How Can We Build Confident Student Writers?
By Kelly Ogan
A mastery of the written word is a MUST in today’s educational settings and in the workplace beyond them. Nearly every job comes with its share of written communication requirements and students must have it as a skill set before heading to college or to their careers. In this generation of digital native students, there is a lot of pressure to write well, whether it comes from meeting higher writing assessment standards, engaging in cross-discipline writing projects, or even the need to express oneself on social media.
Like math and science subjects, writing comes with its own self-consciousness. A student who lacks confidence in his or her writing ability will perform at less than his or her potential. Some students fear the “red pen” of the teacher, others worry about grammar shaming. The anxiety that goes along with writing can, for some students, feel as overwhelming as test-taking anxiety (and when the two are combined, their nerves are even more shot).
Research tells us that students who establish self-efficacy in writing have lower levels of apprehension and perform better on writing tasks. In a nutshell, when student feel good about their writing abilities, it shows in the end product. So what can we as educators do to boost the writing confidence of our students?
Give Ample Room for Mistakes
While the end goal is writing mastery, the road to it will have some bumps. Instead of teaching students that they must be perfect, educators should teach students that it’s okay to make mistakes. Students who take risks, persevere, and learn from their mistakes will be stronger writers in the end. These students are also more prone to listen to critiques of their writing and are open to guidance for improvement. Learning how to improve with constructive criticism is a valuable skill set all on its own.
Grant Opportunities for Improvement
Along with allowing mistakes, educators should give students the chance to learn from them. The writing process should not just abruptly end in a grade; there needs to be more back-and-forth between instructors and pupils. This doesn’t have to mean more work for the teacher. Technology exists that can support educators with their workload while still helping students produce stronger results. Which brings me to my next point…
Empower Through Technology
Tools are available that help students learn how to write better DURING the writing process, when it matters most and when the students have the best opportunity to revise their work. Districts and schools that are looking for technology to boost writing instruction and outcomes should prioritize tools that show promise to increase student self-efficacy. Technology that comes with feedback and allows dialogue between students and teachers (and students and their peers) streamlines the learning process and allows students to more fully participate in the process.
When decision-makers are selecting technology-based tools to enhance writing instruction, the following questions should be part of the process:
- Where is the student in the learning process? (Is the student in the center, or in the periphery?)
- Is the tool designed to support the teacher or will it get in his/her way?
- How does the tool facilitate feedback? Are its methods of facilitation designed around evidence-based research or not?
- Do students come to take ownership over their writing when engaging with the tool or program? Do they become engaged with the writing process itself?
- Do students gain a greater sense of self-efficacy when using it?
The right writing technology will allow all of these things to happen simultaneously, leaving both educators and students with stronger mastery of the written word.
Want to read more on the research behind student writing self-efficacy and confidence? Here are some great resources.
- Confidence and Competence in Writing: The Role of Self -Efficacy, Outcome Expectancy, and Apprehension
- The Relationships Among Writing Self-Efficacy, Writing Goal Orientation, and Writing Achievement
- Self-Efficacy for Learning and Performance
- Self Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change
- Analysis of Self-Efficacy Theory of Behavioral Change
- Cultivating Competence, Self-Efficacy, and Intrinsic Interest Through Proximal Self-Motivation
- A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality
Author Kelly Ogan is an English teacher at South Kitsap High School in Washington. Her school is currently pilot testing Turnitin Revision Assistant as a way to build confident writers and prepare students for the International Baccalaureate Program at her school.