Entries Tagged 'Stumbling Blocks to Writing' ↓

Writing distractions: That pesky “person from Porlock”

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Like superheroes, great pieces of writing often have an origin story. In the case of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous unfinished poem “Kubla Khan,” it’s a doozy.

Coleridge claims the poem came to him complete and entire, something like 300 lines’ worth, in a dream as he dozed off in his chair after taking laudanum (an aspect of the literary life best avoided when instructing young writers).

He set to work writing down his vision, but only got through about 30 lines before, Coleridge says, he became sidetracked by a “person on business from Porlock” who detained him for a full hour.

When the visitor finally left, Coleridge found he’d forgotten the rest of the poem.

Dealing with Writing Distractions

It has been disputed whether Coleridge’s explanation is an accurate account of “Kubla Khan’s” genesis, or might itself be merely a fancy, a fiction, meant to add even more mystery to his beautiful and enigmatic poem. Either way, the “person from Porlock” has become a literary icon:

He represents two equally important aspects of writing: the distractions and competing social obligations a writer faces in the real world, as well as our tendency to make excuses.

Shutting out the world when we write is both impossible and, to some extent, necessary. So what are we to do? The answer can be summed up in one word: boundaries. The act of writing should (generally) be taught as a purposefully solitary effort bounded with a beginning and an end.

Writing by the Clock

I highly recommend sticking to a disciplined timetable for any writing assignment. (If this is challenging for you or your older students, the free download The Pomodoro Technique might be worth a read.)

Taking your child’s age and skill level into account, set the alarm for 30 or 60 or 90 minutes, however long the project (or a good-enough-sized chunk of it) seems to require. Don’t set the timer for less than 15 minutes, though, as that’s too short to accomplish much. After all, your kids will just be getting warmed up! Nor should you set it for longer than 90 minutes at a time, as they’ll burn themselves out without scheduled breaks.

Say No to Interruptions

Finally, don’t feel guilty about shutting off any non-emergency contact during that time.

person from Porlock, writing distractions, writing focus

This part is getting a lot more difficult. Coleridge’s interrupter just happened to be walking around town. What chance do you (or your students) have in this Twitter age when distractions come by the microsecond?

If you want to give yourself to a piece of writing (and you’ll need to for it to be any good), the phone must be turned off.

Then, when you turn it back on, it feels like a reward.

Setting aside time and space for your creative work improves the rest of your day. Give yourself permission to be done after a while and return to normal life, where you can attend to the other million things on your mind or just do as you please. Don’t forget to pay some attention to your friends and family.

Even that person from Porlock.

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Thanks to Lauren Bailey for her guest post. Lauren is a freelance blogger who loves writing about education, new technology, lifestyle and health. She welcomes comments and questions via email at blauren99@gmail.com.

Photos: alexderhead, courtesy of Creative Commons, and Stockxchng.

Free class: “Ten Stumbling Blocks to Writing”

At homeschool conferences, one of my favorite workshop presentations is Ten Stumbling Blocks to Writing. I love sharing practical ways parents can help their children overcome the obstacles that stand between them and the blank page—including laziness, perfectionism, and lack of motivation.

HomeschoolBlogger.com has been presenting a great lineup of FREE online classes this summer, the last of which is “Ten Stumbling Blocks.” Not only will you hear the audio, but if you’re a visual learner, you’ll also enjoy watching examples and demonstrations on a helpful, colorful PowerPoint.

Class Details

Workshop: Ten Stumbling Blocks to Writing
Presenter: Kim Kautzer, WriteShop
Date: Tuesday, August 31
Time: 2 PM EDT/1 PM CDT/noon MDT/11 AM PDT
Cost: FREE
To Register: HomeschoolBlogger Free Classes
Webinar Description: “I hate writing!” Is this the cheerful response you get when you give your kids an assignment? Then you’ll want to find out ten common stumbling blocks to writing and discover what students need in order to overcome their anxiety, fear, or lack of confidence. Learn how the steps of the writing process can actually motivate your most reluctant children, and gain tips and tools for encouraging their success.

