Things I never thought I’d say until I became a parent:
Don’t throw snakes at me.
Dinosaurs don’t belong in the refrigerator.
You can’t leave the house without pants.
And also, much to my writer soul’s dismay:
You have to write this even though you hate it.
My daughter hates writing. Not because she can’t think of what to say or how to say it; she has plenty of ideas and a fair amount of eagerly written stories to her name.
My daughter is gifted. She hates writing “for school” because the requirements of traditional writing curricula frustrate her process and results.
Four ways you’ll frustrate your gifted writer
If I know this about her, why have I bothered to follow a curriculum? For the last four years we’ve been part of a wonderful classical homeschool co-op.
It uses IEW.
I admire Andrew Pudewa. He has broken a scary, abstract subject into something approachable and concrete. Thousands of schools and homeschooling families have used his methods with success. This post, therefore, is not an indictment of his program. Rather, it’s an explanation of why highly structured approaches can frustrate a gifted writer.
I experienced it with my own brand of high stakes instruction before I even knew what IEW was. When I stepped into the classroom nearly two decades ago with my “Five Paragraph Essay Planning Sheet,” my gifted students found it awkward and inflexible.
Through their experiences, (and later, those of my daughter), I’ve discovered there are four keys to frustrating a gifted writer:
Turning up the pressure
Think of your favorite activity, whether it be creative (crafting, baking, cooking), active (running, dancing, skiing), or intellectual (reading, puzzle-solving, debating). Imagine yourself taking part in that activity, in your favorite environment, at your favorite time of day.
Now imagine a large, imposing figure looming over you with a stopwatch.
His hot breath is five inches from your neck, and he’s screaming.
“Hurry up! Faster! Faster! That’s not right! Fix your hand! Go back and correct that! No! No! No!”
Terrifying, right? It’s also totally effective at smearing away every creative brush stroke in your head. This environment is difficult for anyone to work in, to say nothing of the gifted mind already involved in its own process of perfectionism.
With my daughter (and with countless other gifted students I’ve taught), that sort of pressure doesn’t have to come from a person. It can stem from the details of a writing assignment, an impending deadline, or even the presence of sensitive, tough-to-tackle subject matter. Regardless of the catalyst, the impact – irrevocable paralysis – is devastating.
Giving him a prompt
A gifted child’s thought process moves with depth and speed. A writing prompt can lock such a mind into a specific perspective, one that is generally not his own.
I know many writing instructors would disagree with me. Without a prompt, they claim, a writer might develop too broad a premise or be unable to exhibit necessary comprehension levels. But a clear, cogent thesis and evidence of skill development can most definitely be accomplished without a predetermined prompt. When appropriately trained, a writer’s critical thinking skills enable him to identify universal ideas, then sort and categorize the finer details. He’ll be able to whittle his own opinions into a fantastic guiding idea without a presumptive argument.
Placing too much emphasis on structure
What if the pope told Michaelangelo to sculpt with a banana?
Artists aren’t creating masterpieces straight out of the womb. They train and practice and work hard. But formulaic rules don’t enhance natural talent. Only organic, authentic writing instruction will do that.
Creating an inflexible learning environment
Professional athletes cross train. Musicians play a variety of instruments and styles. Why should a writer stick to one particular form? This inhibits exploration and prevents the development of a trademark style. Combined formats, blended genres, and concise, well crafted sentences are stylistic hallmarks.
In a highly structured writing curriculum, rules must be followed.
Gifted writers already know the rules. They need to learn how to break them, and when.
In a highly structured writing curriculum, language and mechanics instruction is scripted.
Gifted writers see through it. They question it every step of the way.
There is good news, though, in all of this. If you can’t avoid the use of a highly structured curriculum (or if you simply don’t want to let it go), you can ease your gifted writer’s frustration with organic, authentic writing opportunities.
How to fix your gifted writer’s frustration
- Study other people’s writing, from fiction and nonfiction to poetry and prose. Figure out what makes the writing tick. Is it the word choice? The tone? Does the writer use a particular pattern of organization or syntactical structure? Identify elements of style and structure. Determine their impact and use them in your own writing.
- Ask lots of questions. How do you want to reach your reader? What do you want them to take away? What does your argument look like from someone else’s perspective? What more can you tell me about this? How does this element (idea/aspect/example) fit into your argument?
- Play with the process. Skip the key word outlines and use storyboards or doodles. Free write without stopping to get the creative juices going. Create mind maps to organize and structure your ideas. Ask someone to pick out a favorite line, then cut everything that came before it and start your draft from there. Make your final draft something other than a piece of writing (like a performance, some artwork, or a song).
- Provide opportunities for critical thinking. Talk about world events and question everything. Read ideas and authors you don’t agree with. Ask yourself how someone might counter your argument and develop a response.
The more freedom I give my daughter to experiment with the writing process, the less likely she is to eschew it. While I know she’d prefer to be writing stories about wolves or dragons, she will complete her co-op assignments without complaint. She doesn’t use the required dress-ups, nor does she start with a key word outline. But she writes a solid essay without shedding a tear.
When I don’t apply pressure, I have a happy, gifted writer. And that’s definitely something I’m glad I get to say.
This post is part of the iHomeschool Network Homeschool Choices Link Up