Menu
Jump to content

What's with the ads?

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

PeterPan

Bringing Karen's mention of essay-writing to a new thread...

Recommended Posts

Is the prominence of essay-writing in younger and younger grades (6th, 7th, etc.) because of a spiraling, keep trying so sooner or later they figure it out, kind of thing? Or is it because there's actually VALUE to doing it? That's really hard for me to sort out. For instance someone on the hs board was discussing needing her students to do weekly 5 paragraph essays to do Omnibus 1 (curriculum aimed at 7th+). So if we WAIT, under Karen's premise that not all children are ready at such and such age, do we do harm or good? Mercy, I'm not trying to destabilize Karen. I'm saying I had so BOUGHT INTO the level of assignments (me and my "do a good job" goal) that it had never occurred to me that it wouldn't matter a flying fig if she does them now or later.

 

So what say you? What are the potential holes in that logic? I could see both sides. It seems to me WTM has a delayed approach to longer essay writing and stays at the paragraph level a long time. I need to go read those sections for the higher grades and see. I know I didn't have much worth saying at certain grades. In fact, I think the most kids would be doing is parroting what they have been told. (We discussed this in class, you decided what you think based on the spin I gave you through the discussion and the way I steered things, now go write an essay on your oh-so-informed opinion.) Yes, I guess that's cynical.

 

But seriously, what are the things to consider here? If you do something like the upper level CW stuff or get into a rhetoric study, yes you're doing some thinking and analysis. But really, after watching lots and lots of posts on the boards over the last how many years, I'm not sure how many people do that. I'm not sure that *most* people ever do more than basically trying to get their dc to write a logical multi-paragraph essay with an outline and clear thesis. If they get that far, they praise the saints. At least that's how it looks to me, just watching things. So if that's the case, then maybe Karen's assertion is accurate? In fact, there was a noble voice on the boards years ago (Kpzzz) who maintained that discussion was the foundation for writing and would cover a host of ills. Very interesting, as it seems to flow from the same point.

 

Then I bring this full-circle to the out of the box thread. (And my apologies for making this long!) If the imperative need is for discussion and thought, NOT extreme or detailed writing tasks, then I think people might feel more comfortable getting out of the box.

 

So there, clear as mud? Anyone have any thoughts?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If I'm understanding you correctly, I was going to post the very same question. In another thread here at the Logic Board, someone must have mentioned having a 5th grader do 5-paragraph essay b/c the last post of the thread which I clicked on, not having read any of the others, a poster questioned why you would be teaching 5 paragraph essays to a 5th grader since she didn't do that until closer to high school. Gee, I haven't had much computer time this weekend and I hope I'm not totally mis-characterizing the thread. But, I had just last week asked a teacher friend who had taught in my district about what writing goals would they have for a 5th grader by the end of the year, and she said the ability to write a good 5-paragraph essay with accurate spelling and punctuation. Here I was thinking if DS was writing a great paragraph relatively fluently, I would be happy. We're working through Paragraph Town this year.

 

Are we asking the same question OHElizabeth? I'm so tired...I've been up since about 3am after only 3hrs sleep, then DS7 had a soccer tournament from 7:30am-1:30pm. I'm pooped. This might all be incomprehensible. :001_huh:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I, too, am not sure if I am understanding you correctly but I think I am on the same level of thinking as you are.

 

I need to back up a bit, so bear with me.

 

I started teaching grammar to my oldest when she was in Gr. 1 with FLL. I did this because WTM told me to. I follow directions very well. ;) We have been trying (that being the operative word) to do grammar every year since. The result has been alot of frustration on both my and my dd's part because she still does not get parts of speech. These past 5 years of grammar have been a total waste. I realize now that I should have waited until she was much older to start down the grammar trail.

 

This experience in grammar has made me very leery about the subject of writing. Just because someone says that their kids are writing a 5 page essay or a research paper at 11 yrs. old or some curriculum says to do these things, does that mean that I am damaging my child because I am not doing the same? I think that, depending on the child, 'later is better' can work for writing as well.

 

I think this is where we need to look at our children and decide what they can handle (emotionally as well as academically) and trust that. Then stick our fingers in our ears when we hear of other people doing things much better and do the 'la la thing.'

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Uhura-Yes, you're right in the flow of it!

 

Julia-As usual you all are pushing my thinking! Indeed, my dd is *not* given to grammar, lol. We've done Shurley and survived only because it's the most basic, formulaic thing you can find. I push her out of the box a bit and do diagramming with her, where she can get things conceptually and enjoy the process (which to me is fun, I try to spread the joy). However to just sit down and do traditional grammar exercises would be an utter. flop. So while I was merely thinking about what was right or good for all kids (or the generic kid), it had not occurred to me that a timetable for levels of writing might be very good for some dc and very bad for others. Seems really obvious, now that you say it.

 

You know what else is curious to me? I have my voice and write easily, no problem there, but I would consider my essay skills at best formulaic. (No credit to my education, eh?) My dh, whom dd is quite similar to, is the most PROFOUND thinker and writer you can imagine. To write he has to go into his chamber and have absolute silence, with tons of time. He even has to outline. Me, I draw webs and circles and let ideas come out till they all connect and organize. Not him, it's this horrible torture session. But he has something to say and says it very well! So, to pull that with what you're saying it seems to me that a little less writing and a lot more focus on RHETORIC (whatever in the world that is, the buzzword I hear and have books on but still don't get), the better for him. In fact, if someone had tied all his progress in rhetoric and organized thinking to a WRITING requirement, he might have stifled down. Now I know his teachers in high school and college made him write and lovingly brought to where he is. So it's not like he did no writing. But it also wasn't this draconian quantity mandate (not sure what that would be, something way higher than traditional school standards) either.

 

So I don't know, you've definitely got me thinking!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe there is value. Are there other ways to teach those learned processes? Yes, but writing covers a few things at once.

 

In fact, there was a noble voice on the boards years ago (Kpzzz) who maintained that discussion was the foundation for writing and would cover a host of ills. Very interesting, as it seems to flow from the same point.

To a verbal kid, yes, this would be the way to go.

 

They are learning to formulate a though, organize it, and put it done on paper in a coherent, logical manner. Dogs plus Chimps don't equal mangoes. You can talk that out-but you're going to have to be a verbal teacher. And I think both actually serve eachother. Both is perfect, either or is the least.

 

Discussion IS the foundation of writing. In fiction you're storytelling. In non fiction you're hopefully reporting or making a persuasive argument. All has its basis in discussion.

 

The reason I wouldn't stop there, though is that the act of *writing* engages a totally different part of the brain and not only are they engaging that-but they are visually SEEING what they are writing.

 

That said-all kids are different and there are some kids you can't make sit down and write. I'm not saying to force them, but I would be deeply delving into rhetoric and logic (which TWTM does) if not.

 

But this is where all of that narration, dictation and outlining come into play, too. 5 paragraphs for a 5th grader shouldn't be ALL too hard by then.

 

Pg 344 of TWTM (logic stage, 5th grade) says,

 

During the logic stage, you're preparing the child to think critically about literature by conversing with her about it--carrying on a dialog about what is or isn't important in plots, about whether characters are heroes or villains, about the effects that books have on readers.
pg 348

 

The fifth grader should continue to write one-half-page to one page summaries of each book read during reading time. As she moves on to longer and more complex books, she may take a week or so to read a single book and write a one page summary. Try to enforce a one page limit even though this is difficult for longer books (the child typically wants to include every detail in her summary). Before she writes, talk to her about the book, Ask her to tell you the story (or relate the information, in the case of a non-fiction book). Help her to evaluate each detail by asking questions: "Is that important later on?" "Would the story still make sense if you left that part out?" "Does that character show up again at the end of the book?" "What does he do?" "If you leave him out of your report, will the story end the same way?" Talk about the book together until the child has pinpointed the most important events and is able to weave them int a narration.

 

[snip]

 

This process of selecting, evaluating and criticizing will move the fifth grader from grammar-stage reading (where she simply repeats what she reads back to you) into logic-stage reading. During the logic stage the child thinks about what she's read: "What makes this interesting?" "What parts of it are most important?" "Why do I react the way I do?"

Through the chapter are also disclaimers that talk about the reluctant reader, the reluctant writer and such.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
That said-all kids are different and there are some kids you can't make sit down and write. I'm not saying to force them, but I would be deeply delving into rhetoric and logic (which TWTM does) if not.

 

Can you explain this? Are you saying if the dc is capable of doing MORE do more, and if the written load needs to be less, up the ante on the logic and analysis side to cover?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest

I'm saying basically what SWB is saying: that through the logic stage you can set the foundations for later, full-length essay writing by using lots of discussion and analysis of what you read, and you do not have to have kids doing five-paragraph essays in junior high for them to become capable essay writers by the end of high school. Earlier is not always better. If you have a child who is ready and champing at the bit, that's one thing. But it is not necessary.

 

Ideally, the shape writing takes evolves from the content of the essay and purpose of the writer. While the five paragraph essay is an easy way to superimpose a structure on any given topic, it can be extremely limiting if kids learn to rely on it and it alone, especially when they are forming their writing skills in late elementary/early middle school.

