Instilling Writing Confidence in Students by Cathleen Hutter

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“I am a writer.”

I still struggle to say these words.

In fact, I doubt myself right now as I attempt to write my first blog post ever.

But when I need to boost my writing confidence, a teacher’s words and actions from over 30 years ago flood my mind. These words remain on my heart and uplift this writer’s soul.

Ms. Paul, the yearbook advisor, is the teacher whose words still impact my life today. She tapped me to be the literary editor. Honestly, I was a shy, quiet teenager and this terrified me.

She looked over some of my articles and blurbs and highlighted the strengths she saw within each piece. I still recall sitting next to her and my grin growing larger with each point she shared with me.

Ms. Paul told me that writing was a talent of mine. Her confidence in my ability radiated off of her and into my inner self.

She encouraged me to share my writing publicly. I felt vulnerable, but I accepted the editor position. I wrote feature pieces and poems for posterity.

I never would have accepted the role of literary editor without the powerful words she poured into me. She called me a WRITER- yes, a writer- something I had always dreamed of being.

Now as a 4th grade teacher, I hope to exude the same confidence in my students’ work so that it is contagious to my young writers. Ms. Paul’s words and actions influence my current writing conferences.

I want my words to embolden my students to enjoy writing and feel success with it.

During writing conferences with my student-writers, I remember the power my words possess. Each word I share can build up or tear down my writers. I focus on affirming the strengths in their pieces. Some strengths I’ve highlighted are:

  • a unique word choice in a description

  • a hook that pulls the reader in

  • a creative idea or out-of-the-box connection

  • a poetic phrase

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I aim to be gentle and encouraging when I meet with students. I acknowledge how impressed I am when they take a risk and try something new. This motivates my students to keep taking risks and see their writing skills grow.

Sometimes I get goosebumps or am just blown away while reading my students’ work. I immediately stop and ask if I can share those parts of their writing with the whole class. Things I share include:

  • a great example of trying out a mini-lesson skill

  • a revision that just made the piece much stronger

  • words that bring forth emotion as a reader

When I do this, even the timid writers sit up a bit straighter and feel they can write. The rest of the class offers positive comments. It is a supportive moment that the whole class experiences together, and it prompts other students to give it a try in their writing.

As teachers, we must remember the power of our words and actions. These stay with our students longer than we may think, for me 30 years.

I want my students to see themselves as successful, confident writers. I hope to instill this confidence so they continue to write long beyond their time with me.


Cathleen Hutter currently teaches 4th grade in Brighton, New York. She loved teaching writing to primary students for over 20 years and now brings her passion to the intermediate grades. Cathy is a fellow of the National Writing Project and was one of the initial members in the Genesee Valley Writing Project. Cathy looks for ways to integrate technology into writing and for creative ways to publish student work. Cathy can be found on Twitter @HutterCathleen.

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