Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand

Author Archives: Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand

A Checklist For Grading Thoughtful Essays

Someone recently mentioned to a discussion group that it would be nice to have a list of the main points of each reading (in a particular curriculum) so that they could be confident about grading their student's essay.


OK, I might sound a little contrarian here 🙂

One of the most difficult things for me to learn was to let go of a 'right' outline or bullet points in any given piece of literature. My training in seminary was the most challenge because I was looking for THE OUTLINE in a particular book of the Bible...I was being graded by my professor AND God!

In time, I realized that there really is no authoritative outline in an essay or other kinds of literature; meaning there is no objective/perfect outline. Obviously, if a writer gives you the outline, then use it. On the other hand, what you are really trying to do is understand a point, the point, or a pattern in the piece.

Ephesians can be broken into chapters 1-3 and 4-6, divided at 4:1 when it talks about walking worthy (in light of chapters 1-3's high calling).

Another way to go is to divide it in terms of Sit, Walk, and Stand, which also fairly breaks it down into a pattern that makes sense:

       Position: SIT (1:1 – 3:21)

       Practice: WALK (4:1 – 6:9)

       Protection: STAND (6:10-24)

You could also simply use beginning, middle, and end as an outline 🙂

My advice is that given the complexity and power of the human mind in its use of language... quit imagining that there is just one set of answers or points you have to make...especially when essays are the sharing of one's own view, often about the piece of literature at hand.

It could be that an answer key would be a help, but looking for the right answer doesn't help us as much when we are interacting with powerful-and-abstract-concepts. The wrestling with ideas isn't a 1+2=3 game. We are growing students who can think, period.

I'd be far more interested in the following kinds of questions for evaluation, rather than making sure a student got the right points:

1. Did I get the sense that the essayist (your child) clearly understood the literature (or debate topic) under discussion?

2. Did the essayist support their ideas with appropriate citations?

3. Was the essayist fair?

4. Was the essayist reasonable?

5. Can I say honestly, "I see your point." [Clarity]

6. Was I tempted to agree with the essayist? [Persuasion]

7. Was the essayist challenging and supporting the idea or ideas involved, or just attacking the person in view (ad hominem is not good)?

Anyway, that's a fair starter-kit. If we want to grow independent learners who are ready for life, they must transition from finding the right answers to thinking about the right questions, true? We are wanting their thoughts, their view, their reasoning bursting forth on paper (or screen).


Fred Ray Lybrand

P.S. Here are a few helpful links:

How To Motivate Your Child To Write

How do you motivate your child to write?

Motivation is an interesting thing, and we often miss the fact that there are a couple of important components. Most of us get stuck because we both want to do something AND don’t want to do it. This is common with motivating a child to write. Most kids love stories, and they like making them up as well. Motivating a child to tell a story is not so tough, but motivating them to write is another beast altogether.

The problem often involves what they are afraid of when it comes to writing. In fact, here’s a question you will find helpful in figuring out how to motivate your child to write:


If you can find out what’s really going on in their heads, then solving motivation is back on track. What kinds of negative things interfere with motivating a child to write? Here are a few common issues:

  • My handwriting is bad
  • I’ll be in trouble
  • What I write will sound stupid
  • Others will make fun of me
  • I don’t know how to punctuate / do grammar right / spell correctly

Actually, almost everything will come to the simple thought that IT WON’T BE PERFECT. Perfect is where nothing bad happens. Unfortunately, all children picked the wrong world if they wanted to be perfect in a perfect world, true?

Motivating your child to write comes from both removing what is in the way and adding to what they would enjoy. This is why we teach kids to write in three steps: 1) OK, 2) GET HELP, 3) MAKE GREAT. When they simply aim at writing something that is OK, then there is no expectation or demand for perfection (so fear diminishes and they are more motivated to write).

HINT 1: Why not help your child rediscover the joy by writing a story (maybe several) with her? She can tell it and you can write it. You can make suggestions and build it with her. A week of this with most kids gives them a different level of confidence and hope for what they can do themselves. Reading a finished version to the family or grandparents can add momentum to motivation. As Emerson said, “They greatest part of courage is having done it before.” 

HINT 2: Quit grading and correcting daily writing. Turn it into giving HELP (feedback). Explain that you won’t grade anything but a final version. Even if it takes a week to get a few pages ‘just right’, then they will have learned to separate OK from GREAT. And that, my friend, is a victory!

Hint 3: It doesn’t really have to be GREAT (or OK), that’s just a way to describe writing as a process instead of a destination. We want our kids to practice writing, not practice handing in a completed paper.

How do you motivate your child to write? Get them interested in stories by reading to them and having them tell stories themselves. Next, move into helping them grow by putting their stories on paper; making sure that the aim is OK (at first).

