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writing for a gifted 1st grader - how did you approach it?


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I would appreciate some input from experienced homeschoolers of gifted children about your writing curriculum in early elementary/first grade.  How much writing did you require and in what kind of format/schedule?  Did you give open-ended or structured assignments?  If the child didn't want to write, did you feel it was necessary to push it or did you back off until the child was excited about it again?

Here is the background to why I am asking:

I am part-time homeschooling my highly-gifted 6-year old.  He attends in-person school 1-2 days per week and the other days are a mix of homeschool and some minimal remote assignments from his public school teacher.  We will switch to full-time homeschool if his public school has to go to all-remote learning again due to the worsening pandemic (screen-based school does not work for him at all). 

He is a fluent and addicted reader of paper books.  He enjoys math.  He is loving history and several other subjects we do as read-alouds.

The one thing that he struggles with at home are the writing assignments.  His school uses the Teachers College writing workshop program and he is expected to create a mini-book each week (4-6 pages, with 2-4 sentences per page).  The assignments are open-ended (such as write a personal narrative or write a how-to book) and the student is expected to independently organize planning and revising steps for each book.  He is capable of writing decent sentences, but he just doesn't want to do it.  He stalls and complains a lot and easily loses focus.  His teacher suggested setting a timer for 20 min per day of writing, but he would just fiddle with his pencil and do absolutely nothing until the clock runs down.  I can coerce him but he then writes something minimal and will sneak in sentences like "this is stupid" when he feels too pushed.  Last year, there were moments when he felt inspired to write something at home and would run off and produce a few paragraphs independently (for example, once he wrote a short "sequel" to the Lorax in Dr. Seuss style).  But this year he is not enjoying it and seems unhappy to have to write a little bit every day just because it is assigned.  

In the first half of his K year, he wrote a few mini-books in school that he was actually excited about.  I feel like the format was okay for him during full-time in-person school, because the whole class would focus on writing at the same time.  But it doesn't seem to translate well to the home setting where there are many other things he would rather be doing.  I'm concerned that he is starting to view writing as something he hates and that it has become something we have conflict about.

My husband and I agree that the reading and math instruction from the public school is of little value because it is below his level, despite being a g&t class.  Yet we aren't sure how to evaluate the writing curriculum.  I feel like it might not be the right approach for him.  My husband feels like he has "regressed" in writing since the school shutdown last spring and sees writing as the one subject that he had made progress in due to the public school.  My husband is concerned that if we switch to full-time homeschooling, he might not make any progress on writing.

We have handwriting and spelling workbooks (there is none in the public school this year), but he doesn't like them.  For the month before his public school reopened, he was doing a short practice in both each day.  But now he is just doing a little handwriting practice once or twice a week and I have put the spelling completely on hold because it feels like more dreaded writing to him.  We have not tried any copywork or dictation yet.

We read two fun preliminary grammar books from Michael Clay Thompson on parts of speech and parts of sentences.  I have the full MCT level 1 language arts curriculum which I will start if we switch to full-time homeschool.  I want to think that the MCT format would be better for my son than the Teachers College stuff since it seems to have so much more to offer.  I assume it would benefit his writing more in the long term even though it would not expect him to keep writing these mini-books right now. 

While we are thinking though this, it would be helpful to hear some anecdotes of other families' experiences with writing at this stage.

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I'm homeschooling a gifted 3rd grader, so I hope my perspective is helpful 🙂 . 

In kindergarten, she also had a "mini-books" curriculum, although it was entirely open-ended. It was a lot of writing, and it absolutely burned her out. By the end of kindergarten, when we decided to homeschool her, she hated writing. Our writing focus in first grade was just to get her to not to hate writing.

To that end, we did a lot of brainstorming together about what she wanted to work on. We made up a variety of projects... she made a book of jokes and rhymes, she made an animal alphabet book, and we made our own Mad Libs by first using story cubes to write a story, then figuring out which words to remove. For us, the key was to consult her preferences about her writing and also to keep writing practice daily, just to make sure it became physically easier and easier. 

I think it's very normal for kids that age not to like very open-ended projects. Having to organize and revise a mini-book each week just sounds like a LOT. That was exactly the kind of thing that made writing less fun for DD8. I would imagine you could do much better at home. 

