We Can Teach Gifted Students to Write

Dear Dr. Sylvia:

It has been my pleasure to hear you speak at the National Association for Gifted Children and the Gifted Association of Missouri conferences and I am very interested in the topic of pencil anxiety. I am the lead teacher for gifted education and I am working to improve the education of the exceptionally gifted children in our district.

I am noticing a trend in the elementary age boys with 150+ IQ's who are unable to produce quality writing pieces both in situations with time constraints and when given unlimited time. The writing samples show bare minimum expectations and a lack of detail, when the child clearly knows more about the topic. They do not like to write and avoid it. How can I help them improve this skill which is so critical in their education? I have let them type, but they still produce minimal work. I would appreciate any suggestions or your ability to point me to other resources.

There aren't many boys with 150+ IQ, but the problem you're describing is one I hear repeatedly about many boys of high ability. It may well be that screens have taken over their childhood and prevented them from learning to express themselves in writing. Every generation has its own problems and while many generations of boys have struggled with "pencil anxiety", it seems more omnipresent for this generation than any other.

In addition to typing on the computer for all drafts of their writing, here are some suggestions for pencil anxious students:

  1. Begin encouraging writing with very young children. Have them write a sentence story about their pictures.

  2. For preschool boys, encourage them to draw numbered pictures and to color them so they learn pencil control early. Also, crafts and cutting and pasting are helpful for small muscle development. Girls often already love these activities and it's probably at least part of the reason they have fewer problems with later writing.

  3. Early experiences with writing family and classroom newsletters will give children the experiences of interviewing people, writing what they say and organizing their writing. Furthermore, they will think that being reporters is "cool".

  4. Use school, not homework time, for writing rough drafts. Writing journals daily can help them learn to express themselves in writing.

  5. Encourage students to write about their interests and passions. If they feel strongly about things, they're more likely to write more about them.

  6. Teachers can provide templates for organizing children's writing. In other words, a pattern of what to write for each paragraph and an approximation of how many sentences they should write can be helpful for kids who can't seem to get started, and even after they're started, don't seem to know how to organize their writing.

  7. Models of other children's good writing should be collected so that children can see what good student writing looks like.

  8. Very verbal children can speak their stories or articles into a microphone. Recording them will help them express themselves and make it easier to write what they've said. They may want to listen to themselves to help them recall their ideas, but that can be optional.

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