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What does your writing reveal about you?

What Does Your Writing Reveal about You?

Words Matter Week: Day 2

Words matter. And not just the words themselves, but also the grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make those words easier and more pleasant to read and understand.

In truth, no one particularly notices when a piece of writing is structurally sound and fairly free of errors. When the reader isn’t distracted by gross misspellings or misplaced apostrophes, he’s able to take in the words and thoughts in a simple, straightforward manner.

That’s one reason it’s so important that we write with care—and teach our kiddos to do the same.

Does Casual Writing Have Its Place?

This isn’t to say that everything we write needs to be pressed through the “grammar sieve” to strain out every wayward punctuation mark or imprecise word. I’m all for casual writing in the appropriate context, such as a quick note left on the kitchen table or a slapdash email to a friend. And I truly understand typing errors we all make when our flying fingers transpose a couple of letters or we miss the “shift” key.

But when a piece of writing—even a casual email or comment on a discussion board—contains pervasive errors, keyboard accidents can no longer be blamed. As an example, here’s a simple snippet from a blog comment I came across some time ago:

now i know its been WAY to long!! the only one I can reckonsie is Alvin and thats because hes a boy! I so need to come a visit ya’ll this summer and see the family, its been to meny years

What does your writing reveal about you?

Oh, dear.

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Our writing can reveal certain things about us. For example, what conclusions do you draw about this particular writer based on her one little writing sample? Is she kind? Friendly? Most likely. Educated? Careful? Attentive to detail? Probably not.

Granted, careless grammar doesn’t bother everyone. People who don’t use proper grammar and spelling themselves won’t know (or for that matter, care) whether you or your children use proper grammar and spelling.

But many people are pretty picky about such things—college admissions folks and employers among them. Your student’s writing may be judged and perhaps even rejected simply for failing to stick to conventions. Why?

  • Valid arguments lose their credibility and impact when the text is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
  • Spelling errors and poor grammar can suggest that a job or college applicant is sloppy at best and ignorant or uneducated at worst.
  • If an employee is not attentive to detail in emails, reports, or memos, the promotion may go to someone who is.

Conventions? What Conventions?

OK, I admit it. It’s hard for me to write anything—even an e-mail—without editing and revising it a dozen times. I’m sure part of that comes from being a writer and an author of a writing curriculum. I feel like my writing is always under the microscope, even when it’s not.

This doesn’t mean everyone has to be that way. A quickie email to a good friend can have a bunch of sentence fragments and a misspelled word—and in that context, who really cares? But when writing is up for public scrutiny—even on a discussion board—and you hope to be taken seriously, you’ll want to give as much attention to convention as to content.

Find the Errors

Just for kicks, scroll back up to the writing sample and see how many errors you can find before you read my list below. There are a lot! Even better, ask your children to edit it. It would make a great lesson.

Here are the mistakes I found.

  • now – should be Now (as in: Now, children, a sentence always begins with a capital.)
  • i – should be I
  • its – missing apostrophe (it’s)
  • to – should be too
  • !! – never use more than one exclamation point
  • the – see #1
  • reckonsie – should be recognize (as in: I almost didn’t recognize that word.)
  • thats – missing apostrophe (see #2)
  • hes – missing apostrophe (notice a pattern here?)
  • a visitand visit? for a visit?
  • y’all – I’ll give her this one since it’s a casual note.
  • comma splice – …see the family; it’s been too many years. Or …see the family. It’s been too many years. Or …see the family because it’s been too many years.
  • its, to – see #2 and #3
  • meny = should be spelled many (as in: Goodness! I’ve found so many mistakes.)

So . . . how’d you do? Did I miss anything?

The Final Draft

Here’s the gussied-up version—with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation:

Now I know it’s been WAY too long! The only one I can recognize is Alvin, and that’s because he’s a boy! I so need to come visit y’all this summer and see the family; it’s been too many years.

The friendly sentiments shine through, don’t they? It’s like cleaning soot from a window. Instead of zeroing in on the grimy, dirty pane, we can focus on the cheerful scene beyond the glass.

Just as cleaning up grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors greatly enhanced the message above, editing and polishing our own writing can clear the way for our message too. So make it a point to teach your children proper writing conventions, because words—and the way we write them—matter.

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Don’t forget to enter our Words Matter Week haiku contest. Deadline is Sunday, March 7, 2010. Contest has ended.