For more information: http://homeschoolblogger.com/webinar/ten-stumbling-blocks-to-writing/

Winner of our 10 Stumbling Blocks drawing!

Congratulations to EMILY! You’re the winner of a $25 WriteShop gift certificate!

Blog visitors could earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by leaving comments at our 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing series. Emily’s name was drawn from among 110 comments (her comment, #53,  appeared here). Way to go, Emily!

If you missed this encouraging, informative series, why not begin here with this introductory article: 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing? Then, you can read about each individual stumbling block in the following posts:

  1. Lack of confidence
  2. Lack of skills and tools
  3. Lack of motivation
  4. Limited writing vocabulary
  5. Perfectionism and self-criticism
  6. Laziness
  7. Procrastination
  8. Worry about criticism from mom or dad
  9. Wondering what’s the point
  10. Learning difficulties that interfere with the writing process

Stumbling block #10 – Learning challenges

Learning Challenges | 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing

Welcome back to our tenth—and final—article in the series 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. I’ve really enjoyed writing each one, and I hope you’ve found them inspirational too.

Today I’m going to spend a few minutes looking at a different kind of stumbling block altogether: learning challenges. 

Stumbling Block #10 

Problem: Learning challenges and special needs create many stumbling blocks to writing.

Solution: Short writing projects, frequent practice, and bite-size assignments are some of the ways to make the writing process manageable.

Does Your Child Learn with Difficulty?

Has your child been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or Asperger’s? Does he have an auditory or visual processing disorder? Depending on the severity, it’s likely that his symptoms interfere with schooling to some degree.

Many such children live in a world littered with stumbling blocks that make learning a struggle. While these can include physical limitations like arm and shoulder tension or vision problems, a learning challenge will ultimately result in difficulty performing mental tasks like math problems or writing.

Writing issues can include:

  • Awkward or tight pencil grip
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Poor word and line spacing
  • Poor written expression
  • Problems with details (paying too little attention or obsessing too much)
  • Inattention and carelessness
  • Disorganization
  • Impulsiveness and difficulty planning
  • Poor self-monitoring skills

Helping a Student with Learning Challenges

How do you come up with a plan to help your special needs student? First, recognize that parents are a child’s first and best teachers. You know your child better than anyone, and you care more deeply about his needs. There is much you can do!

I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but I can offer you some helpful suggestions. For starters:

  • Establish a distraction-free work space for your child to do schoolwork: quiet, well lit, uncluttered.
  • Set a regular time to study with your child, and work closely with him.
  • Help him organize study materials before beginning.

As for writing, there are many things you can do to help a child who learns with difficulty. Consider using these ideas:

Graphic Organizers

Students do better when they can use graphic organizers such as mind-maps (clustering), charts, lists, or diagrams to help them outline and plan their work.

Self-Editing Checklists

It’s important for the struggling learner to be able to mark his progress. Provide a writing checklist for every assignment to walk him through self-editing step by step. A checklist (such as the ones introduced in WriteShop Junior, or the comprehensive checklists found in WriteShop I) reminds him of every element that needs his attention. As he compares his rough draft to the checklist, he can make corrections and improvements.

A visually overwhelmed student can use a plain sheet of paper to help him track each line of the checklist.

Colored Pencils

Colored pencilsHave your child use colored pencils to circle or underline potential corrections. Each color can be used for a different strategy: capitalization, spelling, punctuation, repeated words, dull or vague words, etc. The colors provide students with a focus for editing and revising as they revisit their work for each task.

Frequent Repetition and Practice

Make sure writing lessons build on previously learned skills. Good checklists help students apply these skills regularly.

