Today I’m musing on the question of why so many of my students are anxious about writing. There are philosophical reflections, of course, such as the pace of a modern child’s life, or the constant interruptive nature of the technological world our children live in today, or even the lack of unsupervised play.
Another possible explanation is that our competitive society instills in children and their parents the “scarcity of resources” fear. This is the idea that there are only so many spaces in any given school, university, or job market, and these positions will go to the quickest, the brightest, and the most productive students. With so much on the line, some students fall into perfectionism or become frozen altogether, fearing to make a mistake. Either way, anxiety makes writing assignments an agony.
Additionally, public and private schools compete to provide the most advanced programs available. Schools introduce at earlier levels tasks for which many students are simply not developmentally ready. We hurry students along the learning path, treating the skills to be acquired as so many hurdles to be cleared and then passed beyond. Instead of having the patience to teach the child on his terms, our insistence on mastering another skill set prematurely leaves many young writers frustrated and anxious.
Finally, many schools do not consider support of learning disabilities a legitimate use of limited resources, federal mandates notwithstanding. Writing under pressure with no real support for different learning styles or learning disabilities spells disaster for many students.
Diagnosed learning problems and accommodation become a liability instead of an opportunity to solve problems in new ways. A dreamy, imaginative child who won’t focus on the task at hand is a distraction in the classroom. When students feel shamed but are not directed in helpful ways, their writing anxiety rises dramatically.
Unfortunately, the time a student spends feeling anxious cuts into the precious time and confidence required for planning and executing a writing project.
The good news is that a growing body of literature offers hope for resolving learning problems of every type. Writers such as Howard Gardner, Alfie Kohn, Claudia Gold, Jane Healy, Stanley Greenspan, and Richard Louv present new and remarkable perspectives.
Parents interested in learning better ways to support their children’s learning style, in lessening their frustration with their children’s learning issues, or in becoming better advocates for their children would benefit from reading any of the authors mentioned above.