Motivation to Write: Ideas for Developing Better Writers

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Motivation to Write: Ideas for Developing Better Writers

For many of us, the act of writing can be scary, dangerous, difficult, and frustrating. I remember that when I started to write my first book, I was apprehensive about putting words to paper for fear that others who read my thoughts would judge me harshly because I wasn’t skilled at all the nuances of “proper” or “good” writing.

Since that time, I’ve studied why some kids are hesitant, and even afraid, to write. For many decades, educational researchers have studied the writing process—the structures of writing. Researchers have also studied what motivates and demotivates people to engage in learning. Within the past two decades, researchers have begun to link writing and motivation—or motivation to write.

Our motivation to accomplish a task is affected by three factors:

  1. Motives—an intrinsic or extrinsic reward, a need, or something we value and are interested in
  2. Self-belief and self-efficacy—a belief in ourselves and in our skills to accomplish the activity
  3. Self-regulation skills—our ability to manage ourselves in the learning activity

There are three types of writing prescribed in schools. Transactional writing is considered that which is used to persuade, record, and convey information. Upwards of 65 percent of all writing done in school is transactional writing. Poetic or imaginative writing encompasses story writing and playwriting as well as poetry. Little of this type of writing happens beyond elementary school. Expressive or personal writing is based on student interests or writing about feelings. Typically, very little expressive writing is done in school.

Research finds that students are more inhibited by transactional writing and are far more engaged when doing expressive or personal writing. As Pietro Boscolo and Suzanne Hidi say in their essay “The Multiple Meanings of Motivation to Write”: “Students in schools are seldom aware that writing is a powerful tool for fixing, using, changing, and re-elaborating their ideas and knowledge as well as for collaborating with other people, schoolmates, for instance, and/or others outside the classroom, as partners in the construction and negotiation of meaning through discourse.”

Writing and motivation research indicate several ways we can get students to be more motivated to write:

  • Adjust the instructional focus of writing from purely an academic task to a tool to communicate interests and relevant information.
  • Increase enjoyment in writing by having students write about topics they are interested in, keeping the focus on the communication of ideas rather than the formality of the writing process.
  • When assigning writing tasks, have students work collaboratively on the planning and writing.
  • Make sure students have an authentic (real) audience for their writing—the writing should be read by those who will find it useful or interesting.
  • Be sure that students know enough about what they are being asked to write about and that they have the self-efficacy (writing skills) to complete the task.

Another way to increase students’ motivation to write is through developing their skills of self-regulation. Based on my investigations into self-regulation for learning (SRL), I’ve determined that for students to be successful they must be able to balance their affect (beliefs and feelings), behaviors (strategies for planning, execution, resource procurement, etc.), and cognition (critical reasoning, creative thinking, and problem-solving). Here are some tips to increase students’ SRL for better writing:

  • Encourage them to think positively about themselves and their abilities to write.
  • Daily, have students write about something they are interested in, have an abundance of knowledge about, or are excited to share with others.
  • Use supportive descriptive feedback throughout the writing process, focusing on what students are doing well and being specific about how they can get better.
  • Provide students with graphic organizers to assist them in planning and executing writing.
  • Have students take pictures of something of interest to them. Then, using the picture, have them write details, descriptions, and other ways to explain the item or scene.
  • Give students fun sentence stems (such as, “If I ran the school, I would . . .” or, “When I daydream, I think about . . .”) to help get them started on writing.
  • Model how you write—verbally express how to develop and organize the idea you will write about.
  • Demonstrate how rough drafts are necessary to refining and sharpening thoughts.
  • Have students set goals for their writing—from what they intend to say, to who they want to read their work, to how they want to feel about their final product.
  • Using a piece of quality writing, together with your students construct rubrics for students to follow as they develop their own writing.

Writing is a time-consuming process. We need time to develop ideas, plan the format, write, and rewrite/refine. Unfortunately, in our hurried days, we often don’t allow students time think, plan, collaborate, and refine ideas. Using writing as a daily event, where students can take the time to draw or doodle pictures of ideas, discuss with peers what they are writing about, and reflect on what they have written, can increase our students’ motivation to write.

Pietro Boscolo and Suzanne Hidi, “The Multiple Meanings of Motivation to Write,” Studies in Writing and Motivation, (Eds. Hidi, S & P. Boscolo), 2007. Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Elsevier. Pg 4.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

Differentiation For Gifted Learners

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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