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Do They Hate Writing? It’s Probably How You Teach Grammar

So, we’ve been pointing this out for years! Kids will learn to love writing (and grammar) if you
focus on good literature and lots of writing practice. Studying Grammar is deadly. Don’t take
my word for it. Read the Atlantic Monthly Article…


The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar

No more diagramming sentences: Students learn more from simply writing and reading.

Boston Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

A century of research shows that traditional grammar lessons—those hours spent diagramming sentences and memorizing parts of speech—don’t help and may even hinder students’ efforts to become better writers. Yes, they need to learn grammar, but the old-fashioned way does not work.

This finding—confirmed in 1984, 2007, and 2012 through reviews of over 250 studies—is consistent among students of all ages, from elementary school through college. For example, one well-regarded study followed three groups of students from 9th to 11th grade where one group had traditional rule-bound lessons, a second received an alternative approach to grammar instruction, and a third received no grammar lessons at all, just more literature and creative writing. The result: No significant differences among the three groups—except that both grammar groups emerged with a strong antipathy to English.

…read the rest of the article here.

Off to learn,

Fred Ray Lybrand

P.S. Clearly this is why we developed our homeschool writing curriculum. We wanted a writing program that helps kids love to write.




I posted this on the Facebook Robinson Curriculum Group Page, but realized it fits in our group nicely:

OK…so…I’m not the standard person out there, so these are MY thoughts.

Basically, I accept that the maturity of the frontal lobes is not adequately developed for abstract thinking until 14-ish (finally matures around 25). Essays are discussions about one’s own thoughtful view.

So…in our homeschool writing curriculum we simply never had the kids start writing essays until they were 14 or 15. Our goal was to get them to master the sentence…and spelling…and punctuation…and how to get themselves to write…and how to come up with ideas.

I can say that all of our kids turned out to be really fine essayists (always excellent grades on essays in college).

Part of the trick is for them to build confidence…much easier when the brain is ready and when a homeschool writing curriculum encourages the right approach. In the classical model…12 to 14 is when kids work on logic (by arguing)…which is really what they need for essays.

Now…book reports are different, but our homeschool writing curriculum covers that too. Why? Well, because everything in writing is still about writing a good sentence!


Here’s Where Our Group Meets:

Why You Shouldn’t Teach Writing Like Math

Why You Shouldn’t Teach Writing Like Math

It’s pretty simple. Math is learned by understanding a mathematical concept/principle and working problems that apply the principles. The working on these problems gives feedback and depth to making sense of the concept. Once you have it you are sort of done (though there are always more concepts to learn and combinations of principles to apply).

In writing, you actually need to write to make sense of or discover ‘principles’…and yet, the principles are so stylistic that it is hard to reduce them to anything hard and fast. In this way, writing is clearly on the ART side of the conversation.

Imagine trying to learn to swim by studying concepts on a whiteboard. Swimming itself is the means of learning to swimming; and, of course, it involves a lot of apparent splashing about!

Writing is much the same…writing a lot…getting feedback of various kinds…paying attention…writing more: Now, that’s a plan to learn to write!

Honestly, we can’t teach writing like we can teach math. However, we can share insights along the way.





You may not know it, but Jody (and most of her family) has struggled with dyslexia. Nonetheless, she also made straight A’s in her Masters program (Education). That certainly helped us believe a different kind of homeschool writing curriculum could make a difference.

So, also having a couple of borderline dyslexics in our homeschool, here’s my response to a note from Kimberly—


Hey Kimberly,

In the final analysis, most Dyslexia will leak out from time-to-time even if a person has mostly conquered it.

So…first…you have to accept that fact. It isn’t necessarily a big deal. Jody still makes some mistakes in writing, but she also can catch them, admit it, and move along.

