Helping Homeschoolers: Rigorous and Relevant Writing
Maximize the strengths of the homeschooling relationship to improve the quality and focus of your child's writing.
By Elijah Ammen
In a time when written communication has been reduced to the 140 characters in a tweet, or the truncated jargon of textspeak, good writing is what sets apart mature and thoughtful learners from the average student.
More than any other academic skill, writing can benefit most from the tutor/pupil relationship inherent in the homeschooling model. One of the most frustrating parts of being a public school teacher is the limited number of hours in the day to give students the individual attention they need in order to improve their writing. Good writing is a transferable skill that develops your child as a critical thinker, and as such, deserves time and constant practice. However, like all skills, writing only improves with rigorous and consistent practice. Poor practice results in poor writing. Luckily, there are a few pointers to keep your practice sharp.
Focus On All Forms
It's very easy to lapse into narrative or expository writing. They are the most natural forms of writing, and the most easily acquired from casual reading. It's crucial that you balance those with structured persuasive or argumentative writing (though if you are teaching expository writing, check out this fantastic unit plan). Argumentative writing will help build critical thinking skills, because it requires the logical and evidence-based defense of a specific thesis statement. In the public school realm, the switch to Common Core standards has promoted a steady diet of argumentative writing, especially in high school. When you practice argumentative writing, be sure to factor in the following:
- How do I create a clear and concise thesis statement?
- How do I support my thesis statement with reliable evidence?
- How do I make sure my ideas flow together?
- How do differing audiences change my arguments and style?
Vary Your Audience
When you practice argumentative writing, you need to have a strong focus on the audience to whom you are writing. Because of this, you need to find an audience for your child other than yourself. In a public school setting, we have the benefit of peer tutoring and multiple teachers, but you are the only critic your child has, and that's not enough.
Find another person to evaluate the writing. You are the main source of opinions in your child's life, which means your child will have your blind spots. Find a friend or relative to read and give feedback on the writing. Create a rubric that is easy to follow and compare the differences between a self-evaluation, a parent evaluation, and a third-party evaluation. If you don't have a variety of sources, your revision process will not be as significant.
Revise, Revise, Revise
This is where every public school teacher envies your situation. You have the ability to sit down and work with your child to improve their writing at the pace of your own choosing. Great writing doesn't happen in the first draft (and sometimes not in the second or third). Any middle or high schooler who can get in the habit of revising a paper multiple times is in for less shock when he/she goes to college. Revising is a long, painstaking process, but it cements the corrections into the writer's brain more than a passing glance a correction. There are a few ways to improve your revising process:
- Work from a Rubric: I cannot emphasize this enough. If you start with the criteria, you can reduce the subjectivity of grading. Check out this article on rubrics, and use Rubistar to create your own.
- Edit the Big Picture First: Work your way down when it comes to revision. Start with structure--do you have a clear thesis statement and topic sentences? Do you have a compelling introduction and conclusion? Do the major restructuring before you narrow your focus to phrasing, grammar, and typos.
- Save Your Old Drafts: This might seem trivial, but comparing your writing at each of the stages of revision is a rewarding learning experience. If you can see your progress and improvement, your motivation increases.
Previous Homeschooling Articles:
Below you will find previous articles I've written on how to help homeschoolers be college-ready, and specific reading strategies for middle and high school students.
Strategies for creatively monitoring reading to gauge comprehension and stimulate analysis without taking the joy out of reading.
Advice on essential skills for college from a homeschooled, public school teacher.