WHEN ARE KIDS READY TO START WRITING ESSAYS?
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
A guest blog post by Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand for Homeschool.com
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.
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.
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. http://www.dean.sbc.edu/tamburr.html
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
Fred Ray Lybrand
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.
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 homeschool.com as a guest blog: http://www.homeschool.com/blog/index.php/tag/dr-fred-lybrand/
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
I received this letter a while back and wanted to share it here:
I’ve been using the Writing Course for over a year now with my 15yo.
I’m wondering if I should go through it with my 10yo yet or not. How did
you determine at what age your children were ready for it? I wouldn’t
want to move forward to soon, like I did when my 15yo son was younger,
pushing him until he hated writing all together (luckily the Writing
Course has taken away the fear that I, most likely, was responsible for
). With my 10yo son, I’ve been very laid back; He has only done
copy work for writing & oral narrations (CM methods) up until this point.
He’s also around a 3rd grade reading level. I’d love to hear your
thoughts Fred, or others on where I should proceed with him from here.
So, here was my response to Heather:
Thanks for the question!
I have seen 9 year olds do well, but it is with those who love to write.
The Writing Course is a new course each time you work through it, so
there is no harm if you keep that in mind.
Jody likes to make a transition from copy work to writing by having the
child tell stories (or whatever) and the parent writes them down. It
allows you to show some principles and have a little fun. Of course, it
doesn’t have to be long each time.
You also might have your son write for a while before taking the course
(allows for some experience before interacting with the principles).
At the least, I’d go through The Writing Course once before he turns 12
for sure…and again…if you don’t obsess on it, next week is find too!
Thoughts? Questions? Comments?
Glad you dropped by! If you own The Writing Course, or are just thinking about it, this is our way to connect a little, share some information about our homeschool writing curriculum, and answer your questions. We had a forum, which was good…but it is a little too tedious for most of us to quickly use (but please go survey it…lots of good stuff there). We’ll move some of the forum material over here and produce more blogs for your benefit. PLEASE comment and interact…it makes a big difference for everyone!
Here’s the one question most folks have in teaching kids to write with The Writing Course
HOW DO WE USE THE WRITING COURSE?
In our experience, going through the homeschool writing curriculum material yearly (at least) is key to comprehensive learning. Each time through the student is at a different “place” in the learning process as a writer.
The Writing Course turns out to be unique here because each time through you print a new workbook. Also, the exercises are open-ended, which means they will be ‘fresh’ each time. Try this with any other curriculum and see if your students don’t revolt from the tedium!
So (after investing in your own copy of The Writing Course)
1. Print the workbook
2. Have them listen to the audio lesson and use the workbook (one lesson a day..should take about a month)
3. Discuss together what they are learning (daily)
4. Complete the course and start having them write daily (about 20 to 30 minutes at least).
5. Give feedback (see our video instruction under Video Extras) as we suggest
6. Get wowed!
On a side note, The Essay Course, as part of our homeschool writing curriculum, is probably better suited for 14 year olds and up. Of course, you can decide. I don’t think we started any of our children on it until they were 15. Frankly, high-level argumentation is a function of a more mature brain. The most important thing is to learn to master the sentence / paragraph.
Fred Ray Lybrand
Sorry, but we are doing some updates that have interfered with the link. We also offer lots more than just the downloads.
Here’s where you want to go to download your courses (click on the Course you own):
You will need your PASSWORD!