Photos: Andreas Levers and Alex Proimos, courtesy of Creative Commons.

On-the-job writing skills are more important than ever

We parents give an awful lot of thought to what our children will do once we’re done homeschooling. Will they go to college or university? Take a vocational track? Enter the ministry? Will they become scientists or mortgage lenders? Clerical workers or nurses? Entrepreneurs or educators?

One thing seems clear: No matter the profession, studies show it’s more important than ever that your teen develop good writing skills if he or she hopes to get—and keep—a job.

Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . or a Ticket Out

According to a 2004 survey polling 120 American corporations (whose payrolls include nearly 8 million people), an employee’s writing skills can either hinder or advance him in the company.

The survey may be a few years old, but its ramifications remain relevant in 2010. Here are some of the survey’s findings:

  • People who cannot write and communicate clearly will not be hired and are unlikely to last long enough to be considered for promotion.
  • Two-thirds of salaried employees in large American companies have some writing responsibility. “All employees must have writing ability,” said one human resource director.
  • Eighty percent or more of the companies in the service and finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sectors, the corporations with the greatest employment growth potential, assess writing during hiring. “Applicants who provide poorly written letters wouldn’t likely get an interview,” commented one insurance executive.
  • Half of all companies take writing into account when making promotion decisions.
  • More than 40 percent of responding firms offer or require training for salaried employees with writing deficiencies. Based on the survey responses, it appears that remedying deficiencies in writing may cost American firms as much as $3.1 billion annually. “We’re likely to send out 200–300 people annually for skills-upgrade courses like ‘business writing’ or ‘technical writing,’” said one respondent.

You can read the entire report here.

Focus on Key Writing Skills

What does this mean for your child? Simply, it doesn’t matter whether or not she’s college-bound. If she expects to succeed in the workplace, she’ll need to demonstrate better-than-average writing skills.

So make sure you’re focusing on basic but key writing skills throughout junior high and high school to adequately prepare her. Minimally, by the time your teen graduates from high school, she should know how to:

  • Write a clear, well-organized essay.
  • Write a business letter.
  • Use correct grammar.
  • Use proper punctuation, such as correct use of quotation marks and apostrophes.
  • Use good sentence structure, including avoiding run-on sentences and sentence fragments.
  • Avoid using slang and shortcuts common to texting and instant messaging.
  • Properly site sources (avoiding plagiarism).
  • Self-edit and proofread her own writing.

Helpful Resources

If you’re looking for a place to start or need a few supplemental resources, check out some of these links and products:

Stumbling block #8 – Parental criticism

Stumbling Block #8: Fear of Parent Criticism

When it comes to chores, character training, and schoolwork, you can’t always be the nice guy, the friend. Nope. You’ve got to be the parent, which means it falls to you to judge and evaluate your kids’ work. But if you don’t evaluate with wisdom and purpose, you can unwittingly set them up for today’s Stumbling Block to Writing.

Stumbling Block #8

Problem: Students feel criticized when parents evaluate their writing.

Solution: Use editing and grading tools that encourage objectivity and consistency.

Worry about criticism from Mom or Dad is a huge issue for your child. She doesn’t want disapproval; yet if her paper isn’t perfect, she fears facing judgment. Since kids often see their writing as an extension of themselves, they feel personally affronted when they see marks on their formerly unspoiled pages. Their feelings can be summed up like this:

If you criticize my writing, you criticize me.

Well, clearly, in spite of your child’s hypersensitivities, you still have to evaluate, edit, and grade. So what’s the solution?

Be Objective and Consistent

Nothing makes the editing and grading chore easier and more pleasant than objective tools that equip you for the task. An equipped parent is a confident parent! Your student can sense your confidence. She knows you’ll be consistent, and she won’t worry that you’ll be capricious or unpredictable with your remarks and suggestions. This kind of objectivity and consistency builds a lot of trust.

It’s as simple as using a good editing checklist that pinpoints particular things you can watch for in each paper. Now your student can see that your comments are not based on whim or mood, but on specific lesson expectations she accomplished—or failed to meet.

As you review your student’s writing project, this impartial checklist will allow you to comment on the work in a way that helps her feel less criticized. Ultimately, when editing and grading become consistent and purposeful rather than arbitrary or illogical, you’ll see a big change in her attitude—and yours!

