Getting boys writing

Six strategies to motivate and create enjoyment in writing

 

Getting boys to succeed in Writing is every teacher’s goal. Since 2012, reported achievement of female students has been consistently higher than male students across all three standards.
The greatest gender difference in achievement is in Writing. Generally speaking, boys seem less ‘ready’ to start writing than their female counterparts, and teachers are playing catch-up as soon as the child walks in the door. So what can we do about it? Over the last few years I’ve found six strategies that not only motivate our boys, but get them enjoying writing and achieving results Above National Standard.

1. Fine motor skills

Many boys come to school without experience of using pens or pencils during their pre-school years. Most have been too busy playing outside in the sandpit or climbing trees. Some boys lack the fine motor strength or control to be able to hold a pen correctly let alone use it to form letters and words.
We make sure that lots of our Literacy and Maths activities encourage the use of these skills. We use highlighter lines for the children initially to write on. One little line for each word ensures writers learn to leave spaces between their words.

2.Make connections

This is key. Writing is about communicating with others. Boys need to see this and be aware that as writers, their writing has a greater audience than just themselves. When I’m modelling I am constantly asking the learners ‘why’ questions. Why do we need to leave spaces? Why should I use punctuation? Why do I need to be specific? The answer to all these questions is so that reader can understand what has been written.
If the reader is unable to read what has been written then the child, as the author, has wasted their time writing it. Writing is all about communicating with the reader. All children need to know this.

3. Picture Prompts

I’ve found over the last few years that picture prompts are a vital tool in getting boys engaged in writing. At the start of the modelling

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Saul showing proudly his Candyland Press Pass!

session I put up a picture on the TV and ask the children, “What do you see, think and wonder?” I used to pre-plan what I was going to write but a couple of years ago I put up a picture of what to me looked like elephants free-falling out of a plane.
One of my boys suggested that the elephants had been jumping on a trampoline and got double-bounced. It never occurred to me that the elephants could be going up! From then on I decided that the learners’ ideas were a lot more imaginative than mine. I give them time to talk to their shoulder buddy and then ask for their ideas. A simple, “Wow, I never thought of that” or, “Is it ok if I borrow your idea?” or, “What a great idea … lucky you are at school today!” goes a long way to develop self-esteem and confidence in their ideas as a writer.
It is impossible to hear everyone’s ideas at this sharing time, but I simply remind the learners not to worry, they can write it for me.

With the children’s help we pull together a collaborative story and I write about it in the modelling session.
I’ve found that using picture prompts stimulates their imagination and in particular gives the boys more to write about. Don’t worry about specifically teaching genre for the first couple of years at school. Get kids writing and loving it first.

4. Don’t dumb it down

I always model at the stage above where the learners are at. If a child can write ‘I went to the park and had a swing’ they will gain nothing from you modelling stories like this day after day.
I use words like adjectives, verbs, alliteration and similes. I don’t call them sparkly words. There is no point teaching children something that they will need to relearn correctly later. You are wasting their time and yours.
Not all learners are going learn these language features at the same rate but if you keep exposing them to examples of them in both Writing and Reading, they will soon pick it up.
If you tell the boys only big kids know things like this, I can guarantee you’ll increase the chance of the learners remembering it!
Don’t dumb it down also applies to the vocabulary you use when talking about the picture prompt. Use lots of topic related words when you are modelling.
We wrote a story once about a ‘cargo ship’ ‘listing’ to one side and the man ‘perched’ on the ‘bollard’ on the ‘wharf’ felt ‘overwhelmed’. Feed them the vocabulary and they will soon include it in their writing.

5.Explicit teaching

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Alex showing off his writing for the day. A yellow highlighter indicates parts of his story that demonstrates he has met his learning intention.

Boys benefit from explicit teaching. We have picture learning intentions glued into the back of their writing books which is a visual reminder of what they are working on.
We hold workshops based on each of the specific learning intentions of each child. Our boys are acutely aware of what they are working on and they are specifically taught how to achieve their learning intention in their writing.
We unpack samples of children’s writing and examples of the exemplars. We use these as teaching tools to help learners identify what the writer did well and what they could do to improve the writing.
We have found this to be a very powerful tool in motivating boys to improve their writing. In every modelling session we talk about what makes a great writer.
All our learners can list several writing behaviours authors use to make their writing great. Things like: have a good hook, use exciting adjectives, use interesting verbs, re-read their story to make sure it makes sense.
Our boys are given specific feedback and feed forward relating to their own learning intentions during conferencing time. We have found this to be a vital tool to ensure the likelihood of our writers repeating these desired writing behaviours in future stories.
All our learners can list several writing behaviours authors use to make their writing great. Things like: have a good hook, use exciting adjectives, use interesting verbs, re-read their story to make sure it makes sense.
Our boys are given specific feedback and feed forward relating to their own learning intentions during conferencing time. We have found this to be a vital tool to ensure the likelihood of our writers repeating these desired writing behaviours in future stories.

And now for the secret weapon…

6.Independence Licences

We have linked our Independence Licenses in with the Writing Stages. We have found many boys to be innately competitive and goal orientated. We have set aside a special room in our Flexible Learning Environment that only our top Independence License holders can enter.
These licenses are a huge motivation to our boys in particular and I’m positive they are the main reason our boys want to improve their writing. Learners self assess against a matrix daily and can identify aspects of their story where they have succeeded and where they need to improve in order to level up.
Upon ‘levelling up’ we make a huge fuss of the child so it acts as motivation for others. Our top Independence Licence holders have other special rewards and have proven to be an incentive to get our boys writing. For us it works every time!

Our boys do well at Writing. Last year our boys Above National Standard actually outnumbered our girls. Boys can write and can write well. They just need some enthusiasm from you, motivation – albeit a bit of competition, clear learning goals, and explicit teaching, and boys will succeed. Good luck!