Teaching Kids to Write

I recently met up with two of my friends from high school and we started discussing how much we benefited from the education we got in the IB Program, especially the writing skills. All of us, at one point or another in our careers have realized that we have the ability to write and structure essays that most of our peers simply lack. For me, team projects in college consisted of everyone doing their parts and then me taking them and massively editing them so that they sounded good and used proper grammar. My first friend ended up taking a college English course, where she found out that the way she learned to write in high school was too complicated and she needed to dumb it down a bit. My second friend is currently getting her Masters degree and ended up writing a ten page paper at the last minute the same week her mother died and her teacher praised her writing, saying it was uncommonly good.

This discussion made me think about teaching writing in homeschooling and the many arguments I’ve read about how you don’t need to teach your kids how to write, period, because the kind of writing you need in the workplace is completely different from the kind of writing you’re taught at school. I think that line of thinking is missing the point. The point is not that you don’t need to teach your kids how to write, it’s that you need to teach them how to write properly, or at least to develop their writing skills so they can express themselves fluently on paper.

This reminds me of all the arguments I’ve read about homeschooling vs. unschooling. Unschoolers argue that kids are natural learners and do not need formal instruction because they will naturally pick up things that they want to learn and learn it. They will naturally specialize. The problem I see with this argument is that this seems to say that some people are just naturally good writers while others are naturally bad and there’s not much you can do about it, but i know for a fact this isn’t true. Both of my friends were told by the IB Administrator in their interview that he was concerned about their writing and they were going to have to work hard to improve on it if they got into IB and both of them did. The first friend I mentioned went from getting Ds on her first IB essays to getting As in her Senior year. The second friend was in IB gifted English in spite of any writing weaknesses she or anyone else may see in her whereas I was not. They’re both very good writers because of the instruction they received and both of them are extremely grateful for it (although they may have been less grateful at the time).

And isn’t that the point of learning? To get better at things we suck at? My son sucks at talking although his brain works fine, so we spend 15 minutes every day practicing his speech. He may never grow up to be a great orator, but that’s no reason not to make sure he can speak as well as possible. Alpha seems to be chugging along well enough in  math, though, so I could theoretically not teach him in anything in that subject. If left alone, maybe he would come up with the Pythagorean Theorem eventually, but he’d probably get their a lot quicker if I just told him about it. Because the point of teaching is to show us what other people have discovered, what they’ve done and what best practices we can use to get there ourselves. Maybe this is why American schools are so bad. I tried helping my 11 year-old nephew with his math homework and he kept protesting that yes, he could solve the problems the way I showed him, but that wasn’t how his teacher wanted him to do it and so he wouldn’t get full points. Screw that. That’s bad teaching and it results in bad learning. Similarly, teaching kids that a paragraph is four sentences long and a good essay consists of an introduction, three supporting paragraphs and a conclusion, all of which support your thesis which should definitely have the individual topics of the three body paragraphs is a boring way to write, but at least it does teach kids how to organize their thoughts, which is important. It’s a good starting place. But you should start there and work your way up instead of just staying there or never getting to that point in the first place.

So, we will definitely be teaching writing. I’m not entirely sure how, but we’ll probably start by just telling narratives, which I’ll write down and improve upon so the kids can get used to the differences between talking and writing. Then hopefully they will be capable writers when they’re grown.

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