When I taught composition classes at Penn State University, I was shocked by the students’ inability to write. Not that I was some writing-genius at the time, but I was the instructor of the course and knew what to look for in collegiate writing. My only conclusion was that they were sorely under-prepared in high school. A few years later, I taught at a local high school and realized that weak writing skills and lazy habits were already firmly in place.Â Though I buckled down and did my best to undo bad habits and build upon good ones (oh, how those students whined and whined at the time, but thanked me later!), I realized that the best situation is to build solid writing skills from the time a child is born!
That’s why I love Susan Wise Bauer. She has arrived at the same conclusion and offers such intelligent and simply ways to establish a firm foundation for any child to write with confidence and grace. Her Writing With Ease curriculum is simple, brilliant, and effective. I wish I could have taught this curriculum at the University, or at the high school! Because of my students’ poor preparation, I would have taken them all back to Square 1: Narration, Copywork, and Dictation. I wouldn’t have asked them for an original thought for weeks into the semester.
When I began reading the introduction to the Writing With Ease curriculum, I was so excited to have found such a smart soul-mate! I even read various paragraphs aloud to Ryan.Â We particularly appreciated her analysis of “why writing programs fail”. Wise Bauer asserts that people “hate to write” because they have never been taught the foreign language of writing.
“There’s a central problem with the write-more-and-you’ll-get-better method. It treats writing as though it were analogous to speech: the more deeply you’re immersed in it, the more competent you’ll become.
But writing is essentially unlike speaking. Children have an instinctual, inborn desire to speak. Any child who is developing normally will learn to speak if spoken to. The more a child talks, the better her verbal skills become.
Children don’t have that same innate drive to write.”
Wise Bauer explains that students struggle with writer’s block and stubborn writing-resentment because they’ve never been taught the rules and conventions of the written language; they’ve never developed confidence in the basics, so they quiver with insecurity when required to record their abstract thoughts on paper. Just imagine if we were never taught the basics of the Chinese language, and then were asked to express our thoughts – in Chinese – about Taoism vs. Christianity? I’d get writer’s-block, wouldn’t you?
Susan writes, “I have become convinced that most writing instruction is fundamentally flawed because children are never taught the most basic skill of writing, the skill on which everything rests: how to put words on paper.
Young writers need time to learn the conventions of their new language. They need to become fluent in it before they can use it to express new ideas.”
Writing With Ease is a four-year curriculum that may be used in the first four years of elementary school, or at any point in a student’s education.
I am so grateful to begin education with this understanding. This Fall, Vivienne and I will begin Year 1 of the curriculum, which consists entirely of narration, copywork, and dictation. Wise Bauer has selected lovely portions of classical children’s literature to acquaint students with proper writing conventions. After some solid instruction, the child begins using his own narration for copywork, a first step towards writing original sentences. The exercises are simple and consistent, using literature to learn the finest writing conventions so that the student may, someday, harness all of his creative thoughts and happily write well.