Thursday, September 20, 2007

Teaching Writing

If you're arrived here through the Saturday Review of Books, my short review is in brown below; the links to my kids' (also short) reviews of the same book are in brown as well.

Well, in our Sonlight literature assignments, we've finished ancient Egypt and have moved on to ancient Greece. We did two of the three writing assignments, and I required my kids to post them on their blogs. I think they try a lot harder when they know someone besides mom and dad might read them!

Bantam8's are here ("Discovering a Pharaoh's Tomb") and here (Paragraph on The Golden Goblet).

Bantam12's are here ("A Tomb Robber at Work") and here ("A Poorly-Named Book").

Blondechick14 posted both of hers here ("Mara's Room" and "Hequet the Crack-Up").

They each wrote a paragraph on The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. We all absolutely loved this book; it is now one of our all-time favorite read-alouds. I've never heard such begging to please please please please read one more chapter! It was a fabulous foray into ancient Egypt that really captured my kids' imaginations, as you may be able to tell from their posts.

If you read their paragraphs and essays, you may wonder: How much do I help them with their writing?

Whether they're homeschooled or educated elsewhere, there is always this tension: How much do you leave their work as written, and how much do you help them improve it? Do you leave them to come up with their own ideas, or do you add your own to the creative process? If you're helping them with writing homework, where is that ethical line between their grade--and yours?

There's no simple way out of that tension, but I do think that it's easier to answer these questions when you're homeschooling: There really isn't a right or a wrong way, an ethical or unethical choice. You don't have to compare this essay with twenty-six others and give it a grade. You are a writing tutor. You give the amount of help that your particular student seems to benefit from. Your goal is not a grade on one assignment; it's an adult who will someday be able to express himself well in writing. (Or--okay--a teenager who can write a good essay on her college entrance exams!)

So if you read my kids' posts, you'll probably guess that I help Bantam8. As a third grader, this is the first year he's done any writing at all. So we brainstorm together. I help come up with an organizing idea. He dictates to me (as the mechanics of writing are still quite slow for him), and I teach writing as we go. I might read back to him what I wrote down, and then ask if he thinks it sounds good. Would it sound better if we...? Do you like this word or do you really mean this one? Which do you think will make this more clear...or more interesting...or more descriptive for your reader? He generates the content, but I take him through all the steps: prewriting, writing, rewriting, and polishing or editing.

Bantam12 is a little further down the writing path. He now generates his own ideas well, and this year is getting off to a good independent start, but halfway through the assignment, he may fizzle out if left alone. He may need attention, collaboration or a reminder of where he was going when he first started out. Often he uses up all his ideas pretty quickly; I help him go back, unpack them and spread them out a little further. Just as I do for Bantam8, I teach and offer ideas for improvement as we go, but more selectively, since Bantam12 tolerates less of it. His work is more "his own," but I've helped organize it.

Blondechick14 writes almost entirely independently now, but she is still eager for my thoughts on improving her writing. She has taken to heart many of my suggestions and explanations in the past, and it's been rewarding to see how much she has internalized! That's what I'm working toward with the boys.

We edit together for misspellings, typos, punctuation and grammar mistakes. I explain as we correct them, but I teach grammar and spelling as separate subjects, so I don't take too much of our writing time with it. But I'm trying to teach them that editing is the final step, and that you don't hit "Publish" till you're sure it's the best job you can do.

That said, I don't know how much responsibility I want to take for any mistakes in their writing...! :)

1 comment:

Carrie said...

What GREAT ideas for writing. I'm helping home school my young sister-in-law and writing is just torterous for her. The idea of dictating seems to relieve some of the pressure and seems like it would help eventually foster a love of it. Definitely keeping that tip in mind. That would have never crossed my mind!