For specific ideas, check out editing tips for the faint of heart.

Give Plenty of Praise

Dish out generous servings of praise and positive comments along with your helpful suggestions. Show your student that you notice her efforts; then make gentle suggestions that encourage improved writing without bruising her sensitive spirit. And when you give a final grade, laud her with sincere praise. Show that you notice things she did well and correctly. Remember: if you use an objective grading rubric, you’ll know what these things are!

Watch for the next article in our 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing series: Stumbling Block #9 – What’s the Point? 

Share a comment: Is parental criticism a stumbling block for your children? What objections do you face when you edit or grade their writing assignments? 

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles. There’s still time to comment on any previous post!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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Are you looking for a writing curriculum that provides you with specific editing and grading rubrics? If so, you’ll appreciate WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th graders and WriteShop II for 8th – 11th graders. Lesson-specific checklists build confidence by ensuring that you only hold students responsible for the writing skills they’ve learned. 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Stumbling block #7 – Procrastination

Stumbling Block #7 - Writing Procrastination

In our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing, last week we looked at the problem of laziness. But laziness has a close cousin in the obstacle we’ll explore today: procrastination.

Stumbling Block #7

Problem: The procrastinator waits till the last minute to write her paper.

Solution: Break up assignments over time and provide accountability for your student.

The Pressure of Procrastination

If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done.  ~Author Unknown

When we feel overwhelmed, we tend to put off distasteful tasks—or those that seem big and scary—such as cleaning the garage or preparing for a big party. Claiming we work best under pressure, we shop, bake, clean, and decorate in a last-minute frenzy. As time rushes forward and the deadline looms, we sweep piles of laundry and schoolwork into drawers and closets, abandon the balloons and streamers, and purchase a hastily chosen gift card because we never got around to buying a present.

“Procrastinators generally don’t do well under pressure,” says Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at Chicago’s DePaul University. The idea that time pressure improves performance is a myth. In truth, procrastination can result in:

  • Health and sleep problems.
  • Anxiety and panic as tasks pile up.
  • Poor performance and inefficiency.
  • Guilt.

As William James aptly put it, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

Five Steps Toward Overcoming Procrastination

The best way to get something done is to begin.  ~Author Unknown

Putting off a writing assignment till the last minute can lead to a rushed and sloppy paper hastily written just before it’s due. It may also leave your child feeling too pressured or anxious to do a good job. As with the lazy student, the procrastinator needs a strategy. Try these suggestions to help your child make wiser use of her time.

1. Work on adopting a “do it first” attitude.

Tackling unpleasant or disagreeable tasks earlier in the day—when your student is fresh and alert—often means greater progress in shorter time.

2. Establish a deadline for the writing project.

When you don’t give a cut-off date, you imply that your child can put the task off indefinitely. Set a date and stick to it.

3. Divide the assignment into smaller chunks.

While a deadline is important, it doesn’t ensure that your student will pace herself. So in addition to assigning a distant due date for the whole composition or report, give more frequent due dates for parts of the project. For a short composition, assign brainstorming, rough draft, self-editing, second draft, parent editing, and a final draft. For a report or term paper, you’ll also want to see topic ideas, note cards, outlines, etc.

The writing process, by its very nature, is a series of steps. However, the procrastinator is prone to completely skip steps (or else cram several steps into one last-ditch writing session). Assignments spread over several days or weeks—with mini due dates scheduled along the way—help train her to spread out her work and not save it all till the last minute. A schedule or plan that outlines each step makes the best defense against procrastination.

4. Don’t neglect to follow up.

Your student needs to allow drafts to rest between writing sessions. But since she tends to wait till the last minute, she typically leaves no time for revising or refining. Make sure that you hold her accountable along the way with checklists and deadlines, and check her work regularly to keep her on task.

As the parent and teacher, you’re responsible to ensure that your child is doing the work and sticking to her deadlines. We homeschoolers can get lax about this. If you say “I’ll check over your work later,” but fail to do so, you continue to perpetuate the problem of procrastination. By not checking up on your student or asking to see her assignments, you unfortunately model the very behavior you seek to correct.

5. Set up task-appropriate rewards.

Come up with ways to reward your student’s steps of progress. Completing her brainstorming on time or writing her rough draft may earn her some computer or TV time. Finishing a task ahead of the due date could merit even more time to spend with her friends, read for pleasure, or work on her hobbies.

