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Response from an Educator: Dr. Alice Mangan’s Podcast on “Why writing is so hard”

Charity Thompson

Charity Thompson is an educator and recent Elementary and Special Education graduate from NYU Steinhardt.

Listen to Dr. Alice Mangan's podcast here:

This podcast was really encouraging to hear as an educator. I have worked in classrooms for almost 5 years, working with both typical and special needs students. It is incredible to hear the complexity of the writing process broken down with such expertise. The podcast touched on so many valuable portions of student struggle with the writing process but here are THREE lessons I want each of my students struggling with writing to grasp:

1. I AM NOT MY STRUGGLE

For students struggling with writing, it is far too easy for the narrative to become “I am my weakness, I am my struggle.” When students are not able to successfully communicate their ideas or meet their teachers expectations, it is imperative that students gain the ability to distinguish between a) the struggle they are facing and b) their sense of self.

As educators, we need to help children develop a more expansive and inclusive narrative beyond their weaknesses; a narrative rather to their passions and strengths. These student passions, both personal and varied, will fuel their progress through their areas of struggle.

Alice shares “as educators, we need to meet struggle with motivating. When students feel motivated, they become more inclined to engage in things that are neurologically taxing.”

However, research shows motivation cannot be outwardly manufactured. Any external sources of motivation need to resonate with a student’s internal drive and imagination, and teachers can play a role in helping a child explore the things that ignite them intrinsically.

2. MY STRUGGLE IS SPECIFIC

Alice uses her background as a Clinical Psychologist to explain the complex ways in which writing can tax a student’s emotional and neurological abilities. Alice shares, “writing simultaneously enlists many different complex neuropsychological processes including one's capacity to regulate their affect or feeling state.”

“When students are unable to communicate their ideas and meet teacher expectation, that anxiety, worry, and anger becomes central to the writing process,” Alice explains. It was insightful to learn that the student’s emotional levels affect the fluency with which they are able to share their ideas and communicate effectively.

Another hurdle students face on top of learning how to access and translate their ideas onto the page is learning how to respond if they feel they don’t have any ideas at all.

As educators, we have the ability to imagine a student’s experience and offer an entry point and scaffolding that will lead them to the next step. This will help the child feel secure and engaged as they consider their ideas. A strong teacher presence and support reduces the anxiety a student’s  might feel about their work.

3. WRITING IS FOR ME

One of the most important lessons a student needs to learn is that simply, writing IS designed for them to succeed in. As students begin to recognize specific portions or steps of the project that are challenging to them, they discover that entire writing process is not ALL impossible.

As they explore writing prompts and stories that tap into their interests, students find they are eager to communicate their ideas and feelings. There is immense power and value in the sharing these sentiments and it allows students to connect more deeply to an receptive and eager listening audience.

As educators, we want kids to understand themselves and be able to communicate their experiences in their world. This starts with recognizing that the learning process happens differently for each child.

As we value each student’s unique response and work to scaffold their writing to higher levels of effectiveness, students become able to share their ideas and feel valued and heard in their worlds. And isn’t that ultimately the point of writing?

A big thanks to Alice, Mya and Brian for exploring these challenging ideas and sharing their insights!