I recently interviewed writing expert Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. His early training was in the violin, and he later studied with Dr. Suzuki of the Suzuki Method. Mr. Pudewa says that music and writing have a lot of similarities. Because of this we can use insights from learning music that will help improve writing skills. What are some of these similarities and how can we use them to enhance children's writing skills?
1. Build a Foundation
There are foundational skills that must be learned before ever playing an instrument. How to stand, how to position the hands or mouth, and how to hold the instrument are just a few of these. These must be mastered before students of music can ever play an instrument.
Likewise, when students are learning to write, they must learn the foundational skills first. There are mechanical skills to learn, such as how to hold a pencil, as well as foundational composition skills.
One foundation for composition is understanding the basic thought or idea of each sentence. Students can work to listen and record notes from things they hear to work on their processing skills. This basic exercise will help students work on identifying the main concepts. They will then better understand how to get concepts across in their own writing.
In music, children use the work of other, more skilled composers before composing their own music. We can use this same idea in writing. When students are allowed to imitate the work of other writers, they learn the writing skills, but the added difficultly of creating new ideas is taken away.
One way this can be put into practice is by asking students to rewrite a story that is familiar to them. They are then able to practice sentence structure, getting their ideas on paper and writing composition skills without creating a story on their own.
Imitation will improve students writing in other ways too. Writing something that already has some familiarity will feel more comfortable to students, allowing them to relax into the writing process.
3. Build on Previous Skills
Music is taught concept upon concept, slowly increasing the level of difficulty. As we teach students writing, we can model this same idea. Skills can be taught one at a time, allowing the students to master each skill before moving on to the next.
When writing is taught this way, students will not experience the overwhelm that is sometimes felt when learning to write. Andrew Pudewa points out that anything we can do as educators to take the complexity out of writing will help students excel and progress in their writing skills.