Do you ever feel like YOU are your child’s main stumbling block? If so, you won’t want to miss next week’s article, which addresses parental criticism. Check it out and soak up the encouragement!

Share a comment: Does your child procrastinate? What is one new thing you can do toward changing his or her behavior?

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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WriteShop  provides schedules and checklists that give direction to a procrastinator. Parent supervision is also a key element of the program. Train your little ones early using WriteShop Primary. For older students, choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Photo: fdecomite, courtesy of Creative Commons

Stumbling block #2 – Weak writing skills and tools

Stumbling Blocks to Writing | Students lack skills and tools

Welcome back to our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing! Last week we looked at Stumbling Block #1 and ways to increase your student’s confidence. What’s today’s hurdle?

Stumbling Block #2

Problem: Kids don’t have the writing skills and tools they need to make stories, essays, or reports fresh and interesting.

Solution: Introduce prewriting exercises, brainstorming worksheets, and checklists.

Whether you’re sewing, gardening, working with wood, or fixing an engine, you can’t do the job properly without certain skills and tools. The same can be said for writing—and I’m not just talking about paper, pens, and a laptop. Let’s look at some practical principles you can apply to begin equipping your children for success!

Pre-writing Activities

ScattergoriesOne of the easiest ways to build writing skills is to have some fun! Pre-writing exercises and writing games act as enjoyable warm-ups to get creative juices Apples to Apples - Vocabulary Gameflowing, build vocabulary, and strengthen sentence development. Games you make up, like sentence-building or concrete writing games, make perfect pre-writing exercises.

And don’t discount the value of purchased word games. Scattergories and Apples to Apples come to mind as two great writing warm-up games our family loves to play. Along with old friends like Scrabble and Boggle, they make ideal family Christmas gifts. Your kids will have no idea they’re learning!

Brainstorming Worksheets

Before your student writes the first word of her composition, she’ll improve her chances for success by brainstorming. Like pre-writing, brainstorming is a skill that stimulates thinking in general. However, it also acts as a springboard for writing about a particular subject. When a student brainstorms:

  • It gets her ideas flowing so she has something to say.
  • It helps her overcome writer’s block.
  • It prepares her for writing as she develops a plan and gains direction.
  • It helps her organize her thoughts.

To further promote thinking skills, you’ll want to teach a variety of brainstorming techniques. Whatever the topic, suggest a brainstorming method—mind map, list, or outline, for instance—that’s best for the kind of composition your student is writing. For example:

  • She might brainstorm for a how-to composition by listing the steps of the process.
  • If she’s writing a descriptive paragraph, she should carefully study the subject for interesting details and record her observations.
  • For a narrative, she’ll want to sequence the events.
  • A Venn diagram is especially useful for compare/contrast essay.

There are many ways to brainstorm, but worksheets and graphic organizers are tools that often smooth the way for reluctant writers. If you are using a program like WriteShop I or II, you’ll find brainstorming worksheets already prepared for each writing assignment (see an example here). Alternatively, a quick Google search will yield a variety of brainstorming tools available on the web.

But brainstorming isn’t just for your junior high or high schooler! You can begin teaching this skill in kindergarten, either on your own or with a helpful curriculum like WriteShop Primary. Starting your children when they’re young can help prevent the debilitating case of writer’s block that often plagues older students.

Checklists

A good checklist serves as a guide to help your student identify her own errors in content, style, and mechanics so she can improve and enliven her writing. For instance, if the checklist reminds her to use synonyms instead of repeating main words, she’ll be forced to find more interesting words. This simple tool can help her hone a valuable skill she’ll use all her life. (In a few weeks I’ll be talking about checklists in greater detail when we take a look at Stumbling Block #6: Laziness.)

Other Skills and Tools

In addition to checklists and brainstorming sheets, there are other tools that help breathe new life into writing. For example, skill-building exercises can give a student instruction and practice in new writing skills like choosing titles, writing topic sentences, citing sources, or using sentence variations.

I’m sure grammar is part of your language arts curriculum, but how it can revive writing may be a complete mystery to you. I’d like to suggest that when you require your student to use newly learned grammar concepts in her compositions, the grammar actually makes more sense. So rather than teach grammar in a vacuum, teach it as it applies to writing. That’s where the rubber meets the road!