It is important to recognize that the challenge has to do with brain processing. A dyslexic brain just looks/organizes things differently. This is valuable to remember because it invites you to learn how to put information in so it comes out as you want

Dyslexia can be an advantage too…especially in the realm of helpfully looking at things from a different vantage point (a hallmark of creativity). Most “Dysfunctions” are simply a dysfunction in a particular environment & and a strength in another environment. People who don’t ‘focus’ well and are easy to interrupt…are GREAT in emergency settings (people who hyper-focus usually stink because they can’t easily triage). Boys who can’t sit still in class may very well make a fortune ‘running around’ a football field

In my experience here are four things that seem to help dyslexics deal with the orderly world of reading:

1. Read out loud. We had our two border-line dyslexics do this everyday. Even reading alone is great. Reading out loud includes more input (hearing)…so the brain has more to work with. When you have your child read a sentence out loud and it isn’t read correctly, then stop and have her read it again (and again) until it is correct. Your student really needs to see what ‘right’ looks like to hook up his brain correctly for reading.

2. Write, and then, read what they wrote out loud. Again, more opportunity to make sense of language in their brains. Here too, they should write AND read a sentence (out loud) until they get it just right. You just have to show a brain what ‘right’ looks like.

3. Do more phonics. Phonics cracks the code for reading. In some studies it seems that using a whole-language (or other non-phonics systems) can actually generate or increase dyslexia in some people. Really learning phonics can take your child a long way.

4. Use handedness as an analogy. Only about 7% of people are lefties…and they figure out how to get along in a right-handed world. The key is that you sort of have to learn how to run your own brain / handedness…in your own way. Oh, and lefties are often valuable (example: pitchers and hitters in Major League Baseball).

That’s a start; hope it helps.


Fred Ray Lybrand
The Writing Course Homeschool Writing Curriculum

“How do I get my children writing?”

Angel wrote recently, “How do I get my children writing?”

          ……………………………Getting Them Writing……………………………

This is one of the common things The Writing Course homeschool writing curriculum addresses. Usually it is a combination of issues…largely about fear related to writing correctly and if one’s writing suggests the person is bad / weak / etc.

The key is to get focused on the three stages:

1. OK
2. Get Help
3. Make Great

Normally people think that what they are writing has to be great at the very first pass. This simply never happens (one person in 100 years, maybe). You want him to write something that is OK…tell him if he writes something that is really good you’ll probably throw it away

The aim in writing is just to get the words on paper so you can begin to learn about writing as a student…like splashing around in the water in order to learn to swim.

As a practical matter…I think you can have him make a choice every day for two weeks:

1. He can write something original (even if it is just a description of a pickle jar or what a bird is doing outside in the yard).

2. He can do copy work that you pick out (pick some passage that is written well and will take about 1/2 an hour to write).

Even if he just does copy work for 2 weeks…he’ll be in a better place. Be sure and say, “It’s your choice…do you want to write copy work or an OK description of something outside today?”

Hope this helps,

P.S. If you own The Writing Course homeschool writing curriculum (I don’t keep a list in my head), then going through it again should help a lot…almost every lesson affects a child’s freedom to write lots and lots.




I posted this on the The Writing Course Group Page (FaceBook), but realized it should be a post here too:

OK…so…I’m not the standard person out there, so these are my thoughts.

Basically, I accept that the maturity of the frontal lobes is not adequately developed for abstract thinking until 14-ish (finally matures around 25). Essays are discussions about one’s own thoughtful view.

So…we simply never had the kids start writing essays until they were 14 or 15. Our goal was to get them to master the sentence…and spelling…and punctuation…and how to get themselves to write…and how to come up with ideas.

I can say that all of our kids turned out to be really fine essayists (always excellent grades on essays in college).

Part of the trick is for them to build confidence…much easier when the brain is ready. In the classical model…12 to 14 is when kids work on logic (by arguing)…which is really what they need for essays.

Remember, essays are basically about one’s own view. If your child is getting good at articulating his own view about something, then great! If he just tends to quote others’ opinions, then give it a little more time. Quoting others is basically a book report.

Now…book reports are different than essays…might as well write plenty of these because they are good practice and improve reading comprehension.


Fred Ray Lybrand

Teaching Homeschoolers to Write Well


Teaching Homeschoolers to Write Well –  Takes Less Than 10 Minutes a Day!