Short, Specific Assignments

Writing projects that are short, contained, and relevant are more effective than fuzzy, open-ended, “write-whatever-you-want” assignments. Single-paragraph compositions are excellent for students who have trouble staying focused. Whether they’re overwhelmed by longer assignments, or they ramble and take rabbit trails, short assignments help them stay on task.

And just as important, make sure your writing program includes topic ideas and clear directions. Give specific requirements for each lesson, from brainstorming to writing, so your student always knows what he needs to do.

Tasks Broken into Bite-size Chunks

A child doesn’t have to learn with difficulty to benefit from working on a writing project in small increments. Breaking the writing process into manageable steps helps all students, including those who are disorganized, lazy, easily overwhelmed, or prone to procrastination. Spreading out assignments over time allows for paragraphs to rest between drafts and eases anxiety and stress.

Appeal to Different Learning Styles

A multisensory approach to writing  helps many students who learn with difficulty.

  • Visual: Use graphic organizers and checklists, calendar or schedule, and written instructions.
  • Auditory: Play word games, give verbal instructions, ask questions to prompt writing.
  • Kinesthetic: Describe textured objects the child can pick up and touch. Same for foods: touching and tasting the real thing makes it easier to describe. When writing about a place, take a notebook and pen and visit the place so your child can describe it firsthand.

Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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WriteShop Primary, WriteShop Junior, and WriteShop make excellent choices for the homeschooling parent with a learning-challenged child. Their step-by-step instructions, helpful schedules and lesson plans, and appeal to different learning styles are just a few of the reasons parents have loved using WriteShop.

Images: Lydianne Aquino and Little Blue Penguin, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Stumbling block #9 – What’s the point?

Stumbling 9 - What's the Point

Sometimes, your teen’s opposition to writing has nothing at all to do with laziness, procrastination, perfectionism, or confidence—and everything to do with relevance. In other words, she resists writing because she wonders: What’s the point?

This brings us to today’s article in the series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing.

Stumbling Block #9

Problem: (1) Your student can’t see a purpose for the assignment itself, or (2) she can’t understand why she has to go through all the steps of the writing process.

Solution: (1) Make writing assignments relevant, and (2) help your student see the value of refining her work.

Make Writing Assignments Relevant

Though it’s nice to give our children choices and options, the kind of writing (such as a short report, book summary, or compare/contrast essay) — and even the specific topic of that composition — will be dictated to them from time to time. Like it or not, sometimes they have to write on a subject of our choosing, and there’s just no way around it.

Still, for the most part, students are more willing to write if the assignment feels purposeful. Writing for writing’s sake—to describe a sunset, for example—may not motivate them at all. But writing as it applies to their Civil War studies or a lesson on botany will make more sense to them—and may even spark enthusiasm—especially if it’s a subject they love.

So whenever possible, look for ways to tailor the topic to your students’ interests and passions. After all, the more relevant the writing assignment, the more likely they’ll cooperate.

Writing across the curriculum is one way to accomplish this. You retain control over the general subject matter while offering your child more specific topic choices. Some of these ideas may help get you started:

Demonstrate the Value of the Writing Process

Getting kids to write can be challenging enough, but getting them to embrace the whole writing process is another thing altogether. Each step of the writing process is vital, from brainstorming to final draft, but students often think of these “extra steps” as time wasters.

Editing, revising, and rewriting, for instance, can be downright painful—for both of you! Most kids hate this part of the writing process. They like what they wrote; therefore, they’re highly resistant to making any changes. Regardless of how loudly, tearfully, or convincingly they protest, this is a necessary part of the writing process, and something all writers—including your children—have to do.

Other Skills Take Many Steps

Illustrate how other skills require many steps too, and how these steps are quite similar to the prewriting, brainstorming, drafting, and revising that comprise the writing process.

For instance, playing a musical instrument, a sport, or a video game requires investment of time and a working out of many steps. After all, how do you get to a new skill level except by practice? This makes perfect sense to your teen.