 

Where I depart from SWB is in my avoidance of the repetitive cycle of outlining, writing from those outlines, and written narration. This is not because I think it's a bad idea, or anything of the sort. It's because it does not work FOR MY CHILD. I have a child who has combined a love of writing with some dysgraphic issues in earlier childhood, who has a wonderful sense of voice, who is an imitative writer trying out techniques and syntactical structures she reads or hears, who has no writing blocks. I have been profoundly concerned to keep things that way, once the dysgraphia issues were resolved.

 

This particular child is textually driven; she is in love with language both spoken and written, she is an intuitive writer who can grasp the essentials of a writing format or process in a very short while. The repetition in TWTM would serve no purpose for her and would be stultifying rather than helpful.

 

One thing that has helped me is two years of graduate level research in the writing process. I became aware of just how many pedagogical approaches there are to writing, how and why they differ, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Because I and other grad students often served as subjects for other people's research, we talked a lot about our own writing processes, compared them to literary authors we were also studying, and became more aware of historical and cultural underpinnings to how writing is modeled and understood. So I'm aware that TWTM is one model among many. I have also read the opposite pedagogical approach, represented by Lucy Calkins of Teachers College in New York, which focuses on the genres of memoir, personal narrative, and poetry, and tries to get very young kids involved in writing workshops and revising.

 

All this has given me a lot of perspective; but most of all, it's given me quite a bit of confidence in the fact that there are a myriad of ways to go about teaching and learning writing, and to be able to tailor what I do to my child.

 

But again, I do stand with SWB in my belief that it is not a necessary component of this process to have kids writing longer papers and essays when they're in elementary school. Whether they do so in junior high or not depends largely on their stage of development, their interests, and their ultimate educational goals.

 

Most of the problems I've seen undergraduates have in producing essays has nothing to do with writing in and of itself, and everything to do with their ability to read critically and closely, to analyze a text, and to organize their thoughts. I put a lot of work into discussions of what we read, into the continual organizing and analyzing of our ideas orally.

 

More later if need be, but I smell dinner beginning to burn.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Can you explain this? Are you saying if the dc is capable of doing MORE do more, and if the written load needs to be less, up the ante on the logic and analysis side to cover?

 

Yes.

 

In my above post, I copied the line of questions SWB advocates in TWTM. I think a conversation along those lines would be very good for a discussion. If that start led to more questions, more discoveries, more discussion, then wonderful!

 

The narrations of the student lead to the questions for the teacher to ask, which turn the child toward more critical thinking--THAT'S the goal you're looking for. If I could ask questions about the book, discuss the child's answers-that Socratic method leads to critical analysis. If I could then get only a few paragraphs out of the child, then I would be happy with that because I knew through discussion that the child had thought about the reading critically.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Most of the problems I've seen undergraduates have in producing essays has nothing to do with writing in and of itself, and everything to do with their ability to read critically and closely, to analyze a text, and to organize their thoughts. I put a lot of work into discussions of what we read, into the continual organizing and analyzing of our ideas orally.

 

 

 

:iagree:

 

With my children, outlining was a cornerstone of learning how to pick the most important information out of a paragraph- which is critical reading.

 

The act of us going over and deciding WHAT to put into that outline taught them how to analyze what they were reading.

 

That easily could be taught through Socratic method alone if needed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My sis (the 15yo in my sig) was in public school until about 1/2 of 5th grade. She was always praised for being a great writer in school. And "learned" how to do a 5 paragraph essay there.

 

But let me tell you her paragraphs still stink. I think her writing really suffered from moving on to essays at at time when her paragraphs still needed work. And if she was one of the "good" writers I hate to think what happened to the ones who struggled.

 

I have to get little ones into bed, but I'll come back later or tomorrow.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Most of the problems I've seen undergraduates have in producing essays has nothing to do with writing in and of itself, and everything to do with their ability to read critically and closely, to analyze a text, and to organize their thoughts.

 

Thank you Karen! And can you explain this? You used the phrase "read critically" and so did Justamouse, so I was hoping you all would flesh it out. It sounds like you're referring to an Adler-style careful reading (something I was never taught in school, pathetic prowess we were given), while Justamouse is more referring to structure in source materials (textbooks, whatever). The latter makes sense to me, but the former is where I'm weak. When I evaluated transcripts for a university, lots and lots of homeschoolers sent in booklists. We would throw them away laughing. EVERYBODY reads books. The question is never what books did you read, but what did you DO with them? And see "write a 5 paragraph essay" is the easy answer. To think of creative writing projects and hands-on projects and whatnot (go outside the box), this is more work.

 

I'm usually pretty mathematical and boring about how I approach things: I find the space, the objects, divide, and plug in. So I think what I'm naturally wanting is something really formulaic and obvious like that: this year write at this level, next year write at this level, every week have this much output of that level. It's just so neat and easy! Gets a little hairier when you diverge.

 

This is terrible to say, but as of right now, we're REALLY ENJOYING our textbook outlining! It does exactly what Justamouse is saying, giving us lots of discussions as we work through the structure of the material. Now maybe it's just that we have a good way of doing it (pretty fonts and colors, all on the computer), but she's having a good time and going a LOT deeper into the text than if she merely read it. Absolutely she's learning about structure in written material. But I don't feel compelled to turn that into a writing assignment. I'm content to let those two concepts (outline/analyze and write) be separate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A good curriculum to teach discussion and critical reading of literature is Junior Great Books. Somewhere around the 3rd or 4th grade level it starts to include some very good writing prompts, and some q and a that support that writing. It's not your usual formulaic 'what color did they paint the door' type of 'reading comprehension' question.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Elizabeth, I've already told you I am backwards.:D Writing? I have bought and sold too many programs to count. MCT's books stay. Parts of The Writer's Jungle and the Brave Writer Life Style stay. Unjournaling is a must-have. My kids prefer adult writing books to curriculum. Anne Lammott, Natalie Goldberg, and Bonnie Goldberg are used for writing prompts far more frequently than curriculum. But you know what, my primary goal is that the kid write. Period. I am not looking for 5 paragraph essays right now. There is time for that.

 

My philosophy is based off of my biggest challenge as a writer: getting started and having something to say. So the kid needs to write every day. He may have to write a paragraph for MCT, an outline for history, a poem as to why he thinks his brother is a dork, a letter to the pool protesting the club boys being banned from the locker room (rightly so!), an advertisement for his computer service, or even a birthday present list. Not all writing can be done at the computer. Put pen to paper. Tell me why I am the meanest mom in the world and back up your argument with specific examples. If you can do it well and use a couple of MCT vocabulary words, I will give you a cookie.

 

They read tons of books, mostly good ones. I read tons of good books to Swimmer Dude who does not read. We've read poetry for years where I let the kids choose the poems they want to cover. They like poetry as long as it isn't analyzed into the ground. We deconstruct advertising and debate global warming or lack thereof at the dinner table. Read, talk, argue. Go easy with the red pen.

 

Never ask one of my kids for a self-reflective piece. NEVER.

 

I am seldom flexible in negotiating a math assignment. I am nearly always flexible with writing assignments. When you negotiate with Mom, there is a certain level of risk. You may get an assignment that better suits your fancy because you had a valid argument or you may get extra work because Mom can smell shirking for no good reason from a mile away.

 

I want my kids to put pen to paper with relative ease or in other words I don't want them to be paralyzed because it's yet one more assignment in a long progression of assignments that they couldn't give a rip about. My kids have voices: strong, interesting, and often quirky voices. I try to be careful not to squelch their uniqueness. This doesn't mean that we don't work on giving those voices some shape.

 

There is a book with grade appropriate standards in my desk drawer. I check it every once in a while.

 

You are glad you asked, aren't you, Elizabeth?;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As trite as it sounds, does a 5th grader need to be writing essays really depends on the 5th grader. Writing skills are very child dependent.

 

Essays require generating a unique thesis and arguing/proving your contention. While I have never had a 5th grader ready to write essays, my current 6th grader loves writing essays but really does not like writing reports. Several of my kids were not capable of essay writing until closer to 8th or the end of 8th.

 

My experience teaching my kids to write is that writing well takes lots of deliberate practice. I don't mean over-kill as in writing a report a day. It is more along the lines of 1 concentrated writing assignment per week. My kids know the routine......b/c that is exactly what writing is in our house, a routine.

 

Monday they gather and organize their info. Tuesday they write 1/2 of their rough draft. Wed they write the 2nd 1/2. Thurs we meet to revise and edit. This is a huge teaching opportunity. It is when we critique their writing to see if it contains the elements of writing they are expected to have mastered. Fri they turn in their final copy.

 

Skills are progressed through at the child's pace and at their level of ability to analyze and create unique arguments. Some kids are ready to do that at the beginning of middle school. Some aren't. But the kids that aren't, they are the ones that still need to focus on the process of writing vs. the argument itself. Essay writing requires the ability to move beyond thinking about **how** to write and developing your position.

 

My goal with all of my children is to have them master "how to" write (organize thoughts, topic sentence, supporting details, transitions, staying on topic, no verb shifts, no change in POV, etc) by the end of middle school and have been introduced to essay writing by the end of 8th grade.

