Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advice for Homeschoolers on: teaching writing

Since I homeschool and teach a gaggle of homeschooled students, I feel somewhat burdened to help parents with this daunting chore of teaching writing.  

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be an English teacher or an accomplished writer to actually teach writing, but it DOES help.  Although sometimes knowing a lot about writing,   gets in the way.  

Let me explain.  Most people who write blogs, actually DO write well.  Let's face it.  You can not hide your inability to write and still write a blog.  It's pure, unadulterated self publishing in its most brutal form. To be honest, I was quite impressed by the quality of writing out there. That does not necessarily help you remember how you learned to actually write.  So, I will address the issues: both for the non-writing parent as well as the accomplished writer, as well as the in-between writers.  

So, what if you really can not write well?  How do you handle the situation?  You can do a variety of things, but most of them will rely getting some outside help.  Help is available through writing curricula, private tutoring/editing, classes for homeschoolers, and college level classes.   The good thing is that anyone who realizes they need outside help is a lot better off than someone who ignores this part of their children's education.  Writing IS fundamental.  Every child deserves to learn how to communicate his thoughts on paper.  

While most parents would not consider their writing abilities to garner pulitzer prize attention, these same parents may still feel qualified to teach writing at an eighth grade level but may feel slightly inadequate to teach their own children to write for college-prep level.  The solution for that is fairly easy.  Parents can brush up on their own skills while helping their own students progress to the next level.  Sooner or later, outside help may be required.  I would consider this to be a milestone rather than a failure.  Our goal is to make self-sufficient learners and not to keep them dependent on us for as long as possible, right? 

What happens when you are an English teacher by trade as well as a writing teacher?  It should be easy to teach your own, right?  No, it isn't.  I've talked to many homeschooling moms/ English teachers, and we all express the same frustration.  

It is very hard to be the English teacher/mom.  Even though I fully understand that writing is a process and not a product, I seem to forget that when I'm dealing with my own children!  I see the frustration in the (good writers/ English teachers) parents of the students I teach, that they have  same frustration that I have.  I am not content to see my child's work progress as slowly as it does, and I want to fix it for them.  I want it perfect. NOW.   I forget that a child's inability to perform academically is not going to improve when I rush in there and fix everything.  I forget that a child's self esteem will actually decrease when I do this!   So, after my own children learn the basics of writing, I farm out their English teaching to another mom, as soon as possible.  I just learned this in the past two years.  When the teacher in me has to be "the mean editor",  I can do it.  When "the mean editor" is someone else, I can just stand by and praise them for their good work.  

Once a child has gotten over "the trauma" of having their work ripped apart (by an outside teacher), they are usually very receptive of any corrections offered by mom.  In this way, I can be an encourager to my children as they are entering that new phase of young adulthood.  

edit: After reading this, I realized that I sound like everyone needs some form of outside help.  That was not my goal!  There are plenty of homeschooling parents who are perfectly capable of taking their children to the college level and beyond.  I wrote this because for every parent that is perfectly content teaching writing, there are about 15 who are frustrated!  I just wanted to encourage those who are actually frustrated that.. sometimes.. I am too!  


Mrs. Parunak said...

Very interesting and helpful suggestions! I would also add that I think reading a lot of very high quality literature and essays seeps into students subconscious and helps to raise them to a higher level almost without trying sometimes. They get a sense for the rhythm and flow in language. Stilted, awkward writing will not "sound" good to them, and their increased exposure to variations in vocabulary, sentence structure, and argument organization will help them be more creative in their own work, especially if their attention has been drawn to these devices through analysis.

Organizing Mommy said...

Mrs. P:

I totally agree!! Maybe I should have started there, but there will be more to this topic in the future.

Mrs. Parunak said...

Eeek, horrors! My poor English teacher of a homeschool mom would be horrified if she knew that her daughter had left the apostrophe off of "students" in "students' (!) subconscious. Oops!

Mrs. Parunak said...

...And the second quotation mark after "subconscious" in my correction comment... I really better get more sleep.

Organizing Mommy said...

If you overlook all of my MANY errors, then I guess we're even! Mrs. P, maybe your mother should comment on whether there is any reality of what I just wrote. I wonder if it is a character flaw of mine or if everyone finds the mother/teacher to be a hard thing in English?? I am willing to learn from those who have gone before me, especially those who have produced such lovely products: you!!