Gifted Kids and Writing
After working with gifted and talented students in one way or another for 30 years now, my thoughts on gifted writers really boil down to one word: encouragement. Writing is one of those subject areas that can produce in students both an all-consuming passion as well as a brick wall of resistance. In both cases—and with everything in between—the key word is still encouragement.
So what if your son or daughter falls in the “all-consuming” category? Do they fill up pages upon pages of notebooks with stories or poems or journal entries? Do they have two or three notebooks containing unfinished novels? How do you respond when you are constantly asked, “Here, read this!” Encouragement . . . Notice the key word isn’t correct or analyze, question or edit. Students get plenty of this at school. Quite frankly, the quickest way to get your son or daughter to avoid letting you see any word they’ve written is if you respond with anything resembling an edit. Students share writing with parents because it is a source of pride, and they want parents to share that pride. Take the time to enjoy their work. Celebrate it with them. Laugh with them. Tell them you are intrigued or surprised or taken in by the adventure of it all. Be specific. Tell them what you like about characters or situations. Read aloud poetic passages and descriptions full of imagery. Enjoy! If you get caught at a bad time, one of the biggest compliments a young writer can receive is, “Do you mind if I keep this awhile? I’m really busy right now, and I really want to have the chance to enjoy it.” Through it all, remember that it is a parent’s responsibility to celebrate effort –not talent. “You’re such a good writer!” is not a compliment. It teaches kids that their natural ability is the key—that the parents’ gene pool is the real victor. Try these instead: “I see the effort you’ve put into this.” “You must have had to sort out lots of things to make this so clear. That’s not easy.” “It takes a lot of work to make writing so entertaining.” Need proof? Check out this article titled “How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise.” Here is the link to the full article.
OK, fine . . . so maybe your son or daughter has never filled up a notebook with writing or even finished a page of writing, for that matter. Maybe they are more apt to hand in a writing assignment on the back of a gum wrapper instead of in a bound volume. Well? You are certainly not alone. We identify gifted students in all areas, and even the language identified gifted learners may resist writing. The key word is still encouragement. Why won’t they write? Because it’s difficult! Imagine your math whiz or budding engineer, figuring out negative numbers and taking apart electronic toys in kindergarten, now being asked to write. Shouldn’t everything be as easy as long division or force equals mass times acceleration? “If I can’t write, I must actually be dumb!” Truth is, it might feel that way to the student (see the above article link). For gifted learners, many things will come easily . . . but writing is not commonly one of those things. Here is where parents can play the role of teacher, coach, and motivator. Perhaps giving your son or daughter the chance to talk through their thoughts will help them plan writing. Parents might even help and guide that first paragraph . . . help get the needed starting point. Some non-verbally strong students find that first drawing a picture of what they want to describe in writing is a good way of getting ideas together. Graphic organizers make writing plans much more visual and take the threat out of getting thoughts together.
For some students, telling a story before it is written is the key to success. I once asked a non-verbally gifted student why he liked writing so much. His answer? “In first grade, our teacher let us read our journals aloud, and I could always make my classmates laugh at my stories with the way I told them. Really, I hadn’t written anything in the journal except a few words! After that, I started writing more and more because I knew I could entertain people.” Dragonspeak is voice recognition software that takes the physical chore of writing out of the composition. It’s great for students who struggle with the physical act of writing with pen or pencil, but it does take time to figure out the program and “train” the program to an individual’s voice. Struggling with writing should not be allowed as proof that a student is not good enough . . . only for proof that no one is perfect. Some things take more effort than others, but it is the effort that is the most rewarding.