Edited by Not_a_Number
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My kids are 9th and 6th.  My older was very advanced when we started K but really struggled with writing.  We tried various things over the early elementary years, but what I eventually settled on, and what I did with my younger, was to have minimal writing output for the early grades.  I required Handwriting without Tears every year, so the kids learned both print and cursive.  But, we did very little writing of mini-books or paragraphs.  I would sometimes ask them to write a few sentences.  This felt really irresponsible because I know that I was cranking out reports in early elementary (the pull-out gifted program had do 'prove' that we were doing something, so I was writing reports with bibliographies in 3rd grade).  

Somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade, I found the Michael Clay Thompson language arts program, which was a great fit for my kids.  In the early years, we did some of the 'writing' assignments orally and others written.  I time it so that we do the essay book in 6th grade, when I have them write about history.  My current 6th grader is slowly but surely making progress on writing.  I adapt the book assignments to writing about our history class, which they continue to do for all of middle school.  We do a mix of short and long, unscheduled and 'whatever you can write in an hour' assignments, and by the end of 7th or so my older had become a pretty good writer.  My younger is still very brief and tends to not proofread but can do a thesis sentence and coherent paragraphs that each have a purpose, so we're on the right track.  

If you're planning to use the public schools, it may not be feasible to delay writing this much, and honestly it felt scary to me when I did it.  But, it depends on what your goals are.  I knew that we planned to continue with homeschooling and I found that fighting about writing was getting in the way of learning all sorts of interesting things because the time it took was disproportionate to the learning.  But, in an different environment or family the writing itself may be the primary goal, with content knowledge as a secondary concern.  My kids were willing to do the handwriting books with minimal complaint, and in upper elementary and beyond we use some editing workbooks to help them learn proofreading without having to do as much writing, and the skills seem to transfer to their own writing fairly well.  

This may go way beyond the scope of what you were asking, but I thought I'd add it because when my older was starting out I was really concerned about writing, but at this point the time that we spent frustrated with writing is one of my 2 homeschooling regrets for that kid.  

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Writing is the one area that I kept closer to his actual age. I had listened to a webinar hosted by Headmistress Guinevere (her online persona) at Online G3 and felt really comfortable to be more relaxed about writing. The amount of writing output that is expected in public school would have not worked with us because there was a significant gap between what was going on in his head and what his writing abilities and physical staminia could tolerate. He is also through and through a STEM kid so to say he is reluctant writer is putting a good face on things. We did use Writing with Ease in a pretty relaxed manner, 8's Treasured Conversations and only in the last two year really started with more explicit writing instruction. This is one area I outsourced this year to WTMA with Writing with Skill (aka writing for Engineers haha). I am helping him understand his assignments and work with him on his pre-writing and then editing. This is also why humanities classes through Athena's and OG3 have been so great because the writing output is minimal while the content is engaging and at a high level.
https://www.onlineg3.com/writing-can-wait/

 

 

Edited by calbear
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14 hours ago, calbear said:

Writing is the one area that I kept closer to his actual age. I had listened to a webinar hosted by Headmistress Guinevere (her online persona) at Online G3 and felt really comfortable to be more relaxed about writing. The amount of writing output that is expected in public school would have not worked with us because there was a significant gap between what was going on in his head and what his writing abilities and physical staminia could tolerate. He is also through and through a STEM kid so to say he is reluctant writer is putting a good face on things. We did use Writing with Ease in a pretty relaxed manner, 8's Treasured Conversations and only in the last two year really started with more explicit writing instruction. This is one area I outsourced this year to WTMA with Writing with Skill (aka writing for Engineers haha). I am helping him understand his assignements and work with him on his pre-writing and then editing. This is also why humanities classes through Athena's and OG3 have been so great because the writing output is minimal while the content is engaging and at a high level.
https://www.onlineg3.com/writing-can-wait/

 

 

My son is similar in that I have a STEM kid who is a very reluctant writer. He also has fine motor delays, so he types his assignments. We started with Writing With Ease in Kinder-1st, did some Writing & Rhetoric and Treasured Conversations in 2nd and 3rd, and then Bravewriter Online classes in 4th and 5th, along with Athena's and OG3 for literature. Now, he is taking Writing in the Humanities with the Davidson Academy Explore for composition and wow, what a step up it has been in terms of challenge. My son is in 6th now, and he got his butt handed to him at the beginning of the semester. So...many...tears... But, he is improving so much. Finally! It has been a very hard class for him (likely not for a humanities kid), but I cannot say enough good things about the content (thought-provoking, late high school and early college texts) and instructor (she pours her heart and soul into working with these kids). But, yes, like the others, I would keep this at grade level for output (or less -- homeschoolers tend to do less output at the younger ages) unless you have a kid who *wants* to write.  

