5 Ways to Build Confidence in Beginning Writers

Happy Spring Break!!! Well for me at least : )  We get two weeks of on either side of Easter, and the first week magically disappeared! My husband and I actually spent the week in Idyllwild, hiking, getting massages, napping a lot, and eating way too much.  It was just what the doctor ordered though, and I feel rested and relaxed, and ready to tackle my to do list!

Today I want to talk to you about ways we can encourage our beginning writers to have confidence in themselves and their skills!  If your kids are like mine, you have some that are willing to jump in with both feet, and test out the writing waters (even if they don't know their sounds or any sight words yet).

  Every year, I also have some that are very fearful to take the first step.  Some of the ones who are hesitant, already know all of their letter sounds, and are more than ready to start putting their thoughts on paper.  Regardless of how many times that I tell these students that it doesn't have to be perfect, and that we are just practicing, I still occasionally get the panicked looks, and sometimes even tears. They tell me - "I can't do it!" "I don't know how to write!"  I decided to write this blog post to let you know how I help those students get over their fears, to become successful writers!

#1 Help them set goals for themselves.

Students who struggle with their confidence, look around at the adults in their lives as a measure of what writers can do.  They carefully watch the adult write emails, texts, and notes home, and think, "there's no way I can do that!"  They feel that if they don't have all of the skills to begin with, there is no possible way they can start.  

To help overcome this fear, it is important to help the students set small goals for themselves.  I meet with a couple students each day during our writing time.  We talk about their progress, and set realistic goals together.

Some students are just beginning with the basics of trying to identify the beginning sound of a word, and write it down.  

I see a big cat = I s a b c

Other have their beginning and ending sounds down:

I see a big cat = I se a bg ct.

Some students have their vowel sounds down, with a decent sight word vocabulary, and they are ready to work on more challenging goals, like capitalization and spacing between their words.

Other students can write sentences, but need to work on refining their writing with more detail.  I also find it amusing how some of my best writers just can't be bothered with neatness because they are in such a rush to get their thoughts on paper! Each student has different needs, and clearly stating and displaying what goal you would like them to work on, helps to keep them accountable.

 If you would like a free copy of these writing goal sheets, click HERE, or on the pictures above.

#2 Praise their efforts often.
I would say that 9 times out of 10, if a student is lacking confidence, consistent praise quickly changes their attitude!  Noticing when they write down the correct beginning sound for a word, or acknowledging that their picture matches their writing is so important! 

I give public and private praise to the students often, with stickers and scentos marker stars mixed in, for extra motivation!  I work at a school with only one class per grade, so I work very closely with the Pre-K-2nd grade teachers.  Often times, we have our students go and read to another teacher, and of course that teacher gives them overflowing praise as well!  They come back beaming saying, "Mrs. Vasquez says I'm ready for first grade!!!!!" : )

I came across this pin on Pinterest the other day from The Schoolhouse Diva that I just absolutely loved!

It is so important to give students specific feedback, instead of telling them they are smart, and that's why they knew the answer.  I have really tried to make an effort this year to be specific when praising my students. It didn't take long for me to see the benefits of this strategy.  Now, I often here in my class (after a student has answered a question correctly) - "Did you see that Mrs. B?!?! When you first asked the question, I didn't know the answer, but I took my time and really thought about it, and then I knew it!!!!"

#3 Provide opportunities to share with their peers.
I'm going to be honest with you, when I first started doing this, I thought it would be a disaster! Wouldn't Maria notice that her writing skills were far below that of Nicholas'?  Wouldn't she be embarrassed to show her work, when her sentences consisted of an unrecognizable string of letters, while Nicholas was writing a beautiful complete paragraph?!?!  With trepidation, I began a sharing schedule, and guess what?!?!? Nobody cared what their work was like compared to their fellow students!  They were so happy to get up in front of the class and share, that they could care less about what the person before or after them was presenting!  Students are allowed 2 comments, and 2 questions for each piece of writing shared.  The praise they get from their peers boosts their confidence, and they LOVE answering questions about their work!

Here's a quick example of a sharing schedule that I have.  Feel free to click on the picture for a link to the freebie!

#4 Give them the tools and environment they need to be successful.
It's all in how you set the stage for them.  Getting them excited in their mini lesson is important, but setting the expectations for noise level, and collaboration allowed (or not) during writing time is very important as well!  I put on our Too Noisy app for volume control.  You can also set the stars to go off at different times intervals (only in the paid version, which is only like $4 and well worth the cost!). You can set the 10 stars to go off every 1 minute, 2 minutes, etc. (I do 2 minute intervals in my class). The stars assist the class with time management, and help them to stay on track.

I put on some soothing classical music, and let the students sit wherever they choose.  I provide them letter sound sheets and personal sight word lists if they would like to use them.  I let them know where to get more paper, and what to do when they are done with one piece of writing and are moving on to the next one. (All of this is done through a series of mini lessons at the beginning of the year).  They know that they need to work quietly the entire time.  I meet with students one-on-one during this time, and they know that they are not to interrupt me.  

Do they occasionally talk to each other during this time? Yes, but 99% of the time they are asking another student for assistance on how to spell a sight word, or the letters in a particular digraph. When I here these hushed conversations my heart is full of happiness that we can rely on each other as part of a learning community!

Side note - Recently I saw an awesome idea on Instagram by Firstie Favorites, about using index cards for our how-to writing.  The kids have loved using them, and they are a huge motivator!  You've got to keep materials and resources new and exciting and you move through the writing genres. 

#5 Have a consistent time everyday for writing.
The writing routines that my students have down were not learned in a day.  They took repetitive practice everyday.  After a couple of weeks time the students had it, and at this point in the year, I feel confident that they could conduct a writing workshop without me even being in the room!  As we move through the kindergarten writing standards, our focus on what we write changes, but the routines and practices of clearing our minds and working in a quiet and productive environment never change.

Building writing stamina takes time, and tracking how long you can have a sustained period of quiet time is important.  You may only start with 5 minutes, but that's okay!  Tomorrow will be 6 minutes, and before you know it, 20 minutes will be a piece of cake.

Scaffolding is another very important tool in building students confidence.  I use scaffolding pages such as the ones below to help them with guided practice in capitalization, end marks, finger spacing, and sounding out words.

This guided practice gives them the assistance they need to make baby steps into the world of writing.  Students are sometimes overwhelmed by a blank sheet in front of them, and this tool helps them to gain confidence in their writing.  If you are interested in this product, please click on any of the pictures above.

I hope this post was helpful for those of us with reluctant writers!  If you have any other tips or tricks that have worked for you, I would love to hear about them in the comments section below!  Also, if you have any other questions for me about my writing workshop time, please let me know!

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