Writing isn’t an exact science, but you can certainly apply proven principles to promote stronger writers in your home. It’s my prayer that you’ll begin to notice a difference in both attitude and output as you put some of these tips into practice.

Next week we’ll look at Stumbling Block #3: Lack of motivation. You won’t want to miss that one!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Do you wish your writing curriculum offered more pre-writing activities and brainstorming ideas? Then take a look at WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th grader. You’ll love the writing games and brainstorming worksheets that equip and inspire successful writers! 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

Writing across the curriculum with WriteShop II

Another question from the WriteShop mailbag . . .

Q: Can you help? I’d like to learn how to use Write Shop II with topics from my high schooler’s history studies. For example, I’d like to give her an assignment such as: “Write a 3 paragraph paper on Gregory The Great.”

A: You will be glad to learn that you can use almost all WriteShop lessons to write about things you’re studying in history.

Writing Across the Curriculum

To write about history, you have several choices. First, take a look at Appendix B of your Teacher’s Manual, specifically TM pp. B-4 to B-7. This section, called “Writing Across the Curriculum,” gives you all sorts of ideas for using each WriteShop assignment as a springboard for writing about other subjects such as history or art (the WriteShop II ideas begin on TM p. B-6).

This way, you could give your daughter important practice writing the short report from Lesson 19, having her write a biography instead of an animal report. She could certainly write about Gregory the Great or any other figure from history. This important assignment is the first WriteShop lesson that teaches how to organize a longer composition.

History-based Essays

The remaining essay section (Lessons 25-30) will then teach a new set of skills: beginning with Lesson 25, your student will write short essays that give her opinion, compare or contrast, and describe or define. Each one of these essays can be used with history lessons.

In addition to the suggestions on TM p. B-7, you can also find loads of recommended topics and essay ideas on TM pp. B-21 to B-25. For example, here are some ways you could use Gregory the Great as a subject for some of the upcoming essay assignments:

  • On TM p. B-23, one of the suggestions says: “Discuss the significance of a famous battle.” You could tweak this topic to say: “Discuss the significance of the reign of Gregory the Great.” 
  • Also on TM p. B-23, instead of describing “what made George Washington a great president,” you might suggest: “Discuss three major accomplishments of Gregory the Great.”
  • On TM p. B-25, one of the suggestions says: “Compare or contrast two presidents (scientists, explorers).” Instead, have her compare Pope Gregory I with Pope Leo I.

Once you’ve completed the lessons, it would be wise to continue re-assigning essays from Lessons 25-30 on a regular basis to keep your daughter in practice. So, once she’s used up her lesson-specific checklists, you can provide her with photocopies of the all-purpose essay checklists on pp. C-3 to C-6 (Teacher’s Manual Appendix C). With these checklists, you will be able to give your own parameters for each assignment’s length, enabling you to teach longer essays if you so desire.

.  .  .  .  . 

WriteShop I and WriteShop II have a proven track record! Using the program will help prepare your teens for advanced high school and college writing. For beginning and average writers in 7th-10th grades, consider WriteShop I. For students in grades 8-11 who need a bit more challenge, take a look at WriteShop II.

Essay writing: Developing a strong thesis statement

Discovering interesting topics is a critical component of the essay-planning process. However, a good topic is not enough to guarantee a successful paper. The goal of the initial prewriting stage is not to come up with a subject or a topic, per se, but to identify a controlling idea that will help guide and shape the student’s essay and direct her brainstorming efforts.

Why Write a Thesis Statement?

An essay focuses on a particular concept, idea, or scenario and tries to say something unique about it. It shouldn’t be a sprawling report of all possible facts and details. Instead, essay writing is about choosing and analyzing the most important elements necessary for advancing a particular position. Therefore, the thesis statement for an essay represents a condensed and carefully thought-out argument that will define, guide, and set the tone for the entirety of your student’s paper.

