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7/5/2012 10:02:43 AM
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer--HSLDA
Homeschooling High School--Putting Pen to Paper: Teaching the Writing Process

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July 5, 2012

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Putting Pen to Paper: Teaching the Writing Process

Dear Friends,

Another month has slid by and mid-summer is upon us. The harder we try to slow down our days and hold onto the months, the faster they seem to fly. Our children say the same thing, so it's not just because we are getting older!

We're hearing from many of you that you are using the homeschool conferences to your advantage to learn about, check out, and purchase curricula for September. One subject that seems to provide angst for many families is writing--those essays, compositions, and research papers that sometimes intimidate you as much as they do your teens! We hope that our discussion of this subject will bring you some relief and encouragement as you think about including writing in your high school program.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some of the questions we are often asked include:

  • Why write?
  • My child hates to write. How can I get him started?
  • How do I teach writing? Help!
  • How can I evaluate my teen's writing ability?
  • What kinds of papers should my teen write? How many?
  • How do I grade writing assignments?

Are you encouraged already simply by the fact that you are not the only person who has such questions? Before addressing them, it's important to be reminded that the ability to write will be used in all walks of life and is one of the marks of a well-educated person.

Becky Cooke
Becky
Cooke

Diane Kummer
Both of HSLDA’s high school consultants homeschooled their children from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Learn more >>

Why Write?

In many ways, writing is truly an art. It is a way to craft and express ideas. It teaches organizational skills especially by mentally ordering our thoughts so these words and ideas flow in a systematic fashion to a conclusion. Your teens can take numerous courses to learn the mechanics of writing; but if it is not practiced, it won't improve. There is much truth in the adage "practice makes perfect" when applied to the art of writing.

Another reason to write is for memory's sake. Putting experiences, feelings, hopes or dreams down on paper not only cements them into our memory bank, but allows opportunity to relive them at a later date.

Warning! As with all art forms, you may experience contention with your teen over corrections, suggestions, and editing you do to your teen's project, especially if it is done with red ink. Something as simple as using another ink color to edit may be helpful. And, by all means, turn the table and try your hand at completing the same writing assignment that you give to your teen, asking him to edit your work. Your teen will learn much as he searches for errors in your writing and also provides suggestions for how you can improve your paper. :) My Child Hates to Write. How Can I Get Him Started?

Writing is hard work, so some children will resist it. Take time to evaluate if the dislike comes because of a learning issue that may easily be corrected. If you are an HSLDA member, our learning specialists are always available to help you diagnose if this is the case. You may find their newsletter, "Children Who Have to Work too Hard to Learn," informative and helpful.

It could be that your teens may just not want to put in the needed effort to write. If so, you can give them practice putting their thoughts on paper by writing short entries in a journal each day. Assure them that you will not read or grade the journal. This will give them more freedom to say what they are thinking in a variety of ways.

Sometimes the most difficult part of writing is getting started. Brainstorming together can give your teen ideas which then can be organized in an outline for the essay. Start with short essays on topics of interest to your teen or subjects about which he or she is knowledgeable. This will provide interest and sufficient material to use.

If you need ideas for writing prompts, try the Teacher's Corner, which provides prompts for each month of the year. Writing Fix also offers random writing prompts at the click of a mouse.

How Do I Teach Writing? Help!

Teaching writing begins with instruction in the mechanics of writing--spelling, punctuation, vocabulary--along with a good grasp of grammar. You can introduce your student to thesauruses and dictionaries to aid them in improving their piece.

Once these tools are in place, you will find many types of available writing resources. There is curriculum which will guide you through the process of teaching your teens. Some sources will partner your teen with a mentor who will help her to improve writing assignments or will review and evaluate papers you assign. Other options are online courses, co-op classes, or mentors you locate in your community. There are also many free and helpful writing resources such as the InfoPlease website that provides detailed step by step essay writing instructions.

The HSLDA high school website's curriculum section suggests a number of providers to get you started in your search.

If your teen is interested in advanced levels of writing, Advanced Placement courses are available online, including Patrick Henry College Prep Academy. Additionally, dual credit courses at a community or four-year college will prepare your student for college writing assignments.

How Can I Evaluate My Teen's Writing Ability?

Assessing your teen's level of writing can be a challenge. However, if he participates in a group class with other writers, he will gain an idea of how he's doing. Another way would be to use online writing programs that evaluate a paper for a fee. A homeschool mom may be a good source for getting impartial feedback. An English teacher in your church or community will easily be able to help you determine if your teen is writing at grade level.

The reading level of your teen will be another tool to use to check writing abilities. Reading helps to build the writer's vocabulary and will allow him to "hear" a variety of ways to express ideas and thoughts. If your teen's comprehension and writing skills are on similar grade levels, rest assured that he is on target.

What Kinds of Papers Should My Teen Write? How Many?

Writing will be used in all kinds of venues. Therefore, you will want to provide opportunities to explore a variety of styles. If a unit on poetry is being covered, composing poems can be attempted. Other essay choices can include persuasive, creative, expository, informal, argumentative, compare and contrast, and research projects.

Not all papers need to be the same length. In fact, if writing has not been an integral part of your academic program, you may want to begin with teaching how to construct a well laid out paragraph to include the topic sentence, supporting details, and conclusion. Once this has been mastered, longer assignments can follow.

There isn't a magic number of essays that should be attempted each year. Determining how many writing projects to assign will depend on you the teacher, the student and your objectives. Be careful when scheduling writing projects to avoid assigning essays for both history and English in the same week.

Since the SAT/ACT tests include essays written under a time constraint, you may wish to occasionally give your teens practice in planning and completing an essay in a prescribed amount of time. This will provide an additional benefit of learning to meet college assignment deadlines.

How Do I Grade Writing Assignments?

If you are not sure where to begin when grading your teen's composition, a rubric may be helpful. Decide on categories that you will evaluate and assign points to each category. For example, it may be as simple as: content--60 points, mechanics (grammar and punctuation)--30 points, effort--10 points. If the total number of points you assign equals 100, then you'll have a ready-made system from which to assign a letter grade to the composition after your evaluation. The free Glencoe guide gives you a more formal rubric for assessing a variety of student writing assignments such as short stories, persuasive speeches, research papers, historical essays, and many more! It's a gold mine of helpful tips.

You may want to encourage your teen to proofread and edit his work before handing it to you to grade. A student checklist rubric that will help him can be accessed at MCAS Mentor's website.

Don't fall into the ditch of thinking that you are not proficient enough to instruct your teens in the art of writing. Alexander Pope captures the essence of what we are trying to encourage in you and your teens when he said, "True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, as those who move easiest have learned to dance." It's easiest to learn to dance with a partner so whether it's writing thank you notes or dissertations, practice together with your teen to bring greater proficiency.

Next month we will bring you thoughts on the importance of elections and how your teens can be involved in the process.

Thank you for welcoming us into your home each month,
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Consultants


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