“I’ve got nothing to write about!” Turning thoughts into text

Over the years I have repeated met the ‘I’ve got nothing to write about’ kid, the ‘stare at your page for the whole writing session’ and the ‘start crying because my page is still blank and it’s nearly playtime’ kid. It has been with some frustration that I have carefully scaffolded the child’s writing, provided a variety of prompts, guided the child through a plan and conversation only to leave their side and come back to find a page that has nothing more on it than when I left. I have also tried taking away part of their playtime where I thought it was mucking about (often with the same result) and even once having a student record their ideas using an iPad then transcribing it.

The children in this scenario are not necessarily mucking about, developmentally delayed in an way shape or form and sometimes are fluent writers of dictated text. They have ranged in age from five to 14 years of age. So I am seeking to understand why this is happening.

I am still working my way through a variety of articles for my assignment on this topic, and will provide more detail at a later point in time. So far I have found four common themes in my reading which impact on these;

  • Automaticity of transcription skills (automatically forming letters, spelling)
  • Cognition (what the brain is up to, how it processes etc, working memory and long term memory)
  • Self regulation (focus, goal setting, organisation, attention etc)
  • Self efficacy (perceived task value, your perceived ability to produce the result, agency etc)

Automaticity of transcription skills are important because this frees up cognitive space: less memory being put on writing the actual word lets you focus more on deeper features. Self regulation and self efficacy tie in together, with self regulation dealing more with how you deal with the tasks demands itself and focus on it (I think) and self efficacy more about how one’s agency, confidence and self-beliefs interact with what you actually do. Somewhere in here fits goals as well. These are goals that include ‘I am going to write an argument’, through to ‘I need a full stop there’. Struggling writers often find it challenging to switch between goals, focussing on the global (the big idea) goal or the word level (e.g. spelling) goal. A fluent writer moves between these fluidly.

I don’t think that one aspect is completely separable from the others, but approaching the issue from this perspective will offer me opportunities to address the blank page phenomenon in a more strategic fashion.

Obviously these thoughts are in early day yet and I will be posting more on this as I come to better understand it. In my next post on this topic I will also provide more specific references for those who would like to go and read some of the sources of my ideas!

A quick bibliography (a rough draft as imported into Zotero) follows below.


Berninger, V. W., Vaughan, K. B., Abbott, R. D., Abbott, S. P., Rogan, L. W., Brooks, A., … Graham, S. (1997). Treatment of handwriting problems in beginning writers: Transfer from handwriting to composition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(4), 652. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/edu/89/4/652/
Blankenbaker, R., & Hamstra, D. (1989). OVER THE HURDLE: WRITERS, WORD PROCESSORS, AND PREWRITING STRATEGIES. Journal of Reading, Writing, and Learning Disabilities International, 5(1), 43–59. https://doi.org/10.1080/0748763890050104
Brand, A. G., & Powell, J. L. (1986). Emotions and the Writing Process: A Description of Apprentice Writers. The Journal of Educational Research, 79(5), 280–285. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.1986.10885692
Chen, S., & Zhou, J. (2010). Creative writing strategies of young children: Evidence from a study of Chinese emergent writing. Asian Perspectives, 5(3), 138–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2010.09.002
Gentry, J. R. (2005). INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNIQUES FOR EMERGING WRITERS AND SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS AT KINDERGARTEN AND GRADE 1 LEVELS. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 21(2), 113–134. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573560590915932
Goatley, V. J. (2000). EXPLORING SCHOOL LEARNING COMMUNITIES: STUDENTS’ EARLY LITERACY TRANSFORMATIONS. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 16(4), 337–360. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573560050129204
Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2000). The Role of Self-Regulation and Transcription Skills in Writing and Writing Development. Educational Psychologist, 35(1), 3–12. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15326985EP3501_2
Ivanič, R. (2004). Discourses of Writing and Learning to Write. Language and Education, 18(3), 220–245. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500780408666877
Kim, Y.-S., Al Otaiba, S., Folsom, J. S., Greulich, L., & Puranik, C. (2014). Evaluating the Dimensionality of First-Grade Written Composition. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 57(1), 199. https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2013/12-0152)
Pajares, F. (2003). SELF-EFFICACY BELIEFS, MOTIVATION, AND ACHIEVEMENT IN WRITING: A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 19(2), 139–158. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573560308222
Puranik, C. S., & AlOtaiba, S. (2012). Examining the contribution of handwriting and spelling to written expression in kindergarten children. Reading and Writing, 25(7), 1523–1546. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-011-9331-x
Smith, K. J., & Good‐Zavagno, C. (1991). WRITING AS PROBLEM SOLVING IN THE SECOND‐GRADE CLASSROOM. Journal of Reading, Writing, and Learning Disabilities International, 7(3), 243–253. https://doi.org/10.1080/0748763910070307
Tompkins, G. E., & Camp, D. J. (1988). RX for Writer’s Block. Childhood Education, 64(4), 209–214. https://doi.org/10.1080/00094056.1988.10521537
Troia, G. A., Shankland, R. K., & Wolbers, K. A. (2012). Motivation Research in Writing: Theoretical and Empirical Considerations. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 28(1), 5–28. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573569.2012.632729
Wanzek, J., Gatlin, B., Otaiba, S. A., & Kim, Y.-S. G. (2016). The Impact of Transcription Writing Interventions for First-Grade Students. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573569.2016.1250142




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