When I give my students a writing exercise, I often write along with them, sharing my draft as they share theirs with me. It surprises me that, after all this time, I still get nervous. Why?
Because I don’t want people to see my rough drafts, I want them only to see the final, polished form. But I push through this nervousness because we ask writing students to put themselves out there all the time. If they can do that, so can I, and my doing so puts me in a position to better empathize and appreciate the bravery they show each time they sit down to write.
Although it is much easier to sit in the teacher’s seat, watching and assessing, that would cost me the opportunity to make a profound connection with students and to teach them perhaps the most important lesson of all—that nobody, not even their writing teacher, writes a perfect first draft.
When I work side by side with my students, it does two things: first, yes, it presents a model of how an experienced writer might approach a task: new sentence structures or vocabulary, or literature analysis. So, yes, I hope I am modeling good, or at least more experienced, writing.
But that is not all I am doing: I am also modeling imperfect writing and that the writing process is about transforming and building from raw, sometime messy forms and mistakes, not avoiding them. My first draft is never without room for improvement. Sometimes it is downright not good. I have off days, like any athlete or musician. So my students and I look at each others’ drafts, ask ourselves what we can do better, and rewrite. No matter what the issue is with our first draft, our second drafts—theirs and mine, are always better.
A lot of the confidence we try to instill in our writers starts from this place—the acceptance of imperfection as part of the process. If students see that their teacher also has to go through this phase, they are more willing to show the bravery and vulnerability to do so too, and become less judgmental of themselves.
We encourage risk-taking and “mistakes” in other endeavors. We know that missed shots and musical notes are part of any sport or musical training. Writing is the same, except that often the only place students practice writing is on graded assignments, so mistakes can seem harshly penalized and students become avoidant.
But think about it: If students avoid mistakes, they stop taking risks; they stop trying for the harder shot, the more sophisticated sentence structure. Indeed, many writing errors come when people are “reaching”—trying out unfamiliar words or expressing ideas in more complicated sentence structures.
That’s why it’s so important to de-villainize mistakes: They are the path to learning if you know how to recognize and move beyond them. Fear of mistakes keeps writers stuck.
Check out a few or our classes that address this issue:
Learn to Love Writing (or at Least Not Hate It)—For Jr and Sr. high school students, if you have a student that is resistant to writing, perfectionism or grade anxiety might be the culprit. This class coaches students in the writing process, providing them with practical tools and strategies to write more efficiently and effectively. Maybe, just maybe they will learn to like it too! 5-hour workshop-style course.
Moving Beyond Writers’ Block—Want to tell your story, write that op-ed, draft your family history but keep getting stuck or staring at a blank screen: This 2.5 hour course will give you tips, strategies, practice and moral support to breakthrough.