By the time most students enter high school, they have already developed a fixed mindset about who they are as readers and writers. They will describe themselves as bad writers, bad at analytical writing but good at creative writing, a slow reader, a non-reader, and/or a reader of only YA, etc. While their relationship with reading reveals whether and why reading for pleasure is part of their free time, their disclosure about writing only shares their level of (dis)comfort with writing. In fact, research shows that many students’ attitudes towards writing decline as they move up in grades.
Despite their increasingly negative perception of writing, students’ attitudes don’t actually concede that they are truly bad at writing. Rather, it more likely suggests that they are unpracticed, reluctant, or developing (pick your adjective) writers who feel overwhelmed by their discomfort. As writing teachers, we should ask ourselves: How do we get students to embrace writing? And what kinds of structures need to be in place for students to develop as writers and have confidence in their writing?
According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, one needs 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials. Gladwell’s insight comes from a study of ‘deliberate practice’ in the success of violin students co-authored by Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University. Even though Gladwell popularized the notion that one needs to spend a quantifiable prolonged period of time to develop mastery, he left out that this ‘deliberate practice’ has to occur under the guidance of a good teacher who is able to personalize instruction for and individually assess students to determine what they need next to improve. It is important to note that, as reported in this study, students’ progression stalls despite prolonged practice if good teaching and feedback is not available. The two key takeaways then are that mastery requires a prolonged period of ‘deliberate practice’ and under the guidance of a good teacher.
But, what is a ‘deliberate practice’ and what does it look like in an English department? For any department, a ‘deliberate practice’ is one that the entire department collaborates to create and universally practices not merely for consistency and transparency, but also for good pedagogy because we share students. And since we share students, our students need to move seamlessly among our classes. (The ideal would be to…