 

High school requires a lot of writing, mostly essays but also some research. I want them to be able to focus on their assignments and not have to work on developing basic writing skills.

 

It is sort of like learning to read. It is hard for beginning readers that are focusing decoding each word to be able to focus on the content and have good comprehension. Writing is similar. If a child is having to focus so much on the actual writing process, they have a hard time focusing on how to develop their thesis.

 

How they move through learning to write and when they master each skill......one step at a time.

 

(ETA: I wrote this early this morning in a hurry before getting ready to leave. No time to go back through and edit. ;) )

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

May I join the discussion from the BTDT point of view?

 

Please understand that when I began homeschooling my now first year college son in 7th grade, many of the curricular materials that are frequently discussed these days either did not exist or were not on my radar. I had the first edition WTM--the second edition was just out, I think, but I had purchased a number of materials based on the 1st edition guidelines. Thus I had Writing Strands, Vocabulary from Classical Roots and Stewart Grammar as my son's Language Arts books.

 

WS was a bust for us--but I would return a year later and try it again. Successfully for about a month and then WS was forever abandoned. Writing assignments were often inspired by something from VfCR or Stewart or whatever it was that we were doing in the rest of school or life. We never took a workbook approach to either history or science, hence he was always writing in those subjects. Sometimes it was lists of facts, but eventually those lists became descriptions with flow. Nan and I both told stories of our sons who would prefer to argue over the assignment than write. And often we would both agree that the assignment was, well maybe not "stupid", but not particularly instructive.

 

At some point in high school, I had what seemed to be a reckoning: I should have enrolled him in one of the online writing courses that people on these boards praise. But too late...

 

Anyway, like so many parents, I stressed over the five paragraph essay. My son also produced lengthier works in high school. The latter was always better than the former. There is a knack to a strong five paragraph essay and my kid was missing it. So in 10th grade we returned to the paragraph. Then to the sentence itself. Was it Killgallon's Sentence Composing or his own maturity that brought the epiphany? I do not know.

 

In 11th, he was enrolled in a Basic Composition course at the community college where he could answer to someone else now. (Feel some tension growing here?) His instructor was demanding and he worked his tail off. How my reluctant writer pulled off an A was a mystery to me, particularly because many of the papers he wrote for the class had not received A's. Interestingly, his final product usually score well in the rubric, but his plans which were also part of the grade scored poorly. My son did not conform to his prof's outlining methodology and was penalized throughout the semester--but not at the end.

 

I am rambling as is my nature. There are a couple of points to this post. One is that I feel I wasted a great deal of emotional energy on the five paragraph essay. The only time my son was ever required to write a five paragraph essay was on his college entrance exams (SAT and ACT). Never in the course of his community college work did anyone ask for a five paragraph or seven paragraph essay. Nor was this required in his first semester of (real) college work. What is our obsession with this beast? (Karen Anne?)

 

Secondly, after all of the hand wringing, my son enrolled at a Liberal Arts College which emphasizes writing. He was offered a merit scholarship on the basis on his application, then a larger merit scholarship on the basis of a second essay--not a five paragrapher, mind you. (My son??)

 

All first year students at my son's college enroll in a writing intensive seminar in a discipline of their choice. My future archaeologist chose a seminar in the music department. May I boast? He received an A in the course and never had anything less than an A on any of his assignments. My reluctant writer son?

 

Finally my son's witty personality had entered his formerly dull writing. This was not an overnight process. And I do not think it would have happened without poking, prodding and practice.

 

But the five paragraph essay? I would not obsess over it. In fact, I think what ultimately led my kiddo to find his comfort level were the writing assignments in history and science, the things which interested him the most. Write across the curriculum would be my rallying cry.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Yes.

 

In my above post, I copied the line of questions SWB advocates in TWTM. I think a conversation along those lines would be very good for a discussion. If that start led to more questions, more discoveries, more discussion, then wonderful!

 

The narrations of the student lead to the questions for the teacher to ask, which turn the child toward more critical thinking--THAT'S the goal you're looking for. If I could ask questions about the book, discuss the child's answers-that Socratic method leads to critical analysis. If I could then get only a few paragraphs out of the child, then I would be happy with that because I knew through discussion that the child had thought about the reading critically.

 

 

Interesting, thank you. My son was a delayed reader and his writing skills lagged behind that. However, he's always had a much higher comprehension and we have some very engaging discussions. He's a very pattern oriented child too. Right now we're working through WWE 3 and he is bored with it. It could be because he knows the pattern, feels like he understands it, and is ready (at least in his mind) to move onto something else. He's not one of those children that wants to give me every detail in a narrative, he'll give the minimum. He's outlining from a specific text this year and that is going better, probably because he's more interested in the subject. We've taken a couple of those outlines and turned them into paragraphs, but he is still at the beginning of that.

 

My challenge is how to work with that. Do I press through with the WWE or is that like asking him to sort the Lego on the table into different colors when he's ready to build a spaceship? Do I take a point of these wonderful discussions we have and have him write from there? Traditional writing prompts only garner me a blank stare.

 

By virtue of where we are he won't be moving into essays until high school. I'm okay with that, but I'd like him to be able to write a quality paragraph and writing more than the bare minimum for his literature.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Agreeing. With many of the voices in this thread. I keep trying to remember what it felt like when I wasn't sure WHAT to do and when to do it. Now I'm just stuck trying to find the TIME to do it. ;) Trying to find pick up and go resources that match my pick up and DASH lifestyle.

 

I typed up an ENORMOUS post using a recent writing sample my 8th grader submitted to show how this works in the week-to-week. (How to integrate the issues of what to write and HOW to write about it.) BUT I wasn't logged in so the whole wordy mess was immediately deleted. I'm off to take a shower. Gotta dash. But I think that's the real problem here. I know what to do with my little guy, a taller than me thirteen year-old boy. BUT when I sit down and try to talk about it in this land of 0's and 1's, it takes a TON of time.

 

And I don't have that kind of time.

 

So I keep listing materials. And ideas. And good books.

 

I'm not afraid to put myself out there - warts and all! :001_smile:

But I just don't have the TIME!

 

I don't have the time to get down in the trenches to talk about what has worked and what hasn't worked around here. It takes time to turn an off-the-cuff discussion into sentences. Sheesh! It's hard to remember WHAT we discussed. I just pick and choose things to fix. When I can tell that the learning is starting to slide, I move on. Next paragraph. Ideas, words, subordinating ideas, sentences, rhythm and pacing, literary devices, the power of analogy, and globally weak arguments - LOTS to chat about. But I don't really THINK about what I'm thinking any more. I just DO it. So it's really time consuming to WRITE about it.

 

My middle dd just starting writing synthesis essays in her online class. She has a LONG way to go. I need to spend ANY shred of time I can afford this morning looking through her annotation of the samples to try to generate a launch pad. I have some ideas about where the disconnects are for her. But now I have to nail it down so she can climb atop this pile and stand triumphant.

 

I don't have the time to talk about 6th-8th grade writing in a concrete way. And NONE of this came "naturally" to me. I knew NONE of this when I started hsing. I was a complete dolt! But I'm figuring things out. So the process does work. But I don't have the time to REALLY think about what happened and how it happened. I don't even have the time to re-write the wordy narration of this last week's writing lesson. So I'm stuck recommending a book. That really bothers me! I WISH it wasn't this way!!!!

 

Best advice: Write every week. Eventually you will get bored doing the thing you are doing. That will drive you to find out what to teach next. Eventually you'll figure it out. Weird to say it, but I can't - really right now in my life I JUST Can't!!!!! - say anything else. It was that "hunger" process that drove me to the next great resource. And I unearthed most of those resources because of the gals on this board. THANKS!!!!

 

Isn't Susan putting out a Gr 5-8 writing program soon? SHE has probably nailed down the steps. Can you all just wait?

 

Oh - Jane is right. Five paragraph essays end with SAT/ACT exams. AND those exams even caution that you don't have to provide three examples. Two well-developed examples are better. So even then you don't really need five paragraphs. Maybe we pick that number because of the digits on our hand.

 

Even that rule isn't a rule; it's someone's training wheels.

 

Sorry to be SO unhelpful!

Janice

 

Enjoy your little people

Enjoy your journey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have been thinking more about this. Writing has not been the strong suit in our learning. I wanted that to change for this year but I didn't know how to go about it. My oldest is not ready for essays so I need to work her up to that in a gentle way.

 

The problem I am finding, though, is that everyone has an opinion of what kind of writing a middle schooler should be doing and these opinions are all different. One says to start writing essays, one says just write narrations, another says have them write in journals and still another says journal writing is not helpful at all. What's a girl to do? How are you supposed to sift through it all and decide what will work for your child? I find myself being paralyzed over this writing thing because I am so afraid I am going to chose the wrong track and I will mess everything up.

 

Now, we are doing outlining of texts and she is writing the main idea of what she reads for literature but that is as far as she goes. I don't know how to carry her farther on. Or if I need to at this point in life.

