“But how can I teach writing to my students?”

October 2, 2014

Business concepts in crossword,  featured words are: innovation,If there is one question I get asked the most, it is this question:

How do you teach writing, especially to high school students?

What is interesting to me about this question is that there is more to being fluent in English than simply being able to write, yet we as home educators worry about writing more than just about any skill our children will develop. Just a random thought there.

I’ve finally come out of the closet, and I’m sharing my unusual approach to teaching English skills to my high schoolers, who happen to be self-teaching. My five high school graduates to date have achieved extraordinary scores on their SATs and ACTs as a result of the way they have approached their English study. I know what works and what doesn’t work. I hate busywork personally, and I never give busywork to my kids.

Sooooooo, I could post my process here, or I can simply let you know that on my Website I now have a page chronicling the manner in which I’ve tackled teaching English FLUENCY through the years. Fluency means ability to read, write, and speak/think well. I don’t just want my students to write well. There is so much more to being fluent in English!

The answer to how I’ve taught writing to my middle school and high school students is found here, on this page:  The Fluency Trilogy.

I should warn you that the method is SIMPLE, and there is a MINDSET that goes along with the methodology.

If you wonder what is the best way to teach writing and language skills to students across the board, I don’t have an answer for you. I would never say I have found the absolute BEST way.

What I can tell you is what I’ve done with my students that has OVER prepared them for college and for real life. The answer may surprise you.  And hopefully it will RELAX you as well. 🙂


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence in any educational setting.


~ How to Teach Writing ~

March 13, 2009

Hey y’all! I have been absent for a little bit, but all for a good cause. We’ve been enjoying a three-week break from schooling, and we’ve done a lot of cleaning up both inside and out. Now it is time to get back to the routine, and I thought I would start by answering a question that I am asked an awful lot:

How do you teach writing in the home school?

I firmly believe that writing is a learned behavior; it is learned by reading. A child who reads is a child who has an advantage when it comes to writing. What does good writing and grammar and punctuation look like? It is modeled in the pages of a book.

I will share with you what has worked amazingly well and continues to work well in our home school. I say this with the utmost confidence, as my children all write very well for their age levels. However, let me say that my kids are normal kids. I am a normal homeschool mom. What works for us can work for anyone who lays out high expectations and doesn’t take no for an answer from their children. Learning with excellence is not hard! It takes some dedication and enforcement at first, but after the standards are set, a little maintenance is all that is required of you.

1. Read aloud to children. Have young read aloud to you. Have a reading time every day where kids read to themselves for a certain period of time. I do not advocate a timed session for any other subject except reading. Some kids will read all day long if you let them, and some will have trouble getting into it at first. Let your children see you reading for your own pleasure or your own education!! Go to the library a couple times a month. Allow your child to choose the books he/she would like to read, according to your standards, of course.

Reading is the foundation for life. May I say that again? Reading is the foundation for life. If a child is a confident reader, he will be more successful than a child who lacks the skill and as a result lacks academic confidence.

2. Teach grammar and punctuation well in the early years. I only do grammar and punctuation lessons for the first seven years of schooling. After 7 years of study, a student really should “get it.” Repetition dulls the senses. I will do a short grammar review at some point in the high school years just as a review. We also use a spelling book for the first four years or so, depending on the needs of the student.

We specifially use Abeka Language/Phonics. Always have, and I still do. The basics are laid out very nicely. There is some creative writing in the elementary levels, which is nice. The series does not teach the mechanics of writing itself. Rather, it teaches grammar and punctuation along with library skills, writing a research paper (which we totally skip at this level),dictionary and encyclopedia skills, and such. Children do get regular practice writing sentences on whatever concept is being taught, so the are using what they are learning.

I don’t required copywork, but the younger ones all do this “for fun” at some stage because they like to, which always amazes me. Lilie, age 7, is copying stories from her story Bible into a little notebook I gave her. It is so sweet to watch because I have not mandated it.

3. Writing practice. When students have a strong reading background, they will more naturally write well. They are used to seeing good grammar and punctuation on a daily basis. They become unconsciously attuned to the mechanics of good writing. You do not have to teach this, as it is taught for you and reinforced every time they read a book!

Aside from creative writing assignments once a week or so in the Abeka language curriculum, I don’t “require” writing. Having lots of notebooks, pens, pencils and paper around is conducive to writing. Most girls enjoy journaling, although I can say with certainty that none of my three boys journals or would probably ever write a journal. Fine with me. The girls, on the other hand, will keep a written log of their lives without being told to do so. It is more in their nature to enjoy this sort of thing.

I require the middle school and high school students to write a short essay (or long, if they want) twice a week using at least five of their vocabulary words each time. I don’t give topics. My one rule is to avoid out-and-out silliness for silliness’ sake. Write with a purpose. Silliness and fiction are two different things! They may write in a Word document on their computers, or they may write in a notebook. Whatever suits them.

I will look over their writing once or twice in a quarter (9 weeks), but for the most part, I read for my own enjoyment to see what interests them, etc. I don’t officially correct their work, although I will point out blatant spelling errors or grammatical errors if they are there. The primary purpose is to encourage them to write more and more and more. Criticism will stifle this in a heartbeat. The more they write, the better they will become at writing. As they mature, their writing will naturally become better and better with or without my input.

