When writing efforts fizzle

Past writing failures don't have to be accurate predictors of future success. With a few adjustments in attitude and/or method, your teen can get back on track

My child is a high school freshman, and thus far, our homeschool experience has not gone well where writing is concerned. Every program we’ve tried seems to fall by the wayside by Christmas break. Normally, she’s an independent worker who does well with most self-directed assignments—except for writing. We just never finish.

Does this sound familiar? If so, let’s see if I can offer some advice to help you and your teen get back on track!

Parent Involvement vs. Student Independence

I’m all for fostering independence. As students enter the high school years, it’s especially wise to train them to become more and more responsible for their own schoolwork. This means teaching them to break assignments into chunks, work on multiple projects, and stick to deadlines.

But even if a self-directed child is successful in most academic subjects, she may still be floundering when it comes to self-directed writing assignments. This is largely because, for most students, writing must be taught. Good writing is the result of a partnership between a parent/teacher and the student.

Get involved!

A child who rarely finishes a writing assignment can’t be left to learn writing on her own; clearly this approach is failing her. If this is true of your child, you may need to step in and become more involved in teaching, guiding, editing, and grading her work. She may not appreciate your “interference,” but if she’s not succeeding on her own, something needs to change.

Begin by working closely with her to introduce, model, and teach new concepts. After that, let her work independently on her assignment. If she continues to struggle, misses deadlines, or fails to give her best effort, recognize that you’ll need to spend more one-on-one time together while she writes. As she throws herself more fully into her writing and gives effort to assignments, you can start backing off again.

Learning to Stick It Out

Sometimes a curriculum just isn’t working and you need to take a different approach. But if you keep abandoning ship—specifically where writing is concerned—it’s time to ask yourself why. This is especially important if you’ve tried several writing programs but find you never seem to finish any of them.

Is it a character issue—or an academic one?

Does your student:

  • Complain about other subjects, sports, music lessons, or chores—or just about writing?
  • Put up enough of a fight (about anything) that you toss up your hands in despair and give in to her complaints?
  • Make such a fuss over writing in particular that it’s easier to give up without finishing the program?

"No Whining" signIf this describes your home, consider working on the character qualities of diligence and perseverance. Students need to learn that sometimes, even though a curriculum is less than ideal, they can’t just quit as soon as it gets too hard.

In the real world, they won’t always have choices, but if they’ve gotten into the habit of abandoning something partway through when the going gets tough, it will be hard for them to practice stick-to-itiveness in the future. (For example, they’ll be more likely to drop a college class the minute it begins to get challenging.)

Even if this stop-start-stop-start habit only applies to writing, I would still encourage you to decide on a course of action and commit to seeing it through. You’ll probably agree it’s time to make follow-through a priority.

Taking a Different Tack

Perhaps you simply need a new approach to teaching writing. It’s a legitimate possibility that your child’s learning style just hasn’t meshed with other writing programs you’ve tried in the past. In this case, WriteShop might genuinely help you overcome the hurdles you’ve experienced.

For one, WriteShop expects parent involvement yet fosters independence. Furthermore, WriteShop promotes the writing process through:

  • Prewriting activities that set the stage for the writing assignment and get creative juices flowing.
  • Brainstorming worksheets that help students develop ideas before it’s time to write.
  • Step-by-step instructions for writing that never leave them wondering what, exactly, they’re supposed to do.
  • Short assignments (rarely longer than a paragraph) so that they can work on sentence and stylistic skills.
  • Activities and assignments that are broken up into bite-size portions over two weeks per writing lesson so as not to overwhelm a student.
  • Detailed, lesson-specific self-editing checklists that enable students to proofread their own work and make corrections before handing their paper in to you.
  • Parent checklists and grading keys that help you give objective feedback.

Have your student’s writing efforts fizzled? Past writing failures don’t have to be accurate predictors of future success. With a few adjustments in attitude and/or method, your teen can get back on track—and with time to spare.

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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2 comments ↓

#1 JoJo Tabares on 05.17.11 at 7:35 am

I have to agree. My dd was an awful writer when she first came home from private school. With patience and persistence, she has blossomed into an accomplished author and actually loves writing.

#2 Kim on 05.17.11 at 8:07 am

It’s so encouraging for parents to realize that in most cases, it’s not too late to save the day. Thanks for sharing your experience, JoJo.

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