 

This homeschooling thing is so hard at times. I liked it better when they were all 6, it was so easy then. At least it seems so now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The question is never what books did you read, but what did you DO with them? And see "write a 5 paragraph essay" is the easy answer. To think of creative writing projects and hands-on projects and whatnot (go outside the box), this is more work.

 

.

 

Not saying that I agree with your assessment, but if you want to see a curriculum that is written more toward projects vs. literary analysis, you might want to look at Oak Meadow. I haven't seen their middle school materials, but their high school materials are very project oriented.

 

FWIW.....I do not believe the term essay encompasses only the 5 paragraph essay. I agree with Jane in that having a 5 paragraph format is typically only advantageous on tests. Essay writing itself, however, is the main academic writing students use.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Anne Lammott, Natalie Goldberg, and Bonnie Goldberg are used for writing prompts far more frequently than curriculum. But you know what, my primary goal is that the kid write...

 

I want my kids to put pen to paper with relative ease or in other words I don't want them to be paralyzed because it's yet one more assignment in a long progression of assignments that they couldn't give a rip about....

 

There is a book with grade appropriate standards in my desk drawer. I check it every once in a while.

 

You are glad you asked, aren't you, Elizabeth?;)

 

Of course I'm glad I asked, lol. I like hearing divergent choices and being challenged to balance out my own thinking, which tends to go all one way or another. The B. Goldberg materials have writing prompts. Do the others? I was trying to think about the concepts of what you're drawn to in there, since a liberal activist, zen spiritualist, and free-wheeling artist aren't quite up our alley. ;) I totally see why you're using them though. Karen gave me a lot of ideas a while back for writing prompts and categories in that vein, but dd has outgrown some of them. Your selections seem to mature. I need to bridge the gap. I bet if I were smart and asked Karen, she'd have some. I think she just modifies and makes it work. I thought the title of B.G.'s "Room to Write" was interesting. An artist wanting room by herself to create, nothing shocking there. Dd does the same thing with her scrapbooking and whatnot. She's always wanting to get by herself to do her deepest things. It just hadn't occurred to me HOW much she might need that for writing. I thought it was merely a distraction thing.

 

On the standards thing, I think I got fuzzled because in the middle of the process your output doesn't at all match up. But you're saying by the END (of high school) it still should. That makes a lot of sense! That might be just what I needed.

 

Your comment on ease is interesting. Ease is not a word I would use with dd for writing, no matter what the method, assignment, or topic. Some things flow more readily or are more enjoyable, but it's always hard. I'm researching now to see if there are some things I can do to help her. (expressive language work, working memory, that type thing) That's why I'm especially sensitive on this issue, because it's NOT natural and flowing for her. I'm very cognizant that if I go with her flow too much, I could fail to nurture what she needs or recognize the problem. It's not that I think pushing beyond ability improves things but that without a standard I can't see where we're diverging. But that's a lot of words and gibberish probably, lol.

 

Thanks for sharing. I definitely appreciate the input. I think I see us somewhere in the middle, hugging both sides. A little of this, a little of that.

 

Ok, I'm not done yet. As a functional matter, are you saying you have your ds doing both more traditional/wtm-ish type assignments AND more creative/out-of-the-box stuff? How do you create that balance within a week? How do you decide how much of each? I'm formula woman here. I pick amounts (outline one chapter of science, write one book report, do...) and then I just switch around what subjects or material they apply to.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

8Fill-I really appreciate you typing all that out! I don't know WHY I had totally missed the idea of beginning the rough draft sooner. We've been playing around with CW Homer again, and they encourage so much analysis that I was shoving the rough draft to late in the week, making the whole process too crunched. That's definitely something we can change right away.

 

That's a really clear standard, essays by the end of 8th grade, and that seems do-able. Good point that it depends on the student. Sometimes I feel like if *I* just work hard enough and do my part, we get there. It's really not true though. You can't pull a donkey, at least not very safely.

 

Thanks! :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

FWIW.....I do not believe the term essay encompasses only the 5 paragraph essay. I agree with Jane in that having a 5 paragraph format is typically only advantageous on tests. Essay writing itself, however, is the main academic writing students use.

 

The students of my best friend, a sixth grade teacher at a Midwestern public school, must write a five paragraph essay as part of their end of grade assessment. As I understand it, writing assignments beginning in fifth grade are focused on the five paragraph essay--at the expense of everything else.

 

For some reason, I was distinguishing the essay from a research paper in that the essay often incorporates a personal point of view. Keep in mind that I was not an English major! ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My reluctant writer son?

 

Finally my son's witty personality had entered his formerly dull writing. This was not an overnight process. And I do not think it would have happened without poking, prodding and practice.

 

But the five paragraph essay? I would not obsess over it. In fact, I think what ultimately led my kiddo to find his comfort level were the writing assignments in history and science, the things which interested him the most. Write across the curriculum would be my rallying cry.

 

What a fascinating thing to see the growth of a child in writing! What you're saying is very much what Karen keeps challenging us on, the idea that if they can get comfortable getting their thoughts out in a variety of ways, you can teach them structure later. Probably the higher interest of his college writing prompted some of this. So when you say write across the curriculum, write in history and science, what kind of writing specifically are you suggesting we do? WTM-style retellings/summaries? Researched paragraphs/reports? Creative works? Journaling our discoveries?

 

I definitely think engagement plays a part in this. It still mystifies me that someone who teaches CW told me "her students really enjoy it." So either the problem is me or my student has a bad attitude or there is just something distinctly disengaging about it, kwim? Actually, we worked it up this time, googling pictures of the things talked about, going backward from concept to written. Still don't think she gives a rip about rewriting the story. :lol: I don't even mean to turn this into a rip (or rip up for me) CW thing. It's not that, and I've done enough of it myself. My issue is understanding WHY my dd does well with some things better than others, WHY she can engage with certain materials better than others.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Julia,

 

It helped me to read some real essays. Most library systems will have something from this "Best Essay" series:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Best-American-Essays-Century/dp/0618155872/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1295792086&sr=8-1

 

You'll start to see why there is debate. Real essays are sometimes narrative. They sometimes feel like a journal. Only they aren't. So how can you get to the point where you have something to say and you can argue it effectively?

 

And then - there are all sorts of other kinds of writing. Few of us will actually write essays in adult life. Writing programs try to insert all kinds of writing.

 

I like this handbook. Cheap. Lots of launch pads for cross-curricular assignments with pick up and go discussions. EASY to generate courses (and course descriptions) with lists like this.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Websters-World-Student-Writing-Handbook/dp/0470435399/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1295793915&sr=8-1

 

Take a look at the Table of Contents. Not just essays. BUT you can work on imbedding analysis, argumentation, and synthesis INTO nearly all of these assignments. Different forms. Same skills - BOTH the jr. high skills and the high school skills. Layer, layer, layer.

 

Eventually they will start to see a book like Tuchman's Distant Mirror as a big "essay." Wow! And you thought you couldn't find anything to say, young man!

 

It's a grand, grand ride!

 

Peace,

Janice

 

Enjoy your little people

Enjoy your journey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Janice-You are such a dear for taking the time to do this! Definitely will look at those books. What you're saying makes a lot of sense, that it's mainly our own growth that has to occur. Also, without realizing it, you made something click for me. The GB discussions help them sort through the logic of the topic, sort of an oral pre-outline, and then they get it on paper. Is that it?

 

And yes, I just looked up that Webster's book. It will be very helpful! :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What a fascinating thing to see the growth of a child in writing! What you're saying is very much what Karen keeps challenging us on, the idea that if they can get comfortable getting their thoughts out in a variety of ways, you can teach them structure later. Probably the higher interest of his college writing prompted some of this. So when you say write across the curriculum, write in history and science, what kind of writing specifically are you suggesting we do? WTM-style retellings/summaries? Researched paragraphs/reports? Creative works? Journaling our discoveries?

 

I definitely think engagement plays a part in this. It still mystifies me that someone who teaches CW told me "her students really enjoy it." So either the problem is me or my student has a bad attitude or there is just something distinctly disengaging about it, kwim? Actually, we worked it up this time, googling pictures of the things talked about, going backward from concept to written. Still don't think she gives a rip about rewriting the story. :lol: I don't even mean to turn this into a rip (or rip up for me) CW thing. It's not that, and I've done enough of it myself. My issue is understanding WHY my dd does well with some things better than others, WHY she can engage with certain materials better than others.

 

I found CW's approach to writing torture. Writing skills are not that difficult. It seemed to me that they were making them convoluted so that somehow when you actually managed to do what they were asking that you felt you had won a major victory.

 

Solid writing skills can be mastered in small non-monumental steps. Just one at a time. It may not have the feeling of having wrestled with a monster and won, but it works. :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Monday they gather and organize their info. Tuesday they write 1/2 of their rough draft. Wed they write the 2nd 1/2. Thurs we meet to revise and edit. This is a huge teaching opportunity. It is when we critique their writing to see if it contains the elements of writing they are expected to have mastered. Fri they turn in their final copy.

 

 

I've been living and sleeping writing for a few weeks so this thread is very timely.

 

8FilltheHeart - What info or they gathering on Monday? Is it a topic they are interested in? Is it from their current history, lit, or science?

