer, but it makes learning, especially writing, more enjoyable. The observers will also pay attention to the colours used on the board.

Similarly, children don’t enjoy writing in their notebook because there is no visual appeal. All they see are black marks spread on white paper. Allow children to write on coloured paper. On occasion, let them use crayons, sketch pens or colour pens to write. This makes the task more stimulating for them and hence they will also submit good quality work. Colours spark the creative talents of children.

Encourage children to copy a short story, a song or a poem that they love. If a child resorts to the use of various colours while copying the story, encourage him to do so. At this stage it is important that the interest of the child remains undiminished. Ask them to draw a picture that will go with the story. Put these up on the classroom walls. Make sure that every child’s writing is exhibited. Give the children a positive feedback. Invite parents to inspect the writing during a break in the company of their child.

The following week, take down the stories and have each child read out their story. If a child has difficulty in reading, help and support him. If legibility is the problem, point out to the child how important it is to write in such a way that it can be read without any difficulty. Such practical feedback helps children appreciate what the teacher is trying to say, rather than the usual feedback like, “Can’t you write neatly? Who do you think can read this?”

Choose a story that the class likes best. Ask each child to narrate a part of the story. Help them with their grammar and use of words, but make sure that you are not constantly correcting them. This could undermine their confidence. Next, ask for volunteers who will draw some of the objects from the story on the board, again using different colours. Ask another group of students to label these objects. Finally, have each child narrate a sentence.

In spite of all this hand-holding, many children continue to stare dolefully and blankly at the sheet of paper placed in front of them because the task seems to be so foreboding. Many a smart teacher has adopted a clever strategy for this. She marks a line with a dot, indicating that, that is where the student concludes. Weaker writers can write fewer lines. The ones who have mastered the art of writing can continue to write longer essays. The child heaves a sigh of relief because he can see where he has to stop! As children start to enjoy writing, the teacher can move the dots further below, informing the child at the same time that he is now capable of writing more lines.

While correcting the writing, don’t focus on all aspects of the writing at the same time. If you do this, then the child sees only red or blue lines all over his paper. Focus on one aspect for every piece of writing. For example, one day focus on grammar, then spelling, punctuation, etc. This makes it possible for the child and the parent to understand the nature of the mistakes and corrections. Too many lines across the page can scare the child; it also makes wading through the corrections very dreary. Moreover, children also feel unappreciated and hence stop attempting to write!

Suggest that the children make birthday cards for one another and write something inside. It could even be a favourite song that they all share. Getting the children to write a to do list can also be fun. Remember, even adults fear writing, so why not help your students overcome their fear by making the process of writing creative and entertaining?

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.