Our son Forrest had two younger brothers who would stay awake until he came to bed at night to tell them a story from his imagination, made up on the spot. For some reason he caught on to the fun of stories (and how it’s no big deal if they aren’t just right). As a result, he’s a writer today (Check out Trixie and Roy for a fun read).

Motivation is about movement forward. Look at what you want long-term and start removing the obstacles in the way. That’s about all there is to it. Yes, you can motivate your child to write. I guarantee.


Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand

P.S. Our Writing Course is 100% built on this way of thinking if you want to check it out: CLICK HERE FOR INFO


Can Dictionaries and Grammars be Dangerous for Creative Writing?

We often use tools like dictionaries and grammars authoritatively (even in our creative writing), don't we? We say that a word 'means' something or that a certain grammatical point is 'right' only when used a certain way. Never mind that the dictionaries and grammars aren't always in agreement. There are additional reasons why we should not be submitting these resources authoritatively. To become a better thinker, an independent thinker, please consider a different explanation AND why grammars and dictionaries could pose a danger to your student's education.

Can Dictionaries and Grammars be Dangerous for Creative Writing?

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Too Many Mistakes? How to Teach Kids to Write

Young kids learning to write will often make lots of mistakes. In fact, it can be a little overwhelming. Too many red marks can kill interest and motivation in learning to write. Of course, if you don't give feedback they will not learn very well. Here's a simple solution that we found to be helpful while homeschooling our 5 Lybrand kids. Learn to change your student from a perfectionist to a progressionist. It'll make all the difference in the world.

Share your thoughts / ask your questions (below):

How We Help Dyslexics, ADHD, and Autistic Spectrum Kids Learn to Write

I probably should explain why I think we have such success with dyslexia, ADHD, and even mild Autism-Scale issues:

Our principles weave together through the themes of discovery and the uniqueness of the individual.

When a child (or anyone) is thinking all about trying to do everything 'right' it tends to lock them up. These kids especially need access to a different 'grammar book' (their own internal one) rather than one they must memorize. Most approaches to grammar simply do not understand how language/writing works, so they tend to be politically-correct-grammar-police (not really their fault).

So, when we help a child focus on the joy of discovery about their own use of language and uniqueness as an individual...it allows the brain to focus on creating rather than avoiding 'mistakes'. Naturally, this bleeds over into a number of other areas in life for these students.

Really, it just gets down to the distinction between what one CAN DO and what one CAN'T DO. Having a child with cerebral palsy helped us focus on the 'can do' side. That's what most of these kids need; to see for themselves what they can do and improve.

Even with dyslexia, merely finding that you are only mixing up 2 out of 10 words is great...just work on 9 of 10 (or whatever). In general, they will build on success not failure.

I think that really is the Secret of the Writing Course (and no one, literally, can break away from their quest for perfection long enough to really help). This is why we have 5 kids who can write well (and most of them still can't recite grammar rules to you!).





C.S. Lewis Best Writing Advice

His advice? Write by ear not by eye.

My son, Forrest, shot me this quote which affirms what I’ve been teaching for years:

You are too fond of long adverbs like “dignifiedly”, which are not nice to pronounce. I hope, by the way, you always write by ear not by eye. Every sentence shd be tested on the tongue, to make sure that the sound of it has the hardness or softness, the swiftness or languor, which the meaning of it calls for.
 -C.S. Lewis, from his ‘Letters’

I didn’t know Lewis had pointed this out, but having grappled through the decades (especially as an English Literature major), I came to the conclusion before I found the evidence. I think the reason is that

(1) It’s obvious, and 

(2) It’s impossible to find one’s voice with ‘rules’Please, have your kids read their works aloud to you and make corrections based on how they want it to sound when read. I’m not saying speaking is writing, but I am saying language is musical and instinctive. Your child can make a wonderful writing life if you will insist that they follow Lewis’s instruction to WRITE BY EAR.

Our course has helped 1,000s learn this approach if you want to go deeper and save time with your children. Just click below

A Better Writer in 10 Minutes a Day

Learn to play music without learning music theory, but can’t learn to write without learning grammar?

 Learn to play music without learning music theory, but can’t learn to write without learning grammar?

The answer is OF COURSE YOU CAN! Every great writer or musician began loving their art before someone taught them 'the right way' to do it.

You can learn to write and you can help your kids learn to write...without studying grammar. How can that be? It's simple: Like music, grammar is a hardwiring -gift in the brain. You've been duped, tricked, and mislead by the most sincere group of people on the planet 😉

Think about music and the story of great musicians:

  • They start out (often young) having a natural bent to like songs and beats
  • Somewhere along the way they pick up an old instrument and start making it sound new
  • A kind soul encourages them by providing lessons...or...they connect with friends and start teaching each other
  • They log their 10,000 hours and then, BAM!--- they are really really good​

Maybe you've heard it a different way, but it's still the same. They have an aptitude and they start developing it before they are formally trained. But that's not the important part. The important part is that they some how, some way, musicians FALL IN LOVE with music.


