As promised…the final installment in our three-part series called Teaching Writing.
- In Part 1, we talked about the struggles and the anguish common to reluctant writers and to parents who feel insecure about teaching writing.
- Part 2 introduced some simple steps you can take to begin to make writing more enjoyable.
Today you’ll learn how the writing process can help free your struggling or reluctant writer from her self-imposed torture. And of course, reluctant writers aren’t the only ones who benefit. Make sure that your eager, motivated writers take their compositions through these steps as well to ensure a well-written final draft.
Introducing the Writing Process
Though it may sound freeing, writing about “whatever you want” can actually frustrate struggling writers, so start by recommending concrete topics they can choose from. Instead of saying “write about a food,” suggest they use their five senses to describe a taco, a cinnamon roll, or an ice cream sundae.
Next, position them for success by setting boundaries for the composition. For example, limit its length. This helps your struggling 12-year-old son relax a bit (“You only have to write five to seven sentences.”) But it also helps your wordy, rabbit-trailing 15-year-old daughter write more concisely (“You may only write ONE paragraph of five to seven sentences.”)
As you can see, this works to the advantage of both kinds of writers: you’re offering the writing-phobic child safe boundaries while establishing clear limits for the rambler.
Most importantly, teach your kids that writing is a process, not a one-time event. Children trained in the process of writing learn to view the final draft as merely one of several steps in an evolving work. And when the steps seem doable, even the most intimidated writer stands a chance at accomplishment.
As you take your kids through the writing process, provide a plan or schedule to follow. Don’t allow your procrastinators to do all the steps in one day; there’s wisdom in letting a composition rest between revisions. Furthermore, don’t impose the demands of the writing process on every single composition—it’s enough for one writing project at a time to go through several revisions.
Break up such assignments into five manageable steps:
Brainstorming gets ideas flowing so your student has something to say. He might brainstorm for a how-to composition by listing the steps of the process. If he’s writing a descriptive paragraph, he must carefully study the subject for interesting details. For a narrative, he’ll want to list events in order. Whatever the topic, suggest a brainstorming method—mind map, list, or outline, for instance—that’s best for the kind of composition he’s writing.
This is the imperfect, flawed rough draft. It doesn’t have to be neat—just legible! As the student writes, he’ll draw from the many ideas gathered during brainstorming. If he still can’t think of things to say, he may need to brainstorm even more. Have him skip lines so there’s room to edit later.
Self-Editing and Revising
- They’re too lazy to edit their own work carefully,
- They really believe there’s nothing they need to change; or
- They simply assume that you’ll point out their errors, so why should they bother self-editing at all?
Yet your suggestions for improvement make them feel picked on!
Self-editing plays an important role in the writing process and shouldn’t be neglected. Why? It helps the student take more responsibility for his own progress. Instead of depending solely on you for assistance, he must make some changes before you ever see the paper.
Ideally, he should use some sort of checklist as a guide, helping him identify errors in content, style, and mechanics. As he compares his rough draft to the checklist, he makes corrections and improvements. The rewritten paper he turns in to you—the first revision—will then be ready for your inspection.
Every paper benefits from a second opinion. Only after your child has had a chance to self-edit and rewrite should you offer your own advice. Don’t let this scare you! The more you edit and revise your kids’ papers, the easier it will become. Familiarity produces recognition. You’ll quickly become skilled at spotting repeated words, passive writing, and misplaced modifiers. At first, however, you might have to hunt for them.
Using an impartial checklist helps you be objective and lets you comment on the work without condemning the child. Not only that, it takes the pressure and guesswork out of editing. And because your student knows what you expect, he responds more positively to suggestions for improvement.
Along with tips, include plenty of positive feedback. Find ways to bless his efforts; then make gentle suggestions that encourage growth without squishing his spirit.
Now for the last step in the process—the final draft—where the student makes corrections based on your comments and puts the finishing touches on his paper. This is the one he’ll be proud to mail to Grandma, post on the fridge, or publish in your support group’s newsletter.
When he compares this polished version to his very first draft, what a difference he’ll see! And though he may never love the process that has brought him to this point, at least he’ll learn to respect it.
Inch by Inch, It’s a Cinch
Teaching writing doesn’t have to be hard. But as you’ve discovered, if you feel inadequate and insecure, writing may not be happening in your home. Recognize the need to seek out a program that offers strong parent support. Clear lesson instructions and checklists, as well as editing and grading tips, will help you feel better equipped to teach and evaluate this subject—and when you radiate confidence, your kids pick up on it.
If you’re looking for a just such a curriculum to help you teach the writing process in a step-by-step manner, take a look at WriteShop. And because it’s ungraded, your kids can begin WriteShop I any time between 6th and 10th grades.
Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.