Teaching writing | Why is writing difficult to teach?

Why is writing difficult to teach? Is it you, your child, or that infernal blank page?

It should have been so easy.

After all, you weren’t asking for much—just a story or something. To simplify things, you didn’t even care how long it should be. Or what topic he picked. Given a lot of freedom, you reasoned, he wouldn’t feel so squished or frustrated…and the words would just flow.

crumpled paperSo what went wrong?

Your plan backfired miserably, and now your son hunches tearfully over a mountain of wadded pages, each one a smudged and wrinkled reminder of what he already believes about himself:

I can’t write!

If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone. This scene plays out at kitchen tables and makeshift schoolrooms around the country, where dejected students scrunch up papers, break pencils, bang keyboards, and cry buckets—and disheartened moms throw up their hands in frustration.

Maybe it helps to know that homeschoolers everywhere share the same lament: Why is writing difficult to teach?

The Disheartened Parent

For one thing, many parents feel insecure, inadequate, and unequipped. Teaching writing, so often a dreaded chore, is painful for us too. Truth be told, most of us would rather break an arm. We know it’s important to teach our kids to write, but we’re wallowing in our own inadequacies:

  • How can I teach my kids to write? I never really learned how myself.
  • I’m a pretty intuitive writer, but how do I teach a skill that just “comes naturally” to me?
  • I’m clueless. How do I know what to expect from my child’s writing?
  • Grading writing seems so . . . subjective.
  • I haven’t found a writing program I like.

The Struggling Student

Your own shortcomings are enough to make you less than eager to assign writing. But your kids’ negative reactions to your teaching attempts can cause you to abandon the subject all together. After all, who loves to face the tearful outbursts or sullen expressions that writing assignments can produce?

Perfectionism, fear, and writer’s block can paralyze our kids. They only want to write a paper once, and they want to call it “good enough.” Not only that, they expect you to rave over it and accept it as a finished product!

It only takes a single comment from you before the wailing begins: But I don’t want to change it. I like it the way it is. I can’t ever make you happy.

A Formula for Failure

Insecure parent + reluctant child + blank paper = Writing failure

Do you cave to your student’s complaints? Do you keep setting writing aside with the good intention of getting to it “one of these days”? Are you looking back with guilt at those “lost years” because:

  • You have a high schooler who can’t write;
  • You’re trying to stifle your own guilt and panic;
  • And the blank page continues to frustrate both of you?

Some Stumbling Blocks

Plenty of stumbling blocks stand in the way of a young writer’s success. Laziness, procrastination, and perfectionism interfere with motivation and productivity. Anticipation of parental criticism creates unrealistic anxiety. And lack of direction or poor writing skills affect confidence and performance.

A Glimmer of Hope

Take heart—you and your student can overcome these hurdles! Roll up your sleeves and come back for some good news in Teaching writing, part 2: Simple writing ideas. I’ll see you then with some encouraging and helpful tips.

Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Image: Sara V, courtesy of Creative Commons
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