One of the things that I think is really important to realize is that the type of feedback that you give to a young writer — whether it’s a kid with a learning disability or a kid who doesn’t struggle as much — can have a huge impact. I’m going to use a personal story to illustrate this.
When I was in college as a sophomore, I took my second course in English composition. It was a particularly tough semester because I got a D in that course. When I got that paper back, it looked like it had red, red ink. I burned that paper in my backyard. And for years afterwards, I really felt that I could not write well. That one experience had a pretty lasting effect for me.
So it’s very important that we think about the type of feedback that we share with kids. There’s considerable evidence that pointing out the positive features of what kids do has a positive effect on their writing. There’s not very strong evidence to suggest in the other direction, that pointing out the negative things has a positive effect. I’m not saying that we need to ignore things that need improvement. But we’re much better off if we pick one or two things at a time that we focus attention on and we return to it until a kid gets it right.
We also want to be very careful about saying negative things about the content of what kids write. Content is very personal to each of us. So if we’re unsure about something kids write, we can say, “I don’t know exactly what you meant there, can you tell me?” versus saying “I don’t like this part”. We can do this in a much more positive way that then gets the kid to be a participant in the discussion. I think that’s vitally important.