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Guest Blog Post – A Solution to Building Stronger Male Writers

Throughout this school year, we will feature guest bloggers to share different perspectives on or experiences with boys education on our Head of School blog. Our next guest blogger is Mr. Steven Cummings, middle school English Language Arts teacher at Regis.

Have you ever seen Finding Forrester? The film stars Sean Connery, and it is about a young high school student learning to hone his extraordinary talent for writing after he meets a famous author. There is one scene in the film that teachers and parents alike can all relate to.

The main character, Jamal, sits in William Forrester's apartment thinking about what to write. Observing this, Forrester sits down with Jamal and begins to write beside him. Jamal asks Forrester what he is doing, and he replies in a subtle yet cocky tone, "I'm writing. Just as you'll be doing when you start punching those keys."

Jamal continues to think and think about what he should write. Forrester interrupts his thoughts by saying, "No, no, that comes later. The first draft you write with your heart and then you rewrite with your head."

I have taught at the Regis School for five years now, and I see the same pattern year after year with my students. Many boys, especially in the first months of the school year, go through the same struggle that Jamal faces in the film. Sometimes it is heartbreaking to see—a young boy thinks his words are no good for his paper, and then he shuts down.

Where did the struggle involving boys and writing come from? There seems to be an ongoing dilemma that is common knowledge among teachers, parents, and maybe even students themselves, that girls tend to be stronger writers than boys. It is often seen that a young lady can just get her thoughts and ideas down on paper much easier. I believe in one solution that can not only develop any young boy into a stronger writer, but this solution can even prompt the boy to appreciate his words and the writing process more and more. The solution is journal writing.

Yes, journaling may sound cliché at times. You can probably picture yourself as a young teenager writing in your diary that you did not want anyone to read, not even yourself sometimes. But on the contrary, the words we write for ourselves about life's everyday moments (big or small) can have a strong impact on how we view ourselves, the moments we live in, and on our writing development. In the past five years of teaching, I have observed key impacts from journaling.

Journaling Impact # 1: Boys are writing their own history.

My best friend's mother gave each of her three children a special gift on their 25th birthdays. In the box were twenty-five handwritten letters from her celebrating the highlights of each year they had spent on earth. Imagine receiving such a gift. The history of your life is right in front of you. I hope to one day present my son, Nolan, with such a gift.

We can start helping our boys appreciate their moments by a simple journal entry. And write with your son! Simple topics on birthday parties, summer vacation moments, success in the soccer game, or even difficulties like troubles with friendships could all be highlighted topics for writing. In ten or twenty years from now, these simple entries could become history for the young man who will appreciate so much more how he grew up.

Journaling Impact # 2: Boys can communicate more effectively.

Have you ever written out a pros and cons list? I'm sure it helped you make a decision if you did. Imagine how a young boy can better think about a difficult situation if he writes down how he feels about it. By writing more and more on everyday situations, we can begin to better grasp our feelings and understanding of different topics, and then in turn, provide stronger oral communication. A young boy might be so angry over a fight a with a friend but then see the situation differently or take a positive outlook on it by writing about what happened.

Journaling Impact # 3: Boys can become stronger writers!

The writing process can be daunting to many. The more opportunities we have to write, however, make challenges from large essays miniscule. Any boy can start in small steps with journal entries and write with his heart first. Half of the battle in writing comes from determining what is worth putting down on paper, and it is practice through journaling that can lead to greater strength.

So, what are you doing this weekend? Are you and your family attending a special event? Going to see a holiday film? Attending a family wedding? Appreciate the event more by writing about it! Better yet, here is a great family exercise: Have everyone spend 5-10 minutes writing about what they did over the weekend, and at the next family dinner, invite each member to share what they wrote. Attempt to make this a monthly—and then possibly weekly—routine. I guarantee, over time, your son will begin to see positive outcomes the more he writes!

Bio: This is Steven's 5th year at Regis teaching Middle School English Language Arts. Steven holds a Masters Degree in Education from the University of St. Thomas and a Bachelors Degree in History from Texas A&M University. Prior to joining Regis, he taught middle school social studies at Queen of Peace Catholic School (Houston) and St. Mary's Catholic (League City).