Edited by SeaConquest
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When my younger (gifted) son was in 1st grade, he did narration and copy work only.  This looked like him telling me about what he was learning in history (and sometimes science), me writing it down, and him then copying a sentence or two from that.

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Um....Neopets and snakes? Seriously, while DD has taken some great writing classes, a majority of her writing growth has happened because she wanted to do it. Neopets, which has regular outlets for writing that are competitive, and where her age was unknown, led to a lot of effort in writing something good enough to make it to the level that they would post it. Snakes led to work on academic writing. For stuff she has to write, she tends to be a one and done-but to turn out really, really good, polished sounding efforts that first time. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Early on we separated writing into two different but related tasks: writing mechanics and expressive writing. Writing mechanics were spelling, grammar/punctuation, penmanship/typing, and vocabulary. Expressive writing was the task of trying to express oneself in writing. I received relatively little pushback from my kids on writing mechanics because that material is pretty straightforward and they could see their progress for themselves. Expressive writing was harder because it is more open ended: not only does one have to decide what one wants to say and how one wants to say it, there is no right and wrong, just a quality gradient. One thing that helped was learning to type. It mitigated a lot of the perfectionism that went into writing, especially for my younger son. (Both of my kids learned to type before age 7.) Another thing that helped was requiring 15 minutes of expressive writing every single school day. Writing is not a spectator sport, and this eliminated arguments about if they were going to have to write today. That day's writing assignment might have been a summary of a field trip we'd just been on, an ongoing story they were writing, an email to Grandma, history research (as early readers their research was well ahead of their writing), a poem that tied into our literature study, a letter to a company whose product they liked, etc. When they were done with a writing project, we worked together to make age-appropriate improvements (e.g., correct spelling or punctuation, improve word choices or organization or sentence structure). Good luck!

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Another vote for oral narration and copywork at that age. SWB's writing audio workshops make a great case for taking a different approach to writing and composition. There is an overview if you like to see (or in this case hear) the big picture, and the elementary workshop goes into more detail for your child's age. I just re-listened to both the high school and middle grade writing workshops for inspiration and planning purposes.

I don't actually know if this would be appropriate for his school assignments from the teacher's perspective, but could you help scaffold them for him? Something like the following: he narrates the sentence, you write it on the board or on paper, then he copies it into his mini-book? I would consider breaking up the narration and the copying, too, to see if that helps. Again, I don't know if the teacher would have a problem with that, but it seems reasonable to me. 

Edited to add: I think SWB's writing plan works well for reluctant writers. If I had a naturally gifted writer, I would probably use Bravewriter. I like MCT's grammar and poetry, but have not used his writing program.

Edited by Black-eyed Suzan
More thoughts. :)
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My third grader is a somewhat reluctant writer. He hates with a fiery passion things like opinion writing and book reports. He'll tolerate informative writing. But he'll also write pages and pages of creative writing. In first grade I made sure to do some oral narration and copywork, and we used Memoria Press Simply Classical Writing which is designed for Special Needs but I found it worked for a reluctant writer too.

My current Ker (but older, turning six this month) is not as much a reluctant writer, just a normal reluctant to anything Mom says kid. He's been doing well with Evan More Super Sentences. I'll probably need to find him a stronger program for first than the MP special needs writing.

Both kids used and liked Royal Fireworks Press Aesop Books of Reading, Writing, and Thinking. They are structured in the sense that the lessons have a repetitive format but it is not a full writing curriculum. I find this program is perfect for adjusting to any level and it holds kids interest and touches on a variety of writing topics (a bit of grammar, reading practice, bit of creative writing, list writing, etc).

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