She can also grasp that in order to create a new recipe, a chef has to prepare a dish several times so he can figure out how to improve it. Is it too bland? Too dry? Could it use a topping? Is the texture pleasing to the palate? How would it taste with less salt? More vanilla?

The chef tastes each batch, adds or removes seasonings, and adjusts ingredient quantities. When he’s satisfied, he prepares the dish for others and asks for feedback. Then it’s back to the test kitchen once again!

No Author Publishes His First Draft

A chef would never add an untested item to his restaurant’s menu until he’s sure it’s the best it can be. Refining and perfecting his recipe is a process, and it takes time and patience.

Would your child dream of playing a brand-new or unfamiliar sonatina at her piano recital? Of course not! It’s the piece she’s practiced and refined that she feels more comfortable presenting.

Similarly, no author ever publishes his first draft. His book or article goes through repeated self-editing—and numerous revisions—before he feels ready to submit it to his editor, who in turn adds his own suggestions for improvement. Your child would not enjoy her favorite novels nearly as much had a wise editor not repeatedly put the author through the steps of the editing process.

Remind your resistant writer that she goes through the writing process with a goal in mind: the final draft. After all, it’s not the rough draft that becomes her published writing project; it’s the polished and revised version that she’ll want to share with others.

Once she’s gone through the revising process, ask her to compare her first draft with the final version. When she can see the progress she’s made from that rough beginning to her very best attempt—the final draft, the purpose for the steps in the writing process becomes clearer. Hopefully this means less whining as she learns to approach the steps of the writing process with an improved attitude!

Next week we wrap up our 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing series with a special focus on special needs: Stumbling Block #10– Learning Challenges.

Share a comment: Which step of the writing process does your child most resist—brainstorming, writing, or revising?

2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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The Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I and WriteShop II includes ideas for writing across the curriculum. Suggestions for applying each lesson’s skills to a topic of current study appear in Appendix B.

Photo of girl courtesy of stock.xchng

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 #6 – Laziness

Does your child dawdle about writing? Laziness can make kids unwilling to spend time planning, writing, and revising.

Welcome! We’re halfway through our Monday series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. So far, we’ve looked at five problems that plague reluctant writers:

  1. Lack of confidence
  2. Lack of skills and tools
  3. Lack of motivation
  4. Limited writing vocabulary
  5. Perfectionism and self-criticism

Today, I’m going to change direction a bit and address a different kind of stumbling block: writing laziness. More than any of the previous hurdles, laziness tends to be a character issue, making it a little more challenging to deal with.

Stumbling Block #6

Problem: The lazy child is unwilling to spend time planning, writing, and revising.

Solution: Offer structure, rewards, more consistent supervision, and opportunities for immediate success.

If your child is lazy about writing, chances are he’s lazy in other areas too. Laziness is more global, affecting multiple facets of home and school life. It robs him of a sense of accomplishment, feelings of self-worth, and motivation to improve himself. How can he learn anything or pick up a new skill or develop a talent if he’s too lazy to get up and do something?

How Can You Help Your Lazy Child?

A lazy child often fears failure. So by not completing assignments, he avoids those feelings of inadequacy. If I don’t do my work at all, there’s no way Mom can criticize my writing. He may also have learned that if he doesn’t do an assignment, you’ll eventually forget about it or simply let it slide. This proves to him that laziness works. Unfortunately, he wins.

So what can you do to help a lazy student?

Consistently Address Your Child’s Laziness

1. Determine whether it’s laziness or procrastination. The procrastinator will—eventually—get the assignment done, but the lazy student may never do the task.

2. Supervise your child. As inconvenient as this may be, direct supervision is really the main way to deal with this behavior. So first and foremost, make your lazy student work! This may mean that you need to sit with him until he finishes each task, but stick it out and don’t give up on him!

