A Magic Wand and How Children Become Writers at Acton Academy

Acton turns the traditional method of teaching writing upside down. In our studios, the love of writing comes first. Then comes the appreciation for grammar.

As an Acton parent, this was one of the hardest parts of the journey for me. I cringe at misspelled words and poorly punctuated sentences. I had to learn to wait and trust the process remembering we created our Writer’s Workshops to be like Quests – collaborative, messy, and always, always with an intention, a purpose, a problem to solve.

The “upside down” part is that we wanted children to write freely and ALOT so they’d naturally come to the realization that grammar matters; for example, when you need to write an excellent email to secure an apprenticeship in middle school.

From Thank You notes and Full Circle Feedback surveys to Character Callout slips and Town Hall agenda forms, writing is infused into daily studio life. The children don’t question the “why” because it’s obvious to them. Writing is a way to be independent, sort out your thinking, get something done and have power.

It’s too easy to zap the love of writing right out of children’s souls with assignments focused on structure and grammar topped off with red marks on eraser-worn paper. How sad this is when the reality is children LOVE creating stories, are fascinated with fantastical tales and giggle spontaneously with word play. (MadLibs,  for example.) They also love to experience the power of communicating clearly – talk about getting a one-up on adults!

Because the world of human communication has opened up thanks to technology, we are including skills such as dictation, blog development, website design and video presentations as part of writing. This would never have been part of my elementary or middle school learning. But today, such skills are a natural part of what young people yearn to do. They pick it up fast, want to be good at it and use it for a reason.

Writing is the most wonderful, uniquely human tool for understanding ourselves, each other and the world. Learning to use it purposefully is equivalent to having a superpower.

If I had a magic wand, I’d wave it so adults would ignore spelling and grammar mistakes in children under the age of 10. Then, I’d hope they’d just get out a video recorder or voice memo app and let the children’s stories flow.