Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How Do We Create Great Writers?

How do teachers, tutors, parents and coaches create great students, athletes, and writers?

It takes a village to raise greatness.  It begins with the child and his or her DNA, social upbringing at home, the community environment, and the era in which they were raised.  Things like race, wealth and other demographics can certainly play a role too.  Children are the result of a physical-psychological-economical cocktail. Still, I wonder how any one individual can make a significant difference in the life of a child.

As a parent and an amateur sports coach, I always try to teach kids the raw skills and the psychological approach to whatever they are doing.  My belief is everyone, at every level, can benefit from coaching and motivation, and can always improve by some incremental amount.  Great players can be even greater. Mediocre students can excel higher. Low-performing writers can rise and show vast improvement.

But in the heat of the moment, adults forget that kids are kids.  They tune you out on purpose – they know better!  They zone out and get easily distracted -- ooh look, a butterfly!  They can be emotional, sensitive, and touchy.  They can be tired, unfocused, unmotivated or even bored.  You may love a sport or value knowledge or worship the art of writing – but kids need to be nourished, molded, and encouraged to discover their strengths, convictions, and passions.  They can’t live out our dreams.  They must pursue theirs.

Sometimes we end up pushing children away from what we love most.  We’re too intense, too aggressive, and just overtly pushy when trying to pass on our experiences and knowledge. The children get overwhelmed by your suggestions and prodding.  They need to feel they own their lives and that we are there for times when they feel they need us.

They want to do things their way and develop their own style. They want encouragement but not to be pushed beyond their comfort level or safety zone.  They went to succeed without practicing, to achieve without always having to try so hard.  They get jealous of fellow teammates or classmates who seem to naturally and effortlessly conquer any challenge.

But they need us, whether they know it or not. For our youth to become tomorrow’s writers, scientists, and even professional athletes they need volunteers, trained professionals, guardians, and coaches to help them rise above their abilities, expectations, or desires.

I think the keys to getting the most out of children when seeking to teach them something is the following:

1.      Always encourage them.  Let them know you believe they are capable of doing better and of accomplishing the task at hand.  Everyone needs to hear it.

2.      Use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior. Praise their effort as much as the result.

3.      Whenever possible, let the child know how to do something better.  Every moment is a teaching opportunity.  Even if a child does something that results in a run scored for his team, show him or her how to do it better or how he could’ve done it differently.

4.      Publicly acknowledge great plays or excellent essays or wonderful test scores.  The child feels proud when others hear of their success.

5.      Be patient.  You have to tell a kid something scores of times until it clicks in their heads.  “Oh, so that’s how you do it?”

6.      Don’t assume a good result means your work is done.  Kids can easily go into a slump or develop bad habits or forget what they did right. Adults still need constant reminders to do their jobs well -- kids certainly are no different.

7.      Sometimes you need to accept a child’s limitations.  They may not be physically coordinated or mentally suited or intellectually-gifted to process a certain task.  Never give up on them, but allow yourself to move on to other skills and challenges.

8.      Don’t give up too quickly. Just because a child initially struggles with a task doesn’t mean they won’t turn a corner. Make sure you give them enough tries and training before tossing in the towel.

9.      Take a break and just have fun. Let the kids express what they want to do and try it their way.  Instead of them doing things the way you think they should be done, let the kids tell or show you how they want to approach things.

10.  Change your methods, your words, your tone. Yes, you may be the problem. Each child responds to certain approaches.  Change your approach if it’s not working and see if a new style gets the job done.

I was inspired to be a writer at any early age.  My dad said he wanted to be a writer but didn’t pursue it.  He did however write many letters to the Congress, White House, and newspapers, protesting the Vietnam War. His activist voice stuck with me.  I had good teachers as well.  In the end, I think I became a good writer because I followed my passion and spent many hours naturally and instinctively honing my craft.  I had the inner confidence to know I had something worth saying and that I’d find the right way to say it.  Words have such power and writing them down allows me to map out a one-sided argument without a rebuttal. In my mind, I’m always right!

A lot of things children are taught or told come from volunteers. The volunteers often lack professional training. Sometimes they teach the wrong things, fail to break bad habits, or say negative things.  In such cases, not only are kids not taught how to improve, but their dreams get ignored or crushed.

To develop great writers, I would suggest the following:

1. Expose them to all kinds of genres and types of books – let them see there are many styles and subjects out there.

2. Encourage them to free-write – without worrying about spelling, editing, or even grammar.

3. Get them used to keeping a journal but don’t encourage them to post so much of themselves on social media just yet – they first need to develop their voice and protect their privacy.

4. Show them how to conduct research and how to decipher if a source is reliable.

5. Teach them new words every day.

6. Inspire them to ask questions – it all starts with a curious mind.

7. Praise whatever they share with you, ask them how they could’ve made it better or different, and offer a strategy to improve upon it.

8. Encourage them to write how they feel and to speak their truth – even if it goes against the wishes, expectations, standards, or desire of others.

The gift of writing is the best gift of all – next to the gift of love.  Maybe writing is love. I know I love writing and so will millions of others from every generation.  They just need a good support system.  Are you ready to mentor the next great writer? It’s not too late to become the writer you know you are capable of being – keep learning and teach others.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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