Writing is identical because language is also 'hardwired' into our brains. Stephen Pinker does a great job explaining this view in his book, The Language Instinct:​

Dr. Pinker Harvard

“Humans are so innately hardwired for language that they can no more suppress their ability to learn and use language than they can suppress the instinct to pull a hand back from a hot surface.”― Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

We are natural language and music learners. Almost everyone can instantly tell the difference between a melody and noise. And too, we can tell the difference between a sentence that makes sense and gibberish. In fact, we all learn to talk just fine way before taking a communication class.


1. Get your child listening to, and playing, music--- before getting them a curriculum that teaches all the 'rules and theory' of how music really SHOULD be played.

2. Get your child listening to, and writing, books--- before getting them a curriculum that teaches all the 'rules and theory' of how writing really SHOULD sound.​

It's both simple and profound. The more your kids play music and sing, the better they'll get at it. The more your kids read and write, they better they'll get at it.

Grammar and music theory are both useful at some point, but they are not necessary to create great writers or musicians. You want your kids to first fall in love with writing so they can tolerate (and learn from) studying grammar later on!

Here are a couple of resources to help and clarify:

  • The Writing Course - A genuine like-no-other training for the whole family based on the insight that language is an instinct

At the very least, watch how a little writing every day can transform your budding learner. Have them read their writing out loud to you and tell them one thing you liked. Writing + Feedback will win the day because the grammar book is already in their head. They just need a little help learning to read it.

Off to learn,

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand

Why I Figured Out a Better Way to Teach Writing


But what I really want to told you is why I am so interested in it. I mean today – I guess I’m a successful author of eight of my books published and many of them done quite well. I’ve got five kids who are homeschooled. Three of them collectively have written eight books – I written and published eight books collectively but the two haven’t written eight books curiously both have their essays used as models for other classes in college. That is today. BUT IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THAT…

If you’re finding what I’m sharing to be helpful won’t you please share at facebook, twitter and other places to let others know? Thank you so much! 

63% of High School Seniors Aren’t College Ready

Only 37 percent of students are prepared for college-level math and reading, according to newly released data.

If you know me, then you know that one of my convictions is that "Simplicity Solves." I could go further and say that Complexity Clogs / Simplicity Solves...which is the best and easiest explanation for what is up with high school students.

The article is from US News and says (among other things) that...

Only about a third of U.S. high school seniors are prepared for college-level coursework in math and reading. And while the performance of the country’s highest achievers is increasing in reading, the lowest-achieving students are performing worse than ever.


Hmm... we know that virtually everyone can learn to ready AND that almost everyone can learn plenty of math. Honestly, there really aren't many 'moving parts' here. We have students and the school and the teaching process.

  • Students
  • School
  • Process (teaching approach)


1. Something is wrong with the students (home-life, culture, disease, diet, etc.)

2. Something is wrong with the school (poor lighting, supplies, distractions, etc.)

3. Something is wrong with the process of teaching

While all of them can be related, what we are looking for is the simplest explanation (this is known as Ockham's Razor...and yes, I have been called "Sir Fredrick of Ockham"). Actually, beyond a simple explanation, we are looking for the one dial we can turn that will change it all (how simple is that?)!

1. The students can be a mess, but it needs to be enough to override the other two elements. Now, since we know many students who live in this culture and come from equally bad homes and eat poorly still do well, we can rule this out as the point of leverage.

2. The school can be a mess and poorly disciplined and underfunded, but for the most part that's not what we see. We also see students who prevail in EVERY school, so this isn't a good candidate either.

3. Process, how we teach, now there IS something! If you teach kids wrong, then they'll all learn wrong. Hey, I know, I'm from Alabama!

Face it, the current process is about ‘knowledge’ (if not trivia). The preparation is for a competency test and it is not skills focused.

It’s another reason Jody and I were attracted to homeschooling. We wanted to focus on developing our kids’ ability to learn how to learn. Specifically, we wanted to give them the following:

  1. The SKILLS of Reading, Writing, and Math
  2. The CHARACTER that is morally sane and impactful in a crazy world
  3. The COMMUNITY of family and relationships (our choice was a good Christian Church in addition to our home.

If they aren’t focused on skills, how will they teach them? No wonder they aren’t ready.

If you homeschool (or other), then PLEASE get your kids effective at Reading, Writing, and Math…that’s the crux of College Readiness!


Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand

Check Out the Writing Course (Click)

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