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10th grade with ongoing writing issues...help...

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our 10th grader is one of those math/science minded kids. He's very analytical and, as far as I can tell, he thinks in numbers and formulas. He has an excellent vocabulary (4 years of Latin), is very smart......he *can* write..but it is extremely difficult for him. Analytical writing isn't *as* bad but he has a "story telling" assignment to do about a success or failure in his life. He's chosen to write about mastering the Rubik's Cube........he has labored over this assignment and, currently he has three very short paragraphs outlining how to solve the cube......not a story.....I literally think it's painful for him to think creatively in this venue (writing)....


We've done IEW, Rod and Staff, I've had him outline and summarize various science/history/literature, even an online class (which he did very well in) - I'm about to pull my hair out thinking that he'll never make it in college English.....let alone pass the SAT? He can eventually pull a decent paper together...with much help in editing....but I'm tired of pushing/prodding....I SO want it to come more easily for him.


Any suggestions?

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First of all, to make you less anxious: there are very, very few occasions in normal adult life during which anyone has to write an essay about "an important event in your life." A college application and the SAT are two of the very few places he may have to do this. He may be asked to discuss such a thing in a job interview, though; can he do that? Can he carry on a conversation with someone who asks him about himself, asks his view on a piece of literature or a movie? Can he articulate his views on a current event? This will help you decide whether the problem is with thinking along these lines, full scale, or more confined to the act of writing.


Even college English classes vary tremendously. If your child is science-bound, he may gravitate toward a college, or even a course within a college, that emphasizes more straightforward writing in his field rather than literary analysis. Not all freshman comp classes or even English classes are creative or literary in nature. If you google freshman English syllabi from a few places you will begin to get an idea of the variety of slants that exist. At the University of California where I taught for a number of years, freshman writing programs were divided up among five or six different mini-colleges, each of which had its own approach and focus. Not all were what you think of as literary or "English" essays.


It would also help to know where in the process he gets most bogged down: at the start, twisted around in organizing his material, not knowing how to build up a paragraph with details? Does he want to constantly rewrite because he thinks what he's got isn't good enough? These are all different issues (and most of us have more than one).


That said, I'm wondering -- and I don't know this from experience, because I have a child inclined the other way, so feel free to disregard -- whether he might be helped by a "formula" for writing the necessary essays when called upon to do so. There's the standard five-paragraph essay; but there are also programs and descriptions on-line of how to write a "sandwich" paragraph itself, where to put evidence, how to introduce it, etc. I've seen color-coded writing programs that use red, green, and yellow: green for go ahead and write down your opening sentence, yellow and red for when to stop and add evidence, when to slow down to further discuss a detail or a quote.


Perhaps it would help him to think of "story telling" as a more scientific chronology or narrative in time -- kind of translate the more artsy and often hugely general or vague language of an essay prompt into language he's more comfortable with, and a structure he's more at ease about. You could begin to teach him how to write 1) "person"-centered sentence, such as "Then I tried this," or "I felt this," and 2) "content"-centered sentence, such as what moves led to what patterns in the Rubix cube. Eventually you can teach him how to intersperse both kinds of sentences in an essay; it may even help him to have a specific number in mind of how many sentences he can use related to content before he needs to hook it back to an "I" sentence.


This is the kind of thing that came to mind... I have no idea whether it could be useful to him or not. But both of you should be made easier by the fact that I have read many of the writings by my husband's colleagues in ocean chemistry and they're all pretty awful in terms of lucid, elegant writing -- they tend toward the choppy, workmanlike, and impersonal. There are lots of scientists who have trouble with forming a series of competent sentences. Yet they manage to write what is required: they get hired, they get grants, they get promoted. Persist in practicing, try some different ways of approaching a writing task, take a look at writing he likes (non-fiction articles, for instance) and discuss how the writer handles the material, how the article is structured, what comes first, how you know when the topic is changing, etc. If he can see it as related to building or constructing, perhaps he can visualize better how to go about making one himself.

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that was most helpful. Thank you for taking the time to reply. You *have* set my mind at ease a bit. He is actually a pretty good writer ...when he writes. I think the entire process for him is just painful. He is witty, he can develop his ideas pretty well....it's just hard and takes him a LONG time to be happy with even one sentence. He once told me, when he was about 9, that metaphor was like lying....because he just didn't think that way. He is a man of very few words but they are well crafted on paper as well as in person. He is very familiar with the 5 paragraph formula...I'll have to check into some of the others. I've also thought about working with him more on timed essays...just to get him thinking/writing faster. I think he may get so bogged down trying to create the "perfect" sentence/paragraph that he loses momentum.


I think it may have been a mistake to place him in a more creative writing class. I thought it would be good to stretch that area but perhaps not.


Thanks so much again

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It might help your son to work on the issue of writing within time limits. Our son was a slow and methodical writer until he took Julie Bogart's class on timed writing. Ds learned that he could write a decent essay in 30 minutes. Of course, this wasn't a research essay with documentation, but he learned to quickly organize and get ideas on paper.



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Sounds like your son and mine would be great friends. My son hated creative writing. It sounds like your doing the right things. I agree with the other poster, creative writing isn't required much later in life (unless that is your porfession) In college, he can chose English courses that will have more analysis papers and lesscreative wrting. In college he will be mainly studying his strengths, so you should be fine there. As for the SAT essay, do lots of practice so he is ready.


I think setting the timer and trying to wtie it in a short amount of time would be good practice, less angst. You've done IEW, right? Have him make sure he is using the style words, especially action words since it is a personal story. And then tell him, as long as the paper is decent, that it is good enough. Maybe not a great paper, but a good enough paper for someone whose real love is numbers.


Another thought, is to have him keep practicing other types of writing. The more you practice the writing that he is comfortable with, the better he will also be at wrting that is not in his comfort zone.

Edited by Cedarmom
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