 

I think what I need is the following.... I need a guide for the "typical/average" writer. No grade levels would be fine. If your DC can do the following, then he is ready to move on to X. Your child should be comfortable w/ topic sentences, closings, spelling and punctuation before moving on to essays. I think I learn better by examples. GIve me a whole book of essays at varying grade levels and quality w/ comments. And give me college-level, adult essays so I can see the ultimate goal. My friend are going to start collecting writing excerpts (great ways to start, to end) as samples - I got this idea from KarenAnne when she mentioned it in another thread.

 

I'm not so much stuck on grade level, but rather how do you know your DC is ready to move on to the next step? Generally, I try it and see if I meet w/ tears or frustration. How do you know DC is ready to move on to 2nd level outlines after a month of 1-level, if you don't try. Why spend a year on something they don't need? But also, keeping in mind that DS will likely re-enter the PS at some point and I want him to be ready.

 

I guess I felt that a lot of the writing in PS was due to the fact that the teacher can't have discussions with each and every student. So I've not required a lot of writing in our HS since we are having those discussions about literature and history and science. My son has worked his way through WWE1-3 and is starting WWE4 (I compressed these into 2.5yrs of HSing) and I've seen HUGE improvements in his writing, both content (organizing his thoughts) as well as mechanics. We took several Bravewriter classes (Just So Stories - HE LOVED IT!, Dynamic Exp and Rev, Copywork/Dictation, KWB, Non-Fiction writing - all of which he enjoyed).

 

Ok I went back and read Janice's second post. So what I'm seeing is that once you're bored w/ a process, then look to the next level. Got it. That is what I was getting at I think. NOt so much get stuck on grade level/age expectations, but know how to progress and move forward. I don't want to wait for some stereotypical grade/age if he's ready now and I don't want to force something he's not ready for.

 

As far as the 5-paragraph essay, I guess I see it as a starting, elementary framework....a way of limiting a student's writing. I briefly spoke about it when DS asked about it when it was mentioned in Paragraph Town...sometimes you may have 4 points, or only 2 points,,,,3 is just a nice odd number for kids to start with. Do you all think of it this way or do you think even that presents problems in locking the student into a particular way of writing? I know SWB says she never expects to see a 5 paragraph essay ever. Did MCT say something similar?

 

 

Elegantlion - If your son is bored w/ WWE, give him the end of the year assessment and if he passes it, give him the end of year assessment for WWE4. IF he passes that move on and just incorporate those elements in history and science and lit. And WWS will hopefully be out this FALL! My son just started WWE4 but told me that he'd rather just write down his narrations w/out telling me first. I read through WWE4 and saw that that is the goal around lesson 28 so I figure why not start now if he's ready? I think having him tell me got him stuck on trying to remember and write exactly what he told me. I know SWB is big on the memory thing but my son often gathers his thoughts, and then edits as he writes and usually what he is writing is BETTER than what he said orally. Someone here told me that is the goal so if he's there, don't worry about writing exactly what he narrated.

 

argh gotta get DS ready for soccer practice...

 

sorry if my thoughts are scattered but I've been thinking so much about this lately ....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Elegantlion - If your son is bored w/ WWE, give him the end of the year assessment and if he passes it, give him the end of year assessment for WWE4. IF he passes that move on and just incorporate those elements in history and science and lit. And WWS will hopefully be out this FALL! My son just started WWE4 but told me that he'd rather just write down his narrations w/out telling me first. I read through WWE4 and saw that that is the goal around lesson 28 so I figure why not start now if he's ready? I think having him tell me got him stuck on trying to remember and write exactly what he told me. I know SWB is big on the memory thing but my son often gathers his thoughts, and then edits as he writes and usually what he is writing is BETTER than what he said orally. Someone here told me that is the goal so if he's there, don't worry about writing exactly what he narrated.

 

argh gotta get DS ready for soccer practice...

 

sorry if my thoughts are scattered but I've been thinking so much about this lately ....

 

:svengo: Yes, I'll do that tomorrow. Thank you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What a fascinating thing to see the growth of a child in writing! What you're saying is very much what Karen keeps challenging us on, the idea that if they can get comfortable getting their thoughts out in a variety of ways, you can teach them structure later. Probably the higher interest of his college writing prompted some of this. So when you say write across the curriculum, write in history and science, what kind of writing specifically are you suggesting we do? WTM-style retellings/summaries? Researched paragraphs/reports? Creative works? Journaling our discoveries?

 

 

 

I for one was fearful of putting off structure and mechanics until later. Writing Strands did not work for my son but WTM-style summaries often did as well as researched reports. Journaling never went well, but my son did follow creative avenues. In the Stewart books, students study a grammatical structure, write sentences employing it, then write a paragraph or two demonstrating the use of the structure. My son spent years writing about the adventures Bob and Jim, two old guys from Iowa, and their love of doughnuts. The point may have been to use participles or infinitives or employ new vocabulary, but Bob, Jim and their doughnuts were always there. Not my assignment, his take--or was it a coping mechanism for what he felt was boring but I saw as necessary?

 

Also, my son went through punctuation rebellion at one point. He simply stopped using it, as though economizing over pencil strokes was virtuous. It took years for the boy to relearn punctuation. What was that about?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you OhE for starting this thread. I'm going to re-read it more slowly! I'm quoting myself from the original out of the box thread below (is that arrogant or what?!!) - writing was where my thoughts went as well.

 

:iagree: Great question!

 

I am marching my middle three through their various assignments and it seems okay that there are not a plethora of bunny trails in their day. But my oldest.... oh my... so many changes this year. He has always loved history, but everything I've tried this year has been "boring." He reads plenty, but I want more output. One day I would love to assign narrations, summaries, and outlines ad nauseum thinking that writing will be automatic someday... the next day I want to bring more purpose and thinking into our writing... show him that analyzing and proving something can be fun. I have changed my mind quicker than the UPS guy can get here with it. (I like the "P90X muscle confusion" concept CaptUhura mentioned in Testimony's math thread! That's my story and I'm sticking to it! :D)

 

Anyway, I love the idea of teaching outside the box, but I struggle with where to put the bar and how to enforce it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I struggle with where to put the bar and how to enforce it

 

THANK YOU! That is what I was trying express and failed miserably. You said it in just once sentence. :lol: I guess I'm not known for my brevity. :001_huh:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I struggle with where to put the bar and how to enforce it..

 

This is an explanation I wrote a long time ago as a post. It is long and rough, but maybe someone will find it helpful. I spent a few minutes skimming it and updated it slightly b/c I wrote this when I hadn't been all the way through high school before. Now that I have been teaching high school non-stop for almost 8 yrs, I have a better grasp on the "end."

 

Anyway, when I wrote it, I entitled it Incremental Writing b/c that is the way I approach writing, incrementally.

 

This is too long for 1 post, so I am going to divide it into 2. I deliberately did not include grade levels b/c skill level is the only level that matters.

 

*******************************************

Part 1

 

Pre-independent writing skills:

 

At some point after my kids are reading confidently and are ready to move beyond copying simple sentences for letter practice, I start using their copywork as a teaching tool. The key here is that the children don’t have to focus on sounding out words or on letter formation. If they have not mastered those 2 skills, they need to work on those before you progress. My approach is that it is expecting too much for children to learn anything from reading/writing until they no longer have to focus on the reading itself.

 

I begin by selecting copywork that is very basic and we focus on mechanics (capitalization, punctuation) and grammar. Then we play with the structure of the copywork. For example,

 

The dog ran.

 

I teach subject, verb, as well as capitalization and punctuation. Then we spend time coming up with parallel sentence structures and identify the parts of speech.

The baby crawled.

The cat climbed.

The pig snorted.

 

Once that concept is mastered, I add in another part of speech for focus….adjectives or adverbs, for example. (I don’t have any set pattern….basically, it is whatever I am in the mood for.  )

 

The baby crawled quickly.

The cat climbed high.

The pig snorted loudly.

 

After mastery, I add other parts of speech. (I do not use the same base sentences with my kids. I am only doing that for the sake of illustrating my point. I don’t want them to learn the parts of speech from memorization, but from context.)

The chunky baby crawled quickly. (I would not use that as an example unless they were struggling and we needed to go back for a refresher. I would actually use a unique sentence…..The rambunctious child twirled rapidly.)

 

I continue this process adding more and more parts of speech: possessives, direct objects, indirect objects, and pronouns.

 

Julie’s baby wanted more food.

Henry threw the Frisbee.

Henry threw Jack the Frisbee.

He threw him the Frisbee.

 

I work with them to come up with about 10-15 similarly structured sentences.

We work on this for about 10-15 minutes a day until they master the concept. Some concepts they master quickly (subject + action verb). They may do it in a day or a week. Some may take longer. Just work where they are.

 

After they have conquered the basic parts of speech, I assign copywork from their reading, our read alouds, or some other source. We take these sentences (eventually progressing to paragraphs) and study them. I ask them to identify all the nouns, verbs, etc. Can they identify the function of the nouns? Some they will already know (subject, DO, etc….some they won’t: appositives, complements, obj. of prep. etc) We don’t worry about the words they haven’t studied yet. We just focus on the ones they do. Gradually we start incorporating more and more complex grammar.