3. Learn what motivates or helps your lazy child. For instance:

  • Does he thrive on recognition? Then don’t save all your praise for a final draft that may or may not materialize. Instead, make sure you’re giving kudos for small steps of progress along the way.
  • Does he doubt himself? A lazy student may not believe he has any strengths, writing included! So encourage a sport or hobby where he shows interest and aptitude (baking, drawing, tennis, etc.).

Understand What Profits the Lazy Child

1. Choices. The unmotivated student benefits from having choices, such as what topic to write about or whether to do his writing assignment at his desk or the kitchen table.

2. A predictable plan. This child needs to know exactly what to do each day and when assignments are due. He’ll also gain from having smaller, short-term responsibilities in which immediate success can be readily achieved.

3. Structure. To guarantee that your slothful student actually does the work, you must make sure the steps of the writing process are built into the program so there’s no escaping the responsibility. A program like WriteShop ensures that the student must, for example, brainstorm before writing, and must edit and revise before receiving a grade.

Does your child dawdle about writing? Laziness can make kids unwilling to spend time planning, writing, and revising.4. Time limits. Open-ended deadlines are not a lazy student’s privilege. Give and stick to time limits. Expect him to complete a certain amount of work in a set amount of time.

5. Meeting lesson expectations. Make sure your student understands what is required of him. He needs measurable targets, not fuzzy instructions. Specific, detailed directions are invaluable to the lazy child.

6. A certain amount of responsibility. Your student must learn to be responsible for completing assignments, following directions, and revising his work. Your job is to provide supervision, encouragement, structure, and deadlines in order to help him learn diligence.

7. Using a writing checklist. Proofreading is an important lifelong skill. Self-editing helps any student take responsibility for his progress as he learns (and takes the time) to look for his own errors. Ideally, the lazy student needs some sort of checklist as a guide to help him identify errors in content, style, and mechanics.

  • A checklist (such as the comprehensive checklists found in WriteShop I) reminds him of every element that needs his attention. As he compares his rough draft to the checklist, he can make corrections and improvements.
  • A lazy student’s tendency is to check the boxes willy-nilly with eyes glazed over. But the diligent parent will recognize this character flaw in her child and work THROUGH the writing assignment with him to develop the qualities of diligence, discipline, and initiative. Eventually, through parental perseverance, your student will learn that writing is a process—and editing and revising are as much a part of that process as the actual writing.

8. Rewards for accomplishments. Depending on your child’s age, consider using a progress chart, marble jar, or other reward system where he can earn rewards (such as going out for ice cream) or free time privileges (such as minutes to play video games or watch TV).

Not sure if laziness is the issue with your child’s writing? Laziness has a cousin in procrastination, which is Stumbling Block #7. The problems—and solutions—are similar. Next week’s tips will help both the lazy child and the procrastinator finish those writing assignments!

Share a comment: Do you have a lazy student? What, if anything, seems to motivate him or her?

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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WriteShop  provides schedules, checklists, and detailed instructions that help a lazy student stay on task. 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!

Photos: Kieran Connellan and William Grootonk, courtesy of Creative Commons

Stumbling block #5: Perfectionism

Do your kids struggle with perfectionism and writer's block? Creativity is messy! Help them learn tricks to overcome their need to write perfectly.

Welcome back to our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. Each week, you’ll gain more and more ideas for helping your reluctant or struggling writer leap over those hurdles that make writing challenging. If you’re new to the series, Stumbling Block #4 took a look at how limited writing vocabulary can hinder your student. Today we’ll explore:

Stumbling Block #5

Problem: Self-criticism, perfectionism and writer’s block go hand in hand.

Solution: Encourage your child to let go of precision by writing an unpolished rough draft that can be refined later.

The Curse of Writer’s Block

Writer’s block. The phrase itself is enough to banish every creative thought from your child’s head. When he’s in a stare-down with a blank page—and the page is winning—it’s easy to believe he’s the only one who ever wrestles with getting a thought on paper.