What Is a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement presents, in one or two sentences, the central, controlling argument of an essay. It explicitly identifies the purpose of the paper and/or previews its main ideas. Everything your student writes throughout the essay should in some way reinforce this primary claim. A good thesis statement should:

  1. Concisely present the central idea of the essay.
  2. Guide the direction of the paper and establish priorities
  3. Take a definitive stand that justifies the case your student is about to make.
  4. Articulate a specific, arguable point with which people could logically disagree. It helps to ask what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about the topic. If the student is presenting a claim or statement that no one would argue against, then he’s not saying anything worth reading. 
    • Uncontestable claim: The world would be a better place without war.
    • Contestable claim: Christians should not participate violently in war.
    • Uncontestable claim: Domestic terrorism is on the rise in the United States.
    • Contestable claim: The rise of domestic terrorism reflects an increased disillusionment with the United States government.
  5. Effectively answer the prompt or question (if given).
  6. Be thoughtfully and deliberately worded.
  7. Avoid vague generalizations.
  8. Use clear and concrete language.
  9. Pass the “So what?” test of significance. A good thesis should be substantial and important, so ask, “Who cares?” or “What difference does it make?” 
    • Insubstantial claim: Students at ABC University have school spirit.
    • Substantial claim: The strong sense of community at ABC University is evident in its students’ commitment to campus functions and organizations. This challenges the prevailing characterization of Generation X as apathetic, uninvolved, and lazy.

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College Prep 101 | Keeping a calendar helps teens take deadlines seriously and balance multiple projects.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy

CAN YOU imagine a student telling his college professor: “Could I have another week? My sister was hogging the computer.” or “Sorry I missed the test yesterday—I was too tired—but I can make it up tomorrow afternoon.”

We can laugh at how ridiculous this sounds, but the truth is, you’ve probably caved to these very requests yourself.

But We’re Homeschooling!

For homeschoolers, it’s easy to let deadlines slide. The sense of urgency just doesn’t exist at home as it does in the traditional school setting.

Homeschooling brings with it a false sense of security that says, “We have time … what’s the rush … he’s only 14 … that’s why we’re homeschooling,” and so on. As a result, many homeschooling parents either don’t give due dates at all, don’t adhere to them if they do, or don’t impose consequences for late assignments.

Do you want your student to succeed in college? Of course you do! Then you need to realize that in the real world, permissiveness will never fly. Together, it’s time to begin to take deadlines seriously.

Create a System for Keeping Track


You need a system for posting and keeping track of deadlines. The best method is to post a large monthly calendar in a prominent spot (in your school area, on the fridge).

Even if you use a lesson plan book and give your student daily assignments, it’s so helpful to be able to step back and see—at a glance—clearly marked essay or project deadlines and test dates. {The links in this post are my affiliate links because I’m convinced you’ll love these calendars.}

A calendar of this nature gives your teen a quick daily review of the panorama of impending deadlines. This prevents dreaded “due date creep” where it suddenly dawns on a procrastinating student that he has a test, an essay, and a science project all due in the next day or two.

It also encourages the student to pace himself more carefully when working on big projects, including spreading out the work over several days or weeks, and starting the project early enough to finish without having to pull an all-nighter.

A college-course syllabus is sure to include one or more long-term assignments, so developing the habit of scheduling and pacing will prepare him well for handling multiple deadlines that typify college work.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Dave Johnston, courtesy of Creative Commons.

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College Prep 101 | Responsible Study Habits - It's a myth that procrastinators work better under pressure. so teach good study habits while they're still in high school.

MRS. SMITH teaches a weekly composition class. One evening she gets an email from one of her students.

Student: Is it okay for me to cite Wikipedia as a resource when I write my paper?
Mrs. Smith: May I ask why you waited until 6:45 p.m. to begin an essay that’s due tomorrow?

Sound familiar? You assign a report on Aztec culture, and you ask your teen to turn it in to you three weeks from now. But when will he typically start working on it?

That’s right—a day or two before it’s due!

Squelching a Myth

We’ve heard it. Perhaps we’ve even said it: I work better under pressure.

But actually, studies have shown that pressure and procrastination cause myriad problems.

“Psychologists have focused on procrastination among students because the problem is rampant in academic settings; some 70 percent of college students report problems with overdue papers and delayed studying,” according to Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at Chicago’s DePaul University.

Procrastinators generally don’t do well under pressure,” says Ferrari. The idea that time pressure improves performance is perhaps the most common myth among procrastinators.

[A study by Tim Pychyl, Ph.D.] found that “procrastination is detrimental to physical health. College students who procrastinate have higher levels of drinking, smoking, insomnia, stomach problems, colds and flu.”

