Why take the Creative out of Writing? Teaching Your Child to Love to Write.
I know that being a writer at heart causes me to be biased about writing – so you should probably keep that in mind. However, I do feel that learning to write – and learning to enjoy writing are just as important as the other arts. I have found many occasions in my own life when writing well has been useful. Unfortunately, all too often they don’t really teach the enjoyment or the proper mechanics of good writing. Somehow, just forcing a child to write is supposed to make them a good writer.
As you may well already know, my children are students with the K12 program in our state. I cannot say enough about how much we love the program despite some small things that we do not like – it truly works well for our family and our situation. One problem that I have had with the curriculum though – from the beginning – is that many people feel that it is heavy on the writing. While it is definitely HEAVY on the writing – the curriculum promotes writing with almost every subject – I strongly feel that they do not spend enough time or effort teaching the mechanics of good writing.
Perhaps this would not be evident to someone who isn’t into writing as I am – but almost every subject suggests or even requires some type of writing. There’s lots of it. However, the composition part of the curriculum is very small. Essentially, they provide a small writing composition workbook and the kids go over one type of writing at a time for several lessons – and that’s it. They don’t focus on actual writing instruction every day and sometimes not even every week.
The strange thing is however, once state testing comes around – there’s a lot of hoopla about writing things like paragraphs and summaries. Last year my daughter didn’t even learn how to write a summary until the test came around. Then, all of a sudden (a month before testing) her teacher wanted the kids to write a paragraph a day and provided one learning session on how to do so – that’s it – one lesson. Now, perhaps they covered it earlier in the year and did a few sessions on writing one paragraph – but in my mind that’s just not enough for such an important skill.
I guess it’s that time of year again – because the state testing is around the corner and our teacher has once again promised an ice cream party for those who write a paragraph a day. Again – one learning session on how to write a paragraph and that’s it. I can’t say it’s much better in the schools – although I am certain that some are much better than others – but it is quite depressing when you think about how important a skill such as writing can be in the future years. Even despite the lack of constant writing direction – when there is a lesson or assignment – it’s always that boring, monotonous writing prompts like “What I did during Summer Vacation” – the kinds of stuff that you wouldn’t even want to read if you had the choice.
Now, I probably sound a bit negative – and perhaps part of that is the pregnancy speaking (for those of you who don’t already know – we are expecting – AGAIN – Alhumdulilah). But there are a few other factors that play into this as well. (1) Writing is very important to me – I love writing and I feel that just like reading it is an important skill to share with your children (2) I have waited a few years now for things to improve in the writing department with the school – but it just hasn’t happened (3) my children dread writing most often when they follow the curriculum as their school lays it out for them ( in other forms of writing they excel and absolutely enjoy it). Mind you, my kids start “happily” writing in order to earn that free ice cream every year – but once that incentive is gone they are back at square one again – dreading any form of writing.
So, now that I have complained and complained about this problem – I do want to say that I think I may have found a solution for my kiddos that I am putting into practice as we speak. I have already seen improvement with my oldest child’s writing just by starting to explain to her the new concepts and giving her the proper guidance as laid out by this new program.
I am sure that some of you have heard about the “6+ Traits of Writing.” However, for those of you who have not heard about it – I highly recommend the books written by “Ruth Culham.” She has written several on this topic and I am currently using three of them:
Now, I’ve had the 6+1 Traits of Writing for a while now – but never got a chance to use it because we’ve been so busy with our other subjects. However, I hate for this trend to go on much longer – and alhumdulilah we are having a pretty successful year thus far that I think we can easily fit it into our schedule. I should warn you from the start – this is not going to be something that you can just follow step by step and these books are going to define each step of the way for you and your child. These books aren’t something you can just hand to your child and they immediately become good writers. It takes practice with these ideas – on a continual basis – it takes a continued relationship with these ideas to grow a good writer. The nice thing to note though is that it really isn’t that hard to do – and in my opinion – it is what the schools (including ours) should have been doing from the beginning.