It should comfort him to know that everyone suffers from writer’s block at some point. Even famed novelist Ernest Hemingway admitted that the most frightening thing he’d ever encountered was a blank sheet of paper!

Though many stumbling blocks litter the road to writing success, perfectionism—personal pressure to “get it right the first time”—is the mother of them all, and the key contributor to writer’s block.

Face it. Most children—yours included—loathe the writing process. They want to write a paper once at best, and they want you to love it. There’s no room in their world for the nuisance of proofreading, editing, or revising. For many of these kids, then, the first draft has to be perfect in their eyes.

Of course, the irony is that they’re imperfect individuals who believe that whatever they put on paper will never be good enough. So they don’t write at all. “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently,” says author Anna Quindlen.

Writing Tips for the Perfectionist

1. Write, write, write

As counterintuitive as it sounds, the more you write . . . well, the more you write! It’s very much like priming a pump: it takes water to produce water.

So how can you encourage your child to flex his writing muscles? One way is through a simple exercise called freewriting. Author, homeschooler, and writing teacher Dianne Dachyshyn uses free writing to ease the grip of writer’s block:

“The first time you ask children to do this, they will stare incredulously and grumble. They will be hard pressed to meet the time requirement of three minutes. However, after a regular discipline of free writing, they will begin to enjoy this time and it is amazing what they can produce. I often have to force them to stop at the end of ten minutes.”  

Check out The Writing Well for more ways to try freewriting.

2. “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” –James Thurber

Believe it or not, one of the best solutions for a perfectionist is writing a rough draft. After all, writing is a debugging process.

First, your child writes something sloppy. This is the practice draft—the imperfect, flawed rough draft. Later, he goes back and fine tunes it. That’s why I love to call the rough draft a “sloppy copy.” Starting sloppy deals a blow to the blank page as the student puts forth ideas and gets into the writing flow. As author and poet Margaret Atwood so aptly put it: “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

3. Learn to let go

Enjoying the process—any process—is one of the toughest hurdles for a perfectionist! I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it is achievable—bit by bit—as he learns to let go of the things that weigh him down.

Perfectionists need to remember that creativity is messy! {10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing}Let go of precision. Creativity is a messy ordeal. Why does your student think it’s fine to make a mess when painting or working with wood or clay, but not when writing?

The creative process isn’t always neat, tidy, and measured, and it’s certainly not perfect. Assure him it’s okay if his thoughts spill out in a bit of a jumble, and it’s to be expected that he or his teacher will add marks to the paper during editing. Cleanup begins during the revising process.

Let go of pressure. Writing can be fixed. James Michener once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” Even if you’re a famous author, early drafts just won’t measure up. This should come as welcome news to your young perfectionist!

As much as he wants to crumple up his efforts and keep starting over, encourage him to  just get it written. Later, like every other author of great or small renown, he can work on revising until he’s satisfied. After all, writing is a process, not a one-time event!

Let go of perfection and finish the draft. Though it’s tempting for your student to try to correct everything as he goes, have him finish his rough draft without wrestling with every word, phase, and sentence. That’s what revising is for!

And don’t forget to show your enthusiasm and approval when he finishes his assignment. Success breeds more success, and when your child feels successful, he’ll be much less reluctant next time!

Sometimes your kids are perfectionists, true? And this can indeed hold them back from doing their best by seizing them with fear—but not always. Sometimes, well . . . they’re just plain lazy! That brings us to Stumbling Block #6: Laziness, which is the topic of next week’s article in the Stumbling Blocks series.

Share a comment: How does your child exhibit perfectionism where his or her writing is concerned?

2009© Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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WriteShop builds the steps of the writing process into each level of the program, helping your perfectionists recognize the purpose and value of writing and revising. Train your elementary children early using WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior. For older students, choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Photos: Abhi and D. Sharon Pruitt, courtesy of Creative Commons

Stumbling block #4 – Limited writing vocabulary

Limited Writing Vocabulary | 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing - Students can develop and hone vocabulary by using a thesaurus and word banks.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at writing issues that plague students and their parents. Writing isn’t a one-size-fits-all subject, but certainly there are overarching principles that apply to many students and situations.