~from “Stand and Deliver,” Psychology Today

Obviously, there’s more than just a deadline at stake here. So what can you as a parent do to help your teen develop consistency and routine before he heads off to college?

Teach Responsibility

The wise parent will begin early to teach study habits for college. Weave responsibility into your expectations for your student’s academic performance. Make it clear that his all-nighters or similar day-before heroics do not amuse or impress you.

As adults, we know what it’s like to work under pressure, and though many of us say we function better that way, in reality it is VERY stressful and counterproductive, and our families usually bear the brunt of our short tempers and long hours—even when the end result is worthwhile. Instead, tell your teen you expect him to schedule his work in advance and tackle it with his full attention.

Divide and Conquer

Start out by breaking longer assignments into chunks and establishing mini due dates along the way. If it’s a research paper, for example, set deadlines for topic selection, brainstorming, thesis statement, note-taking and research, outlining, bibliography, and rough and final drafts. Put these on a master calendar. That way, he can pace himself not only with this project, but with everything else vying for his time.

If, during the same two weeks, he is working on his paper, performing at the community playhouse, taking a biology test at the homeschool co-op, and going to winter camp with the youth group, he needs to plan well—and early—so he doesn’t end up with the proverbial freeway pileup when everything comes due at once.

Secret to Success

What is the most consistent difference between the college student who is snowed under and the one who is calm, happy, and academically successful?

It’s the successful student’s ability to use organization and study techniques to simplify his life, whereas the stressed-out student tends to fly by the seat of her pants—hoping she lives through the semester one anxious assignment at a time. Building an early—and strong—association between good habits and school work will pay off in the long run.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: MC Quinn, courtesy of Creative Commons.

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College Prep 101: Limit Social Network Time | Teach teens the value of unplugging during school time

YOUR TEEN lives in the modern world. Between phone calls, texting, email, instant messages, Facebook, and any other number of social media opportunities that distract her, she has to learn to establish boundaries for herself in order to get any work done at all.

Do Not Disturb

When she’s hammering out a paper or other project, there should be none of this electronic interruption until she’s finished, and for good reason. Setting aside these distractions is sort of like hanging an e-version of the “do not disturb” sign. And now I’m going to become very unpopular with your teen—and so will you, if you take my advice!

Unplug the Internet cable during her computer time and turn off her cell phone, if she has one.

Yes, unplug. She may not appreciate it, but you’ll do your teen a favor to limit social network time.This will make it impossible to go online or get interrupted by a text message while she’s working on an essay or report. If she needs to do research online, have her separate the research process from the writing process. Let her work online . . . and then simply unplug the cable when her research is complete.

What’s the Big Deal?

When your student tries to do schoolwork while catching up on Instagram or texting with friends, she loses the ability to focus and concentrate. As a result, the quality of her work suffers. In addition, she’ll require more time to finish the project. For one, the interruptions themselves take time. But more importantly, these breaks—no matter how short in duration—require her to keep refocusing when she finally returns to the task at hand.

College Prep 101: Limit Social Network Time

I regularly experience this myself. I have two tasks open on the desktop, my email open on the laptop, and a barrage of projects stacked on my work surface. When I flit back and forth among them like a restless butterfly, I often close out my day feeling like I got absolutely nothing accomplished. Instead, I end up with myriad loose ends dangling everywhere and just as much on my to-do list as when I woke up.

But when I commit myself to one project at a time, visit my inbox a few times a day instead of several times an hour, and steer clear of both Facebook and the phone during those designated working hours, I am so much more productive as I pick off a whole bunch of little tasks (or take a nice chunk out of a bigger project). The sense of accomplishment is huge for me—and your teen can experience this too.

One of my favorite desktop apps is Strict Workflow. When your student clicks the icon, she is automatically shut out of Facebook or other favorite websites for a set period of time (it’s both customizable and free). Strict Workflow makes a good option for a teen who’s fairly responsible as a rule but can lose track of time.

Goodbye to Multitasking

Making electronic access difficult (or impossible) forces your student to pour all her concentration and effort into her writing. This ability to separate work from play is of the utmost importance at college where she won’t have your help making such wise choices. In your “home training center,” once your teen figures out how much easier it is to write a paper in an uninterrupted chunk of time, she may never go back to multitasking again!

That’s it for now—I’m off to take a dose of my own medicine.

Please do not disturb.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Pablo Viojo, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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