 

For example, this was my 2nd graders copywork today: (From the Family Under the Bridge…..

 

Nikki raced down the narrow streets and shouted insults at pedestrians and cars that got in his way. His own car sputtered and rattled and clanked as if it would fall apart any moment. But it didn’t.

 

My daughter had no trouble identifying any of the parts of speech except for that and as if.

 

Learning them in the context of their work makes grammar, mechanics, and writing all connected and not isolated concepts that don’t have intertwined applications.

 

 

Paragraphs for copywork:

 

We start analyzing paragraph structure from copywork in the same way we began our study of grammar. We discuss what the paragraph is describing. What is the main idea? What do we learn about the main idea? From that, they learn about topic sentences and supporting details. We do this for weeks!

 

We play games with paragraphs. I print up logically ordered paragraphs that I have typed into individual lines and cut them apart. I mix them up and they have to unscramble the sentences and put the paragraph back together correctly. This is an enormous skill to master. It means they understand topic sentence and logical sequencing. We continue working on this until they are able to do it fairly easily. (Some paragraphs are easier than others….how-tos are the easiest, descriptives are harder, etc. Gradually increase the difficulty level. The key is to let them experience success while still learning.

 

After basic paragraph reconstruction is mastered, I start to add a twist….I will add “misfit” sentences into the mix. For example, if the paragraph is about a bear stealing a cake from a camper’s picnic table, I might add a sentence like, “I love to eat cake.” This skill helps them learn to focus on the topic sentence and make sure the information belongs. This is an essential writing skill that is really better developed in the pre-writing skill phase. If they can identify misfit sentences in other people’s paragraphs, it makes it easier to help them find them in their own.

 

Using the early grades to focus on developing pre-writing skills enables children to move into the writing stage with the tools they need in order to progress with confidence. You wouldn’t give a child a bunch of word problems in math to complete without giving them a foundation in basic arithmetic. Writing is similar. You shouldn’t expect them to start writing independently without understanding the fundamentals of how writing is structured.

 

Independent how-tos, re-tells, or parallel writing:

 

What type of paragraphs I start my children on is really child dependent. I have had at least one child that could not write any “re-tells” in logical order. This child and I spent a considerable amount of time on how-to paragraphs. (Updating this: Yrs later, this child still has trouble with logical order. Writing an outline is a must for her. If she doesn't, her writing meanders. When she takes time to write an outline, her writing is usually solid.) Most of my kids have been able to start with “re-telling.” Do whatever works.

 

How-to paragraphs are wonderfully non-threatening paragraphs. Every child knows how to give directions on some task, whether it is baking a cake or making their bed. Creating a list of logically ordered steps, developing a topic sentence, and using transition words are very “visual” or “concrete” in how-to paragraphs. Write a couple together. Take them apart. Study how they work. Then help them write their own. The child I described above wrote NUMEROUS how-tos. But they worked. The idea of logical sequencing started to flow into her writing.

 

Re-tells are another way to learn to write in a non-threatening way. Give your child a short example….a fable, a definition paragraph (like a very brief encyclopedia article), etc. Have them make a key word outline. Help them organize their ideas and create a topic sentence. Then have them re-tell the information in their own words in a paragraph. Then, using all the skills that you have learned together from pre-writing, edit/revise the paragraph…..is there a topic sentence? Does all the information belong? Are your sentences complete thoughts? Do all your verbs stay in the same tense? Etc.

 

We spend months on re-tells or in parallel writing. (Parallel writing is taking a story and re-telling it in similar story line…..the boy who cried wolf becomes the mouse who cried cat, etc)

 

We also begin studying grammar independently. Yet, we continue to study grammar in the context of their writing. We spend as much time on our revisions/edits as we did on our pre-writing skills and as on the initial writing itself. Our editing time becomes a time for studying grammar, mechanics, as well as content. From editing their own work, grammar/mechanics show their inherent value because the children see them in context.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Part 2

 

Independent writing across curriculum:

 

This stage begins when re-tells and parallel writing have been mastered and the child is ready to start synthesizing greater amounts of information. Because of their ages (meaning concrete vs abstract thinkers) and the need of the child to still concentrate on the writing process itself, etc., I try to keep these assignments purely factual in nature. This is a great time to start writing research books or reports. I usually start out with research books because there is no need for a formal introductory paragraph, body, conclusion, and all the transitions that go along with them.

 

I let my children choose a broad topic of interest and we make a trip to the library. I look through the books before they start reading them and then I point out different topics that they might encounter in their reading. We discuss how to take notes on note cards by giving the cards a common heading for common topics, etc. We discuss which subtopics within the topic they might want to write about. I let them spend about a week reading information and taking note cards. After they have collected their note cards, we sit together and organize all their information. Some topics they may have to eliminate b/c there simply isn’t enough info. Others may need to be broken into further sub-categories b/c they have too much info. I do not expect them to be able to do this by themselves when they first start. Just like all the other writing skills….they need guidance in the beginning. This is a skill that they need to learn with your help.

 

After the note cards are organized, I have them write a paragraph on each sub-topic and compile them altogether in a chapter book complete with title page and table of contents. Some of my kids like art and I let them illustrate them. I don’t make them do this if they don’t want to. ;)

 

This project may take a few weeks. We review each paragraph together just like we have been all along. Over the course of this year (or two years….depends on how the child’s skills progress), I do expect them to start doing an initial edit/revision on their own.

 

After a few chapter books, most kids are able to start writing reports quite painlessly. Creating a topic paragraph really isn’t a big deal when you know how to write the body…..isn’t that all the “chapters” in their books are?? Transitions are easily taught because the foundation is there and all they need to do is incorporate them. The same goes for a concluding paragraph.

Updating: They spend the rest of elementary school (or middle school, depending on the child) writing across curriculum. I give one paper assignment per week. I pick a topic from either history, science, or lit. They follow the pattern I posted earlier in this thread:

Monday- gather info on topic and organize

Tuesday- write 1/2 rough draft

Wednesday- write 2nd 1/2 rough draft'

Thursday-meet for revising and editing

Friday-final draft due

 

Analysis and essay writing:

 

Once children have mastered basic report writing, essays analyzing literature, scientific processes, etc are the next logical progression. I like to start my kids on analytical essays where the analysis is easy. Writing about allegories like Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are easy analytical papers for beginners. Finding supporting ideas for Aslan representing Christ, etc is simple. Once they are at this point, I start asking them to incorporate supporting quotes and I start teaching MLS documentation.

 

I assign progressively more difficult types of analysis. A simple essay on an allegory is much easier for the child to develop than a comparison/contrast paper on the lives of two different political leaders. Cause and effect papers are more concrete, so for a child teetering on the edge of concrete vs abstract thought, a cause/effect paper might be a good compromise for an assignment. (For example….how did the crash of the stock market impact world economies….this is more factual than having to form their own view on 2 different world leaders and then taking those opinions and comparing them to each other.)

 

These are ideas for the advanced late middle school student and for typical high school students. As they move toward senior status, the child should be encouraged to write papers that require multi-stages of development. Back to the examples that I have used….the comparison paper is a multi-stage paper. I would not ask my young analytical students to write a paper comparing democracy to communism. It requires too much analysis for them and then you must factor in the difficulty of incorporating those ideas into a paper.

 

I hope you find this information helpful. I learned from my children that writing is not really that difficult to teach. The difficulty comes from expecting too much without the proper foundational instruction. Teaching writing incrementally allows children to shrug “ok, no big deal” when asked to complete an assignment. Just expect to actually be there as teacher.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
:lurk5:

 

(imagine the little guy above frantically chewing on that box of popcorn--that's me! chewing and listening, chewing and listening, absorbing, absorbing...)

:iagree: I'm having a busy weekend and I cannot keep up with you all. You all need to slow down :lol:. So much to read and chew on.

 

One thing that's been on my mind as I read these threads is why I struggled with writing in school. Mostly, I didn't know what it was that I wanted to say - I had no thoughts or opinions on the assigned topic ("I don't know and I don't care"). Later on, as an adult (when my job involved a great deal of writing), any time I struggled I'd end up asking myself just what it was I was trying to say, exactly, and it would all flow from there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, thank you 8FillTheHeart, for that wonderfully detailed and yet simple explanation.

 

Julie D.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
There are a couple of points to this post. One is that I feel I wasted a great deal of emotional energy on the five paragraph essay. The only time my son was ever required to write a five paragraph essay was on his college entrance exams (SAT and ACT). Never in the course of his community college work did anyone ask for a five paragraph or seven paragraph essay. Nor was this required in his first semester of (real) college work. What is our obsession with this beast? (Karen Anne?)

 

 

I think the five paragraph essay gives teachers a feeling of control over the whole territory of writing, in which, by and large, teachers receive NO training prior to getting their certificates. Most teachers (as always, there are exceptions) do not write themselves; they do not research writing; they don't know how to teach it to a classroom of kids with hugely disparate skills, reading levels, and capabilities. The five paragraph essay gives you something concrete you can set in front of these kids, virtually telling them what to write at any point.