A guest blog post by Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand for

Homeschool educators only make one consistent and glaring mistake: They Compare Their Results to Schools. 

I realize we live in a culture that will punish us if we don’t play the game properly; however, we have a different experience with our five children.  We’ve noticed that if your children are well informed, articulate, and test OK…they’ll overlook the fact that they were homeschooled.  Yes, I realize that articles tell us that schools really want homeschoolers.  Maybe they do, but in Texas the upper percent of students are automatically accepted into college, so there are only about 15% of the placements remaining for homeschoolers.  The game is a bit fixed here (and I bet it is where you are too).  The good news is that they still want good students. Here’s my best advice:

Realize you can’t compete with schools

Face it.  With millions of dollars and a multitude of teachers, trying to expose your children to that kind of experience is impossible. Even though the classroom size alone almost destroys real learning, we still think there is something to it. You can’t become an expert and know more than your child about every subject for every year of school.  Our children passed us both in math before we knew it.  But, we realized we didn’t have to know math to help them learn math. Our focus was on teaching them to learn how to learn.  So, my youngest son tutors calculus for pay (he’s 17 years old).  We helped our students keep working, and they simply kept learning.

Realize you can produce a student who rivals their best

It isn’t that hard.  Humans are made to learn.  If your child fills her head with info and develops a few fundamental skills, especially discipline; then she will easily be in the upper group of educated students.  Honestly, the current obsession with the self-image of the student guarantees that most students won’t learn.  Learning is about curiosity and frustration.  Educated students feel good about learning (though frustrated), while the rest feel good about themselves (avoiding frustration).

Realize writing is the most powerful learning tool

Writing integrates decision making, language, vocabulary, logic, thinking, persuasion, character, conviction, perseverance, and hope; what more could you want from one schooling activity? When a student is writing, he is making hundreds of strategic decisions with every paragraph he writes.  Writing also has the magical quality of connecting thoughts in the experience of ‘Ah-Ha’.  All this means is that your student will make discoveries and insights merely by writing.  It helps students become their own teachers.

If you give your child about 10 minutes a day, he will grow rapidly as a writer and thinker. Every student of writing needs feedback more than he needs grammar rules. The student may write for 30 minutes, but all you need to contribute is feedback for their learning.  Here are a few simple ways you can do it in less than 10 minutes.

  •       Make the issue about writing something that is OK-but-not-Great at first
  •      Make ‘corrections’ a matter of feedback to make it ‘even better’ (toward Great)
  •      On punctuation or grammar or style, use this question when you make a correction,  “Does this sound better?” Often your student will see your idea does sound better when you read it out loud.  Of course, sometimes it doesn’t sound better!
  •      Use a red pen and a green pen.  The red means Stop! and the green means Go!  Marking things you like with green gives a child the good feedback she will almost never hear in school.

There, you have a great start on teaching writing.  Any student who writes some each day and receives feedback on his writing is bound to grow.  Never underestimate the power you have as a ‘coach’ with two pens and a few minutes.

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
Author: The Writing Course
For more help go to

Teaching Grammar is Socialism, isn’t it?

Rudolf Flesch once observed that language may be the only truly democratic thing on the planet. What he meant is pretty straightforward; what becomes the common grammar does so because of usage. In other words, we ‘vote’ on what proper grammar is, based on how we use words.

It is a strange phenomenon that we could keep insisting that our students learn the ‘proper’ grammar…what a death blow to inventive and creative writing! What a death-blow to language, too!

Should our students write correctly? Of course.

Is our current grammar correct? Nope. But, it’s not incorrect either.

If we historically had taken our current approach to grammar and punctuation in education, then we would have tried to codify (and demand submission to) the Elizabethan standards of the 1600’s. Really? That’s the correct way to write? If it is, then why aren’t we teaching that standard instead of McGuffey (or Roberts, or Dr. Seuss, etc.). If it is not the standard, then why not? Why aren’t we writing like Shakespeare? Who is making this decision for you?