I am currently teaching a course called “Write for College” in a local co-op class. Interestingly, my own two high schoolers signed up for my class of their own volition. This class is for 9th through 12th graders, and I have made an interesting discovery, one that does not surprise me, but one that is important to note. I know all of the 14 students in my class, and I know their backgrounds and family situations. The exceptional writers in the class are the ones who do a lot of independent reading. A few of the students struggle to put cohesive thoughts down on paper, and those  students come from homes where the emphasis is not on schooling first. One student has to work to help support the family; another has divorced parents and has to help around the house and with siblings while mom is working. Another has a very bad relationship with the parents and is only at co-op because he has to be.

I could tell you more, but my point is that if you want your students to succeed in their studies, parental support and high expectations for the student to work to the best of their ability are vital. The parents that emphasized reading early on are the ones now reaping the benefit of the seeds they have sown. Children who live in homes where constant relationship stress is present are less likely to be able to focus on their schooling at home. Students who have to work to support the family are naturally going to have divided loyalties. These are just some of my discoveries as I look at the homeschooling population in my area. We are probably an average cross-section of American homeschoolers.

To wrap this up (and I could go on forever on this topic), teaching writing begins early on by teaching your child to read, and then encouraging and even requiring daily reading time. If writing is not done on the student’s own and if it does not spring from a student’s own desire to express himself or herself, don’t despair. All children are different, and boys tend to be much less verbal on paper.

I recommend requiring writing in some variety in the middle school years. I do not recommend tearing the student’s writing apart and telling them everything they did wrong in their essay that day. Correct an obvious error, make a suggestion perhaps, but PRAISE their efforts. Take delight in the opportunity to learn how your child thinks and to see what goes on in their heads via their writing. I promise you that over time you will see a gradual improvement in the student’s writing ability. It will happen naturally. You just don’t want to retard this natural process by criticism.

Is my “Write for College” class something that I feel my teens need to have in high school? No. They do well in the class naturally; I don’t think they have learned anything new. But they are getting mandatory practice, which is a good thing. The punctuation rules we go over in class are for the benefit of other students who obviously lack a retention of the rules for some reason or other. I don’t know why high school seniors don’t know when to use a comma, but they don’t, so I teach them as much as I can in one hour a week. And I despair when I read some of the essays the students write because there is a disconnect between the rules and the application of the rules that makes me shake my head. Teaching this class reminds me of when I taught in the school system! The difference in performance is directly proportionate to the parental support the students receive.

If this topic intrigues you, I read a fascinating book on perfect SAT scorers that investigates the backgrounds of about 40 or so kids, and the results are both surprising and fascinating. The book is entitled
SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score. Here are a couple of excerpts for you.

“Students who scored a 1600 on the SAT typically spend several more hours a week reading than those who get an average SAT score. They are hard workers who are focused, self-motivated, and passionate.”

“Their drive comes from within. They have their own will to succeed. What’s fascinating is that perfect scorers weren’t necessarily born with this self-motivation. Perfect score students nearly all agreed that THEIR PARENTS motivated them to learn in their early years and then gave them the tools to motivate themselves through high school.”

WOW! Are you seeing an inherent blessing in self-teaching yet?

“These students are happy and have strong family support and parents they can count on. Of all the factors considered in the Perfect Score research, family stability proved to be one of the strongest in determining SAT scores. A full 90 percent of students who scored 1600 came from families in which neither parent was divorced.”

Does that surprise you as much as it did me?

Here are the 7 Secrets for you:
1. They’re self-confident, self-effacing, and self-motivated.
2. They are intellectually curious and excited about learning new and different things.
3. They read quickly and voraciously, following their interests wherever they lead.
4. They develop a core group of passions, pursue them eagerly, and excel within them.
5. They’re proactive; they create their own success.
6. They develop a social network of friends and family that gives them critical support.
7. Their real goal isn’t to ace the SATs — but to succeed in life.

That last one is what I really, really emphasize whenever I mention that I have a perfect SAT scorer in my household. Scoring well on the SAT is not the goal by any means!! Instead, scoring well is the fruit of the process. I should mention that there was just a tiny percentage of homeschoolers represented in the study this author, Tom Fischgrund, completed for his book.

All of my children are different. I have one student that I am currently concerned about as far as motivation to do much outside of what is required of him is concerned. I have to constantly be “reading” my children and measuring where they are in their LIVES and not just academics. What changes need to be made in order to foster a love of reading? I have a student who does not appear to have this love at this moment. Why is that? What can I do to help him? What do we need to adjust? I do pass out required reading time, as I said earlier in this piece. I choose books that have to be read, but I also balance that with letting the students choose.

For another thing, we will be requiring this “inward” student to choose from a list of a few activities in the fall. He will have a choice, but he will choose *something* from that list. (This activity will be expected to be done with a good attitude, btw.) I share this to show you that homeschooling and parenting is not an easy road for me. Each child’s needs are different, but our expectations for the children do not change just because they have different needs. The challenge is always there, and I so need wisdom and guidance from the Maker of these children to show me how to care for and nurture each individual soul.

I hope this has been helpful and clarifies a bit how writing is successfully taught; it is fostered through reading. It is perfected through practice, but not necessarily practice that requires grading and more grading of a student’s work. Relax and allow your student to develop proficiency through doing, although you may have to require the doing. Don’t stress over the doing. They do the writing, you read over it and enjoy what they have written.

If you have any questions on any of this, please let me know, and I will try to answer them in a much shorter manner. 😉


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