 

As usual, my child does everything either backwards or differently, so I don't know how helpful this will be to others, but for what it's worth:

 

I did not in any way attempt to teach my child to write throughout early elementary school (barring handwriting). But we made writing part of our join school lives from the start. Dd adored stories and quickly began dictating her own; I wrote them down for her. We played games from Peggy Kaye's Games For Writing. We told stories. We read and talked about what we read.

 

Dd had a passionate and multifaceted relationship with writing that didn't remotely resemble what goes on in most curricula. When she was six, she wrote decorated names of her favorite characters from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh and carried the pieces of paper around with her for days. They were "secret" -- I only found out about them when they eventually fell out of her pockets or were left where she'd been playing.

 

We made pretend library cards for her books so she could check them out to her dolls and to me. We made dozens of "Wanted" posters for imaginary crimes, lists of silly rules and consequences, lists of ridiculous reasons for absences at doll school. Dd still makes endless lists, now of her favorite songs from musicals, of Tony award-winning musicals year by year, of passages from favorite books, of books she wants to read... you get the idea. She went through a year or so where most of her writing was done in experimental fonts or 3-D-looking print. She began to sign different names of characters in different fonts to reflect some aspect of their personality as she saw it. She wrote pretend book jacket copy, directions for games of her own invention, and she loves games like Lie-brary, where you write the first sentences of a book when you are given only the genre, a two-sentence plot summary, and a title. We had a really cute newspaper template we got at Lakeshore Learning one year, and she produced a series of newspaper pages written from the point of view of a dog (yes, nothing gets done straightforwardly around here).

 

The point for me is that she thoroughly, deeply, and utterly considers writing a tool for thinking, playing, ordering her life. She's an incorrigible scribbler. For me, that came first. Because dd was so drawn to books and words in general, I had only sporadic panic attacks about this approach.

 

In later elementary school she did something similar to what 8FilltheHeart describes: she rewrote chapters or stories in other formats or words. In a co-op, she had an assignment to rewrite a 3rd person novel, and she did it in the form of a journal. She rewrote fairy tales as science fiction. She spoofed books she read.

 

Every once in a blue moon I would insist that she demonstrate to me that in fact she COULD write a more straightforward report or essay if only she wanted to. Usually her protests were against this restriction of her creativity. When I insisted a few times she produced something that, while evidence of her earlier dysgraphia was still apparent in punctuation and spelling problems, was perfectly grammatical, perfectly orderly, even wonderful in parts; and in general she showed me she could do it if she had to. But clearly the trade-off was going to be that if forced more regularly, she would grow to hate writing. Indeed, when she briefly attended private school in 8th grade and got A's on her essays, it took a full year before she started writing for her own pleasure again.

 

I have chosen not to make that trade-off as of now (9th grade). I expect that we'll have an agreement: that she will produce one or two of the longer kinds of papers I want to be reassured she can write, and she can devise alternate ways of showing her knowledge through writing for most of everything else. She keeps a science lab book (under protest; she used to love this when she was younger, but now it's becoming more constrained in what she is supposed to write, and I can't begin to tell you how much she loathes this). Again, if she shows to her dad's satisfaction (he's a marine chemist) that she can do the conventional work and she knows WHY scientists do it this way, that is after all the goal.

 

The point of all this rambling is that one of the great goals of writing instruction is fluency; and this can be attained in a huge variety of ways and formats. I consider that I became fluent -- able to write on demand even when I wasn't particularly interested -- during the course of one horrifically boring Civics class in high school, during which I wrote a journal, pretending to take notes.

 

The hardest part of writing an essay is the finding, articulating, and organizing of what to say. This skill, too, can be practiced and made fluent in a number of different ways, not all of which must take place on paper.

 

And finally, without in any way denigrating the importance of the essay or argument, there is a whole universe of writing genres, styles, purposes, out there. Writing is a tool of thought, it's a form of play, it's an aesthetic pleasure, a form of historical witness; it can even be a mindless physical release from tension for many journalists (Virginia Woolf describes daily writing in this way). It seems a pity to reduce this world to a repeated practice with only one goal or format in mind for so many, many years.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

8FilltheHeart - when I asked for some guidance on writing independent of grade level.....I didn't actually think I"d get it. I think I :001_wub: you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
We made pretend library cards for her books so she could check them out to her dolls and to me. We made dozens of "Wanted" posters for imaginary crimes, lists of silly rules and consequences, lists of ridiculous reasons for absences at doll school. Dd still makes endless lists, now of her favorite songs from musicals, of Tony award-winning musicals year by year, of passages from favorite books, of books she wants to read... you get the idea. She went through a year or so where most of her writing was done in experimental fonts or 3-D-looking print. She began to sign different names of characters in different fonts to reflect some aspect of their personality as she saw it. She wrote pretend book jacket copy, directions for games of her own invention, and she loves games like Lie-brary, where you write the first sentences of a book when you are given only the genre, a two-sentence plot summary, and a title. We had a really cute newspaper template we got at Lakeshore Learning one year, and she produced a series of newspaper pages written from the point of view of a dog (yes, nothing gets done straightforwardly around here).

 

The point for me is that she thoroughly, deeply, and utterly considers writing a tool for thinking, playing, ordering her life. She's an incorrigible scribbler.

The things your DD does with language are the verbal equivalent of DH dismantling all kinds of machines and appliances and electronics as a kid, to see how they worked — and what else he could build with the parts. I agree 200% that the most important thing is to not get in the way of that, or do anything that kills that curiosity and passion. To take a child who already is a writer, who lives and breathes writing, and try to force her to write certain things in a certain format because that's the way PS teaches writing to kids who aren't writers would be like forcing a naturally gifted artist to go through the Draw Right Now books step by step.

 

Jackie

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Of course I'm glad I asked, lol. I like hearing divergent choices and being challenged to balance out my own thinking, which tends to go all one way or another. The B. Goldberg materials have writing prompts. Do the others? I was trying to think about the concepts of what you're drawn to in there, since a liberal activist, zen spiritualist, and free-wheeling artist aren't quite up our alley. ;) I totally see why you're using them though. Karen gave me a lot of ideas a while back for writing prompts and categories in that vein, but dd has outgrown some of them. Your selections seem to mature. I need to bridge the gap. I bet if I were smart and asked Karen, she'd have some. I think she just modifies and makes it work. I thought the title of B.G.'s "Room to Write" was interesting. An artist wanting room by herself to create, nothing shocking there. Dd does the same thing with her scrapbooking and whatnot. She's always wanting to get by herself to do her deepest things. It just hadn't occurred to me HOW much she might need that for writing. I thought it was merely a distraction thing.

 

Elizabeth, I hope what follows makes sense. I print out the state standards at the beginning of the year. I check them to see if there is something I should cover that I haven't thought of. I have a list of skills that were mastered the previous year and a list of skills that are progressing. I know roughly the order of when skills should be taught. We don't always follow that progression because sometimes our literature sends us in a different direction. An opportunity presents itself and it is too good to pass up. I have a shelf-full of curriculum that I have tried to stick to and experience with numerous programs that I have sold. We accomplish our best work when I do my own thing. It just takes me a long time to put it together and of course I suffer from paranoia that I am missing something.

 

The nitty gritty. Let's say we are reading The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. There is a point where snow is quietly, slowly, in a subtle fashion, pressing down on a village. The weight of the snow is palpable and sinister. It is a good time to talk about descriptive writing and strong adjectives. Two recent prompts that I have used come from A Room to Write and Unjournaling. In the first one, I used "Bathrooms You Have Known." The writer is prompted to think about settings they take for granted. Writers in Goldberg's classes had talked about differences in bathrooms while traveling internationally. Another student drew a correlation between quality of decor and the quality of service. Swimmer Dude described the pit toilet at our favorite campground and his feelings about them.

 

Prompt 40 from Unjournaling asks the student to do the following:

 

"Chris walks into the room. By describing only the reactions of the others in the room, let us know something about him."

 

Swimmer Dude got a good workout on writing dialogue. When Chris walks into the room, the occupants are screaming things like "Hideous!" "My eyes are burning." "Oh my eyes!" They then proceed to commit bodily harm on themselves to avoid the agony of looking at Chris. Many jump out the window as does the janitor who comes in at the end and decides he does not want to clean up the mess. Traditional skills, untraditional prompts. It works better that way with my kids' personalities.:tongue_smilie:

 

I use Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird as connectors between literature and the writing process it takes to create that literature. Say we are talking about Hamlet. My kids think he is a very "cool" character. So we talk about how rich and varied he is as a character and I ask them what would happen to Hamlet if the plot was going nowhere. (This is the abbreviated version, so bear with me.) I share one of Lamott's anecdotes about spending two years creating an amazing cast of characters for her second novel only to have her publisher reject the book saying, "that while he enjoyed the people and what they had to say, I had in effect created a beautiful banquet but never invited the reader to sit down and eat. So the reader went hungry."

 

After hearing this story, my kids want to continue talking about trying to separate Hamlet from the plot and the effect that would have, but they are equally intrigued by the publisher's comments. This gives them the opportunity to see a professional writer's work critiqued by her editor. Whoa. Even professional writers miss the boat and don't quite "follow the directions" for the assignment. There were a couple of important veins we we followed, but I have taken up enough of your time. My kids remember the editor's powerful metaphor, so when I write "I am going hungry here" on their papers, they know they have missed an important part of the assignment.

