Homeschooling and WritingSep 21st, 2009 | By Jessica Parnell | Category: Featured Articles, Writing Ideas and Activities
I had a conversation with a homeschooling friend this week whose sixth grade daughter is struggling with writing. “She is so unfocused when it comes to writing elements of our homeschooling that we end up stretching out our day into the evening or weekend just to get it done.”
When I pressed her further, she mentioned that even a “simple” essay question in Social Studies and Science can make for a really bad day.
I couldn’t help share with her what I have learned about the writing process over the years. As a writing teacher, this is my passion and I believe it is an essential part of every student’s education. Therefore, we must do what we can to help our kids find success in writing.
I do not have research to back this up, but my studies on how the brain works are what have led me to this conclusion:
Because we expect our kids to begin writing at such a young age, we often create for them a mental block that makes writing a chore and/or a battle for years.
There are some students who have the fine motor skills to write at a very young age. However, many struggle so much with the physical act of writing that they quickly decide that “I can’t write.”
What many children, parents and teachers miss is the fact that this inability to write has nothing to do with their ability to generate ideas or to create a paragraph or story. Instead, the physical act of forming letters and sentences is such a difficult task that they cannot possibly keep up with what their incredible little minds are trying to communicate.
Thus, we set them up for failure and an “I can’t do it” attitude.
Our brains are so powerful that what we tell it becomes truth. So, if our kids are saying “I cannot write,” it quickly becomes reality. They begin to approach every writing assignment with this attitude and as the years and struggles with writing go on that “I can’t do it” attitude just continues to grow.
So, how do we fix it?
The Power of Dictation
Dictation can quickly become your best friend. Though it takes more time on your part, the results are well worth it!
If you are working with young writers, don’t ask them to write a full story or essay on their own. Instead, give them the assignment and then sit down with them to complete it.
With my kids, I even go so far as to have them dictate their pre-writing or brainstorming.
For example, when my now sixth grade daughter was in second grade we did an elective in Animal Science. This elective gave us one animal or type of animal to study every three weeks. Because I am a writer, I ramped up the elective by having her write a full page essay on each animal at the end of the unit. We would begin with pre-writing and work our way into a first draft.
One example that stands out in my mind was the study of dogs. In the unit, we studied sheepdogs, sled dogs, and seeing eye dogs (among many others). At the end of the unit, we sat down together at the computer and created a table of all of the different types of dogs included in the unit. Then, she listed all of the things she could remember about each and I put that information into the table.
Once that pre-writing step was complete, I printed out the table, handed it to her and asked her to figure out the best order for presenting her information. Then, she simply used the table to begin to write sentences about each type of dog. I sat beside her and typed out everything she said. In no time, we had a five paragraph single spaced composition that filled an entire typewritten page–”written” by a second grade student.
Did I help her as she wrote? Absolutely! As she dictated I helped her to find transitional words or sentence. I stopped her and reminded her to tell me when to start a new sentence. I pointed out those times when she was repeating herself or not providing enough information. And I worked with her to draft an introduction that would grab the reader’s interest and a conclusion that would pull everything together.
Guess what? Despite all of that help, she is an amazing writer; her older sister is also quite the writer, and her third grade sibling is following the same path.
Why? Because they could look at that beautiful piece of writing at the end of the day and say “I WROTE THAT!”
Success is such a powerful motivator.
So, to my friend I offered this piece of advice. “Don’t worry that she is now in sixth grade. Start from scratch. Sit down with her for every writing assignment and show her that she has incredible things to say. Show her that she CAN write. Help her to see just how much she knows. And do that by allowing her to dictate her essays and answers to you.”
And be sure to tell her every day–”You are a good writer!”
Do that and watch just how well your kids begin to write.
So, in a nutshell–5 Steps to Writing Success:
- Never tell them that their writing is bad
- Make sure the assignment is clear and allow them to ask questions until they fully understand what you want
- Allow them to dictate their writing to you
- Select one assignment a month to perfect and work together to perfect it.
- Remind them every day that they are good writers
These five steps will allow you to harness both the power of dictation and the power of the mind to create confident writers.
Additional homeschooling posts:
Homeschooling Student Spotlight: Ashley Zinsmeyer – Teaching and Learning are a Never-Ending Circle of Love, Faith, and Growth
Ashley Zinsmeyer both began and finished her high-school curriculum through homeschooling, and found it to be a rewarding experience that bolstered her faith and fostered joy in both learning and teaching others.
Who’s Got Game? Guest Author Raquel Pedraza Gives Us the Scoop on Tennis and Homeschooling!
Teenage Tennis Star Loves the Ability to “Learn Without Limitations” By Choosing a Bridgeway Homeschool Curriculum .