Reasons Gifted Children Dislike Writing
- Asynchronous Development
A gifted child’s physical development often lags behind his or her intellectual development. That means that a gifted child’s mind can be far ahead of his or her ability to write down what’s in it. Gifted children tend to soak up information like a dry sponge soaks up water. Not only do they then have a great deal of knowledge on a favorite topic, but their minds are also quick to generate ideas about that topic. Unfortunately for young gifted children, their fine motor skills are not always developed sufficiently to allow them to quickly write down everything they are thinking. Their minds work much faster than their fingers. It can be beyond frustrating for a child to have so much to say but not be able to get it all down fast enough. Even older children whose fine motor skills are more developed can get frustrated since writing as fast as their minds go inevitably leads to illegible handwriting. For perfectionist children, that illegible handwriting can be a problem.
We know that many gifted children are perfectionists. Perfectionism can negatively impact a child’s attitude toward writing in several ways. A child may focus too much on mechanics, such as grammar and spelling, and get frustrated because they cannot then focus on ideas. It doesn’t do much good to tell a child not to worry about mechanics on a first draft. That’s like telling a zebra to ignore its stripes. It’s not going to happen. When you combine this focus with the speed at which a gifted child’s mind generates thoughts, the frustration becomes overwhelming, making writing an unpleasant experience.
Perhaps more importantly, perfectionism can cause children to feel as though they can’t adequately express their thoughts in writing. As one child said, “Anything I write can never be correct. It will never be exactly what I am thinking” (qtd. in Kutner, 2010). This attitude is easier to understand when we recognize that, contrary to popular belief, we do not actually think in words. When we float words and sentences around in our minds, we are attempting to put concepts and thoughts into words. We have an idea and we are trying to find the right words to convey the idea. If you doubt that, think of the times that you had an idea and struggled to get someone to understand it. It’s perfectly clear to you, but you can’t seem to find the right words and sentences to get that idea across to someone else. According to Kutner (2010), the frustration of knowing that your words are not reflecting your ideas is especially difficult for highly sensitive children.
- Too Many Choices
I remember once going out for pie and coffee with friends. The waitress asked me what kind of pie I wanted. “What kind do you have?” I asked her. She said, “Everything.” Everything? It sounds funny, but I suddenly was unable to even think of all the possible pies I might want let alone actually pick one. This is similar to the problem gifted children have they they are asked to write something. Even if they are given a topic to write about, ideas might be swirling around their minds, each one vying for attention. It doesn’t matter either if it’s fiction or non-fiction the child is asked to write. The possibilities for a story or details to include are endless. Too many choices can be paralyzing. Rather than trying to make choices, it is easier to do nothing or to quickly write out some generalities and get it over with.
- Too Few Choices
Sometimes children aren’t given any choices at all. They are asked to write on a topic for which they have zero interest. Some children have no interest at all in writing short stories, and yet they are asked to write a story. It shouldn’t be surprising to see that they avoid that task. This is true of most children, but for some reason, people think that a gifted child, particularly a verbally gifted one, should love creative writing. But they don’t all love it. Some would rather write non-fiction, but even there, if they are told exactly what to write about, they have no interest in writing anything. This is especially hard for intrinsically motivated children since they are not motivated by grades or approval, but by what they see as the value in the work itself.
- Learning is Primary; Expression is Secondary
Some children have no interest in writing because they simply don’t see the point. For them, what matters is the learning. So if they learn all about the pachycepholosaurus, they don’t see the point of writing about it. They’ve already learned. If they’ve read a book, what’s the point of reporting on it? If they’ve already told a story, what’s the point of writing it down? It’s all in the mind already. They feel that writing about it will add nothing.
- Not Understanding the Writing Process
It’s not that children aren’t taught about the writing process. Most, if not all, children learn about it at some point or another. Younger children learn that the first sentences they write down need not be perfect, that misspelled words and grammar errors don’t matter because those can be eliminated later. The most important thing, they learn is to get their ideas down on paper. Eventually, they learn the stages of the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. A lot of time is spent on the prewriting process and its various methods, such as listing, brainstorming, and outlining. The problem is that few writers follow these stages in such a clear, clean-cut way, but the kids don’t know that, and to be fair, that’s not usually explained. Few writers go though such a neat and orderly process when writing, but children are often expected to do just that. Gifted children who already have several reasons to dislike writing now have one more.