 

Adult writing books often are gritty so I don't hand them to the kids, but the advice given weighs more and is more memorable for my particular students than most curriculum can deliver.

 

Elizabeth, I can bet you that Karen modifies what she has and so can you. If you cringe at the thought of having to do the assignment you are handing your daughter, then ask yourself the goal of the project and is there a better way to accomplish it.

 

 

This got way too long. I'll answer the rest of your post in another post and try to be more concise.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But clearly the trade-off was going to be that if forced more regularly, she would grow to hate writing. Indeed, when she briefly attended private school in 8th grade and got A's on her essays, it took a full year before she started writing for her own pleasure again.

This is what I'm trying to avoid, too. Forced written narrations of assigned reading in PS totally killed writing and reading for DS, for a long time.

 

I'm pretty confident I could teach DS to write a 5 paragraph essay on a nonsense topic (Why I Like Dogs; Fall Is My Favorite Season; Why I Hate Writing, lol) in about a week. Then I could hand him an IEW "dress-up" checklist, and by the end of week 2, he'd have an essay that most PS middle schoolers would be proud of. But why? Isn't that like trying to teach someone to sculpt by showing them how to pour plaster into a mold? What's that got to do with art or technique or meaning?

 

I'm probably less focused on the essay format than most people, because I don't remember writing many (any?) essays in college, although I wrote a ton of research papers. My goal is for DS to be able to write a really solid, college-level research paper, with a thesis, by 12th grade. So, what are the skills a student needs to write a really good research paper? I would say: the ability to conduct research (including choosing a topic, framing the questions, and accessing resources); the ability to critically analyze the evidence and arguments of others; the ability to formulate an interesting and original thesis; the ability to organize, assemble and present evidence in defense of that thesis; and the ability to use language in an expressive and grammatically correct way. Personally, I don't believe that making a middle-schooler write a formulaic 5-paragraph essay contributes to any of those skill sets. And you can learn how to do all of those things outside the context of essay writing.

 

In fact, there was a noble voice on the boards years ago (Kpzzz) who maintained that discussion was the foundation for writing and would cover a host of ills.

I totally agree with this. The single most important component of writing is having something to say — something thoughtful, original, and meaningful. That's the hard part to teach. That's the part that takes years of thinking and arguing and practicing.

 

The second most important skill set (IMHO) is using language well — what Noden would call "writing with a camera" instead of a pencil. It occurred to me recently that I could teach all of the "image grammar" techniques in the context of poetry writing, instead of trying to shoe-horn them into a history report. I really like this idea because (1) it strips the assignment down to exactly what we're working on (playing with the effects of language by changing the mechanics), (2) it requires a minimum of actual, physical writing for DS to practice the techniques and for me to see if he "gets" it, (3) it avoids killing his love of history and science by turning everything he learns in those subjects into an English assignment, and (4) we really enjoy reading and talking about poetry. We often write haiku as part of nature journaling, and both my kids actually like writing poetry. I don't know why it never occurred to me before to explicitly use it to teach writing and grammar. :confused:

 

The other stuff — the things that school writing programs actually seem to focus the most on — are, to me, the least important and the easiest to teach. Teaching a student which order the paragraphs go in and how to write a catchy topic sentence is a piece of cake compared to teaching critical thinking and an understanding of good language, and I don't really see the point in teaching those things until kids actually have something to say.

 

Jackie

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I typed up an ENORMOUS post using a recent writing sample my 8th grader submitted to show how this works in the week-to-week. (How to integrate the issues of what to write and HOW to write about it.) BUT I wasn't logged in so the whole wordy mess was immediately deleted.

 

Major bummer!! Because I always appreciate your well-thought out posts, I'll mention this: Did you type it up when you first logged on? Did you click on "preview post" or "submit post" and then discovered you weren't logged on anymore? If that was the case, did you know that if you just logged back on when the log-on page shows up, that your post will show up again in its either preview form or submitted form? Then you can proceed from there. I hate to think of all that work you did for nothing (and all we missed out on)!!!

 

How are you supposed to sift through it all and decide what will work for your child? I find myself being paralyzed over this writing thing because I am so afraid I am going to chose the wrong track and I will mess everything up.

 

Do you have an idea of what writing skills you want your kids to learn? I'd start with figuring that out first, and figuring out *why* you want to go a particular route. Then you'll be able to make a decision and move on.

 

I chose to go the WTM/WWE/SWB's writing lectures, because I was more convinced of the necessity of those particular skills, than of the necessity of skills along the creative writing route. I wanted to teach what I thought necessary, and let the other stuff come as each child wished.

 

 

That's a really clear standard, essays by the end of 8th grade, and that seems do-able. Good point that it depends on the student.

 

If you are looking for suggestions for a weekly routine (that you can tweak to fit in creative writing), and ideas on what skills to aim for by the end of such-n-such a time period, then I'd recommend re-listening (I think you already did, didn't you?) to all four of SWB's writing/lit. analysis lectures. Oh, and having a look at 8FilltheHeart's plan!

 

8FillstheHeart, that is amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to share.:D

 

:iagree: To have been able to think that all out from early grades to graduation, is amazing! You are a total example to me of a teacher who can "wing it" very well, thoroughly, and effectively.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While I go back and read the other posts, let me thank Karen for kindly typing out all that. She explained a lot of the things that we've been discussing in this thread (fluency as the goal not formula, 5 paragraph essays vs....). Since she is actually a WRITER, she brings a different perspective to this. And what a hoot, to gain your fluency in writing and find your voice via class avoidance!!! I had a particularly boring biology class like that where I wrote letters and drifted. Changed my major after that. Anyways, I've suspected recently that maybe extensive EMAILING develops fluency and is the new journaling...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lisa, thanks for explaining all that! It's not what my dd needs, but it makes a lot of sense. I don't know how to put it better than that, just to say that I've tried some of those things and they didn't click with her. Karen's ideas bring her alive. I just need to bubble my own fountain of them. :)

 

Thanks for sharing!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If you are looking for suggestions for a weekly routine (that you can tweak to fit in creative writing), and ideas on what skills to aim for by the end of such-n-such a time period, then I'd recommend re-listening (I think you already did, didn't you?) to all four of SWB's writing/lit. analysis lectures.

 

This is horrible to say, but for as much as I'm a WTM-groupie (and have chatted with SWB at every convention, appreciate her advice, etc.), I haven't found the writing in WTM really to click with my dd and bring good things out of her. She merely tolerates it. I think maybe SWB's experience, though good, is too narrow. She has her own kids, one of whom is on-track to become a professional writer and another who is pencil-phobic, more kids, and then of course the college students. That's not the same as a vast elementary or middle school teaching experience, kwim? It doesn't equip her to have lots of perspectives on how you make writing work, on a day-to-day basis with specific, quirky kids. What I DO appreciate in WTM is the idea that you can create structure and consistent expectations. It's just that the more I shake up those expectations, the happier our day is. Have her create a book jacket with the same content as a book report, and my dd is suddenly infinitely happier. *I* am the one who finds it convenient to do the same thing every week.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have not read the entire thread and will come back later to do so, but having a many year background in PS and this being a point of frustration for me, here are my thoughts on the topic.

 

The testing required by the federal government in order for a school to maintain compliance and get funding requires a lot of analysis and testing of writing skills.

 

My kids "learned" writing from K on. Except they didn't! They learned how to fill in the blanks in what was basically a prefabricated paragraph. Everyone's paragraph reads the same, just a few different specific details. There is a paragraph format taught. It looks like this:

 

S1: Hook

S2: Thesis

S3: Idea 1

S3: Supporting detail 1

S4: Idea 2

S5: Supporting detail 2

S6: Concluding idea

 

This paragraph is expanded as they go through the grade levels, until by 5th grade there are at least 3 ideas in the paragraph and 2 supporting details for each idea, and the conclusion sentence is a transition sentence.

 

When I have talked to teachers and also people who are responsible for grading the CSAP, they both told me that they had to establish a "standard" for writing so that it could be graded in a way that was not "subjective". So basically, everyone has to write the same in order to pass the CSAP or whatever the government mandated test in your state is called.

 

However, on further discussion with educators, from elementary to high school and college professors, the consensus seems to be, that until the logic stage, or about grade 7, MOST kids are really are not capable of original writing. Interesting, because I know that outside of an occasional multi-sentence answer on a written test and an occasional book report, I really didn't do much writing in my extremely good, country school education, until I hit 7th grade!

 

My kids are encountering curriculum in writing, that details writing research papers in a way that I did not encounter until my College Bound English writing class in my junior year of high school! And yes, they are doing it, but it seems like it is stilted, uncomfortable, and poorly done! My younger is very gifted with words, so I expect more out of him, but it has been a hard year, trying to break him of his PS learned habits where writing is concerned.

 

Anyway, that is just my long, drawn out, way to share the information that I have gleaned from a lot of years in the PS module, even though we were kind of in a unique environment with a magnet school.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

×
×
  • Create New...