"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill Timpanaro, Artist, Author, Educator

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Motivating Students With “Secret Writing”

by Laura Hill
Previously posted as a guest blog for the amazing @mrkempnz, an education "must follow" on twitter.

Motivating students can be tough.  I talk to thousands of students during the school year and consistently I find that as the students get older they become more cynical about writing.  I think the reason for this is two-fold; on one hand they are less bold about their writing due to experiences that have shaken their confidence like failed tests or poor presentations, on the other hand, they just aren’t motivated.  Since I can’t change their past experiences I try to concentrate on creating a new perspective. So how do you motivate students to write? 

I use many methodologies based on PBL and inquiry learning to get students going, but the most motivating factor I have found is in “secret writing.”  Secret writing isn’t a singular thing it’s more of a realization, an idea that exemplifies what writing is really all about.  This is how it works.

When I stand in front of a large group of students the first thing I typically discuss with them are chocolate chip cookies. Not the store bought kind, but rich chewy chocolaty home made ones that melt in your mouth and stick to your fingertips.  And since most students like chocolate chip cookies it’s not too hard to get them to rattle off the ingredients to make a batch-flour, sugar, water, salt, butter, baking powder, eggs and chocolate chips.  I create a mock batch of cookies letting them cook until someone says “ding!” To the student’s surprise our pretend batch of cookies is usually a disgusting mess.  This is because no one bothered to tell me how much of each ingredient to put in.  Secret writing.

I start to clue students in with a story about the many years I spent working as a television producer.  They are always surprised when I describe the amount of writing that goes on before a shot is laid to film.  Storyboards, set design, lighting, scripting, costumes…you get the picture, secret writing.  I start to relate this to everything they are interested in from cartoons to sports plays, instructions for massive
Lego structures to video games.

Now, if you’ve never written a video game or iPad app you probably don’t realize that these are some of the most complex ideas to put to paper. This is because games are based on rules making it necessary to write a reaction for every possible action while following the game’s strategy.  This is on top of writing about the setting, characters, costumes, dialogue and backstory.

At this point I have the student’s attention, I can almost hear them thinking, so I tell them to look around.  Secret writing is on their shirts, shoes, notebooks; it’s on signs, billboards and posters.  Even more can be found on books, smart boards and on candy bar wrappers. We are literally immersed in secret writing!  All done by people just like them.  This is when their eyes begin to spark. 

When students realize that writing is at the core of almost everything they do it takes on a whole new meaning that is personal.  This is really important because today’s students aren’t going to have the opportunity to avoid writing. They are part of a culture that is living a personal public narrative and the people who are best able to tell their story are the ones who are going to be heard.

We are in an amazing moment, experiencing a shift in social perspective, where we see for the first time some very young people having an impact on the global stage.  They are writing books, championing social good, making films, publishing scientific theory and soon they will be creating technology; it’s just a matter of time and opportunity.  And they are talking to peers around the world.  You have a chance to play a huge part in this.  By creating a culture of writers, thinkers and inventors in your classroom you are giving your students the ability to share their ideas with people around the world.   The kids are up for it, in fact they are more than ready for it, and who knows?  You may be inspiring a student who will one day change the world.

Laura Hill is an author and producer known for helping children find their voice and talents through creative arts and technology. To find out how you can bring her writing programs to your school email Laura Hill or tweet @candylandcaper. 


Read the books I write with my children.