Do we really want everyone to write the same way and sound the same way? Do we really want everyone to use the exact same rules and style in grammar and punctuation? It is a socialistic approach that demands children all be the same; and, of course, language will have none of your socialism. Usage will win, and it will be so cool!

We have an instinct for language, which means simply:

1. You learn to talk

2. Your talking grammar is correct (enough)

3. You learn to read

4. Your reading grammar is correct (enough)

5. [Later in school] you formally study grammar (which you have to already know in order to read) so that you can know what things like subject/predicate/present tense/intransitive/verb/noun/ adjective are all about.

6. Eventually, you give up and either learn to write by your instinct, or quit writing except when you have to

There is a whole new world of writing just ahead…and a whole new world you’ll give to the reader…if you will do the following for yourself or your student:

* Write a lot

* Write in our own voice (unique approach)

* Stay teachable and learn to change what doesn’t work or doesn’t make sense in your writing

* Keep reminding yourself that Shakespeare couldn’t have told you much at all about the formal names of the grammatical components he used

Write on,

Fred Ray Lybrand

The Writing Course Works

How to Help Your Students Get Over Being Defensive About Their Writing

How to Help Your Students Get Over Being Defensive About Their Writing?

When we try to teach kids how to write, you and I have both seen it dozens of times. We simply offer some helpful advice (or worse yet, we point out a mistake) and our child goes ballistic [ballistic is a simple term concerning motion and balls…but has come to mean suddenly angry!]. All we are trying to do is teach kids how to write.

Homeschool Child Not Listening

In teaching kids how to write, we’ve learned that we have to unravel their fears about the quality of their writing so they can receive some helpful input for their improvement. After all, writing is basically about trying, getting help, and doing a little better. Here’s what we’ve seen work with countless writing students over the years:

Show Him the Three Stages of Writing

The stages of writing are OK…GET HELP…MAKE IT GREAT

The goal is to stress that you don’t want a perfect paper, story, or sentence. All you want is something that is OK. In fact, ask them if they can write something OK. OK is where everything begins; you can’t start with perfect. The next step is to get help. When you are giving feedback to a writing student, just ask him, “Does this sound better?” When you share your idea he might say it does or he might have his own great idea. This is a powerful habit. Help him to settle into writing in 3 stages; OK, GET HELP, then MAKE IT GREAT.

Help Her Realize She is Not What She Writes

The idea here may seem a little esoteric, but it is really practical. Your student needs to realize that she is not what she writes. Her writing will live long after she is gone (if it is kept or published), so we already know she isn’t her writing. What she writes will have a life of its own and touch people even when she is asleep or not in the room. This is rather vital for a student to grasp. If she is what she writes, then she must write something that is ‘good enough’ to justify keeping. She’s thinking that if her paper isn’t good, she isn’t good. They call this an issue of identification. She actually thinks the paper says something about her…and it does, somewhat…it says that she is learning!

Once a student begins to grasp that she isn’t her paper (she was there before the paper was written), she is freed to look at it honestly. We call this the Principle of Separation (kudos to Robert Fritz). And, once a student begins to grasp that there isn’t a good way to start out perfect, she can start writing in 3 stages; OK, GET HELP, and MAKE IT GREAT.

Blessings to you,

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
This Blog was first posted at as a guest blog:

What Gets Rewarded Gets Done

It’s true in learning to write because it is true in life.

Maybe what you don’t like happening is your fault. Maybe you are encouraging the wrong
things in your life. Success is clearly about communication, and we communicate
in many subtle ways. It may just simply be that you are communicating to others
that you want THE OPPOSITE of what you really want.

Just ask, “How am I encouraging ______________________?”

What does your mind tell you ?

Great…now think about how to encourage something different. If you only have
creeps coming up and talking to you, change what you are wearing (or where you
go). If only marginal people apply for the job, change the amount you’ll pay and
where you look for employees.

You may get the idea…but you won’t learn it until you practice it!


Fred Ray Lybrand

Thoughts (below)?