The other day, I (Caleb) overheard a conversation between college students. "I don't want to be a good writer," one of them said. "I just want to have good ideas." That, I thought, is a new problem. After further reflection, however, I realized it's the basic problem underlying every struggling student's dislike and fear of learning to write well.
When someone enjoys a subject or activity, they'll generally dedicate themselves to mastering the necessary skills. Math whizzes learn algebra and calculus because they want to; hockey stars get there through hard work motivated by desire; and great writers become great because writing well is something they love and aspire to do to the best of their ability.
Overcoming the resistance to learning writing, then, is one of the first tasks to be overcome by parents and teachers. Not on the students' part, but on your part. How will a child learn to love writing if you are already predisposed to dislike it, or at least to treat it as a mere duty, just another school subject that has to be done?
The short and easy answer is that they won't. If you treat writing like a disease or an uncomfortable necessity, so will they. Liking it yourself is the first step to getting them to like it.
Before you can enjoy writing, however, you have to understand what it's for and why it's important. This is a bit more complicated—it requires more than just a surface "writing is important cause it helps you do well in school" (which isn't really an answer, but gets used far too often). Then again, how can anyone expect to teach something effectively when they don't understand it themselves?
For Christians, the main purpose of writing is to communicate the truth of the Gospel. It's as simple as that; everything we say and everything we write ought to reflect a thorough understanding of Scripture and the truth of Christ's redemption. If we write poorly, our communication (and our credibility!) are severely impaired. The only antidote is to master the mechanical and stylistic elements of good writing.
Mechanics? you might say. Stylistic elements? Don't let the terminology deter you. Mechanics are simply the fundamentals of written communication: spelling, grammar, punctuation, and the like. Style is just the way we make the bare mechanics interesting, like using metaphors and analogies, telling stories, making cultural references, understanding how to arrange words to make them aesthetically appealing, etc.
Once the mystery is penetrated, writing becomes something far different than most people seem to perceive it to be. Writing isn't some mystical art that only a few are capable of; it's a skill that must be practiced and developed, but ultimately that anyone with a clear head and willingness to excel can master.
Which brings us to another important aspect of writing instruction and learning: clear thinking. The single greatest route to writing success isn't to know grammar inside and out (as important as grammar is) or to be a stylistic genius (as much as that improves your content). The path to good writing is clear thinking. That's what made the college student's statement about ideas so nonsensical; good writing is the result of good thinking. If your mind is organized, your thoughts on paper will also be organized, and therefore will hold great communicative power.
All this may be a lot to take in initially, but that's why you study, and practice, and learn what works and what doesn't. Without writing skills, students can never hope to excel at communication beyond a personal level (and, without the skills needed for writing, even that kind of communication is doubtful). And yes, to teach your kids to write you'll need to learn how yourself.
Our favorite writing curriculums at Exodus Books are oriented toward teaching parents and instructors how to teach writing skills. Many of them work off the narration model, under the premise that the best way to learn good writing skills is to imitate the best writers; this is true of many other skills, and we agree it's an excellent approach to this one.
Of course, the greatest writing of all time is found in God's Word. There are plenty of good books to copy from, but none so good as the Bible which is useful not only to train young (and older) writers, but to challenge and shape the heart. However you choose to teach your kids writing, bear in mind that their communication should benefit others to the glory of God, and not simply serve as a podium for their own self-aggrandisement. Beyond that, simply encourage them to do well, and have fun!
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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