What Can We Do to Help the Reluctant Writer?
What we do to help a reluctant writer will depend on just what is causing the reluctance. In many cases, it is a combination of reasons, so a combination of solutions might be needed.
- Use Voice to Text Software
Since many gifted children can think faster than they can write, writing down their ideas can be extremely frustrating. Rather than write out their ideas, these children can use voice to text software. Some people suggest that they be allowed to speak their ideas into a recorder to be transcribed later. But that means someone has to type everything out. With voice to text software, that transcription isn’t necessary. This software used to be expensive, but free options are now readily available. The one I had the most luck with is Speechnotes. It is very simple and pretty accurate. It requires the Chrome browser. Some others, also for Chrome, are listed below.
Dictation 2.o for Chrome
Keep in mind that there is always a learning curve, so children might be initially frustrated. While Speechnote is easy to use and quite accurate, it can make mistakes, especially if a child speaks fast or doesn’t speak clearly.
- Turn Off the Computer Monitor
Children who are able to type can type with the computer monitor turned off. This can help eliminate the focus on spelling and other mechanics of writing. It can take a while to get used to it since the desire to write mistake-free text can keep a child from focusing on ideas. The may fret about the mistakes being made while they can’t see the screen. However, with some experience typing without seeing what’s on the screen, children can get past the need to make everything perfect from the start.
- Give Children Topics They Can Explore
Children need topics to write on that will allow them to learn and explore. Topics that are assigned primarily for kids to prove they have learned the material in a lesson or unit are guaranteed to turn off a gifted child (or pretty much any child). If a child has mastered the material, writing about it seems pointless. Of course, topics that deal with the material or lesson can be assigned if the goal is to make the information interesting to someone else. For example, in addition to assigning a topic, a teacher might also assign an audience. The challenge would be to make the writing clear and interesting to that particular audience. Now there is more of a purpose to the writing. Children can explore more about the topic to see how it might be presented to that audience and can also explore various ways to write for that audience.
- Focus on the Writing Process
Focusing on the writing process doesn’t mean a rigid adherence to a step-by-step progression through prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. Orlean Anderson, in her article “’The’ Writing Process Rejected,” explains that presenting the writing process as a series of “correct steps…that are the same for all writers” can cause children to dislike and reject the process. She adds that writers know better and goes on to quote what many of them say about the writing process, from start to finish. Some write journals to record their thoughts for later use. Some get ideas from other authors. Some talk out their ideas first, while others write first and then talk. Clearly, writers don’t all start by brainstorming or by creating maps or outlines.
The same is true for every stage of the writing process. Different writers proceed differently. Some write and come to discover what they want to say. Some write and revise as they go, experimenting with ideas, sentences, and words. Some find they need to remind themselves that their writing is a work in progress so they feel free to change and experiment. Some save the work on sentences for the end, choosing to tighten up their writing once their ideas are clear.
What children need to understand about the writing process is that writers all focus on different things at different points of their writing. At the beginning, they need to focus on what to say. Of course, sometimes children are given a topic to write about, which makes the discovery of ideas seem a bit pointless, but it’s not. After all, ten people can write on the same topic, but not all of them will write something good.
Not everyone is going to love writing, and not everyone is going to be a great writer. However, we can teach kids how to be good writers and we can do it without making them hate writing.
Anderson, O. R. (2001). The writing process rejected. Quartly – National Writing Project, 23(2), 30-33.
Kutner, Doug. “Where’s the Pain? Why Writing Can Be so Difficult for Gifted Children.” Dr. Doug Kutner. N.p., 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 15 May 2017.
Rinard, B. (2004). Tips for parents: the reluctant writer. In Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Young Scholars Seminar.