Section 23 of Spilling Ink is another short one, dedicated to keeping your reader awake. Anne Mazer asserts that young writers need to do three things in order to keep their readers awake. Out of the three things, the one that we, as writing teachers, can really help them with is to make sure they care about what they are writing. She says that their writing projects should make their "eyes sparkle and their fingertips tingle." If they love and are interested in what they are writing, then there is more of a chance that their readers will love and take interest in it as well.
There isn't a magic wand we can wave so that all children will love to write. But we can increase that probability by allowing students more control and ownership in writing class. We can give them choice. Choice is a powerful motivator. When I think back to the end of last month, when I was pondering a writing challenge for myself, I did not choose to write about the American Revolution. I did not choose to write about molecular biology, or even plain-old-biology. None of these subjects make my eyes sparkle or my fingertips tingle. I would have procrastinated and found excuses rather than getting up early or staying up late to make time to write about what I am passionate about. I am no different than an eleven-year old when it comes to this. They need to be able to choose what they write about, most of the time.
What about writing tests? They are a reality, so we do need to teach our students to write to a prompt. We can think about prompt writing as a seperate writing genre. It is one for which we can prepare our students-- we can teach them how to pick apart a prompt and make sure they satisfy all the requirements.
Before we teach prompt writing, though, student need to be allowed to write about what they know, to feel passionate about their subject, to write about what "fires them up." They need to feel successful. Success breeds more success. It also breeds more effort. (Nobody likes to put effort into something at which they aren't any good.) Effort creates ability. All students have to give you is their effort. Writing is difficult enough as it is. We don't need to make it harder by insisting that they write about things in which they are not interested or about which they have no prior knowledge. If we allow them to choose, they will exert more effort. That effort will, in turn, allow them to grow as writers.
Anne Mazer writes about two other ways to keep readers awake, but you have to read the book to learn about them. Have you bought your own copy yet?