In this series, 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing, I’ve been focusing on the most common writing hurdles that tend to trip up your children and offering simple and practical suggestions you can use right away. Let’s see what today’s topic has in store for us!

 Stumbling Block #4

Problem: Limited writing vocabulary that inhibits ideas and contributes to weak stories, essays, and reports.

Solution: Teach your student to develop and hone vocabulary by using a thesaurus and word banks.

A student who has a growing supply of words at her disposal learns to express herself just as she intends—using the right word at the right time. Not only that, she allows the reader to grasp subtle shades of description and meaning.

On the other hand, a limited vocabulary can cripple a child’s attempts to produce an interesting piece of writing. If he can’t express himself concretely, his stories or essays end up riddled with oft-repeated words and ho-hum vocabulary. From the comments I’ve read in previous “Stumbling Blocks” posts, this might very well be your child!

Here’s some welcome news—this problem has a relatively simple solution! Let’s take a look at some practical ways to boost your student’s writing vocabulary.

1. Start with a Good Thesaurus

Synonym FinderA thesaurus helps your student find fresh new words to replace tired or overused ones. It’s a necessary tool for every writer and should not be considered an option.

Our all-time favorite thesaurus—and the one our students used when we taught WriteShop classes—is The Synonym Finder. (My own dog-eared copy is now splitting at the seams!) Comprehensive yet easy to use, The Synonym Finder puts every other thesaurus to shame. As one mom put it:

“It’s HUGE. We got rid of all the other ones we had in the house (we got tired of not finding the words we were looking for)! A GREAT resource…. We highly recommend it.” –Patty K.

It’s so much fun to watch your kids begin to use new words. There’s nothing like seeing dazzling, jubilant, and thunderous begin to replace vague words like bright, happy, and loud. And your children will find that as their word choices expand, writing becomes more fun!

2. Choose Shorter Words

Teaching kids to use a thesaurus has its drawbacks, especially when they get carried away with the joy of discovering new words. In these enthusiastic moments, they sometimes end up with unwieldy words that weigh down their writing.

There will always be exceptions, but as a rule, long words are often more formal—even stuffy. On the other hand, short words tend to have force and directness. And as language gets more direct, clarity improves. It’s interesting to note that short, familiar words—typically words with fewer syllables—are more easily understood than their longer counterparts. For example:

  • grit vs. indomitability
  • biased vs. opinionated
  • sharp vs. perceptive
  • forlorn vs. dispirited
  • clutter vs. disarrangement

This doesn’t mean students should never use longer words! On the contrary, it’s great to see their vocabulary blossom. But eagerness to discover new words can result in sentences strung together by too much cumbersome vocabulary. Bottom line: Teach, model, and encourage your children to use more challenging words, but wisely!

3. Use Word Banks

Another excellent source of new vocabulary, word banks provide specific lists of words by category or topic, such as holidays or seasons. When a student is tempted to reuse a familiar word because he can’t think of any others, a word list can remind him of alternative words he already knows but can’t quite reel in from the edges of his mind. It can also provide a wealth of words that will spark ideas in a reluctant writer’s mind. That’s why we’ve include word lists in our WriteShop student books—lists such as textures, colors, and emotions.

So…now that you’ve got some ideas for bolstering vocabulary, get yourself a Synonym Finder, gather a few word banks, and start having fun with words!

Don’t miss next week’s Stumbling Block: Perfectionism. It’s a major hurdle for writers of all ages!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

When looking for a writing curriculum, seek out a program that purposefully teaches children to make stronger word choices. WriteShop Primary helps K-3rd graders develop a meaningful writing vocabulary. For older students, you’ll find that WriteShop I and II include 17 exhaustive word banks that help equip and inspire successful writers!

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