I highly encourage anyone who is interested in teaching their child the art of writing – writing well – and to love writing to at least look at these books and give them a try. I truly think this program of writing can improve my child’s writing and inspire them to keep writing and enjoy it, insha’Allah. When I look back on my own days in school, I remember those experiences with teachers (who never should have been allowed to teach, by the way) that left me hating to write and assuming that it wasn’t something I could do, much less enjoy. I remember those thoughtless assignments that bored me to tears – that never caused within me the desire to write more than I possibly had to in order to complete the assignment. At that point I was never given the opportunity to shine. I also remember my own experiences that shaped me as a writer – those experiences with one or two teachers who had the creativity and desire to teach me to write well and to love to write. Because of these memories – I feel that the things that worked to make me a better writer coincide with this program and those things that I hated about writing are not part of the program. Alhumdulilah!
Now, while your child may be in the upper grades – I do intend to also use the “6 +1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades” because I feel it describes a little more (or perhaps a little better) about the traits. Right now I am reading through both books to see how I can use them both at the same time. I don’t think that should be a problem.
One book that I truly love is the “Using Picture Books to Teach Writing with the Traits.” When I studied literature and writing in college – one of the things we often did was read literature and analyze it – analyze the story to see what made it great literature. What better way to understand great writing – and to learn to write well – then to see how others have done it! This book gives you lists of different books (as well as lesson ideas for the books) that show how each trait is used well by the author. After using some of the suggested books, we even were able to find our own! The lessons encourage you to use the strengths of the book to teach the child to practice what they learn from that author. I can’t say enough about how excited I am to embark on this project. In fact, we just returned home just a while ago with several of the recommended books.
Right now my oldest has a writing assignment due by Friday. So, I am allowing her to write with the skills she has learned so far from her current curriculum. After that, we embark on this new journey together. I am intending to have her later re-analyze her writing assignment and rewrite it with the new skills she gains from the lessons with me. She is writing about a topic that is dear to her – so I don’t think it is a problem. I can already see that the skills she can gain from this new program will greatly improve what she has already written, insha’Allah.
I don’t want it to sound like I am forcing writing on my kiddos – they actually enjoy it. I’ve given them journals to keep their own personal writing and they truly love it (although they often forget to write if not reminded). I just feel strongly that with our current writing instruction – they are being told to do a job without being given the proper tools. For example, my oldest was writing from her outline the other day for her current writing assignment. She was so stressed and believed that she couldn’t write. I had to convince her that it’s okay to veer away from the outline – to just use it as a guide.
The problem is that in school they teach you have to use this method – and you have to follow your outline to a ‘t’ in order to write well and to stay on topic. It is a very inflexible way to look at writing and If you asked most writers, I am sure they would agree that while they may plan out what they write – they always allow for flexibility (some more than others). So, I allowed her to use the outline to understand what the parts of her writing would be – but then encouraged her to look at the subtopics and choose whatever was either easier for her or more interesting to write about. In other words, you don’t have to necessarily start with the introduction – and then go to the first topic and then write each sub-topic. You CAN write them out of order as long as you keep in mind your main point or topic and that everything you write supports that topic. The outline, used in this manner – becomes a guide for her writing – not shackles that keep her from progressing.
Let me give you an example:
She was writing about “a place that is special.” She then had to write a descriptive essay about the sights, sounds, smells, etc. of this place. While this could have been another boring topic for her, she found a subject that truly excited her – Yemen. Even though she has only been there a handful of times – the experience and memories are still quite strong and they are dear to her. So, her outline looks like this:
I. Introduction (Yemen is special to me)
II. What Yemen looks like
III. What Yemen sounds like
c. Honking of horns
IV. What Yemen smells like
a. The delicious smell of food cooking that fills the courtyard kitchen
b. The delicious smell of bread made in the tanoor
c. Bukhoor (incense) used when guests come
V. What being in Yemen feels like
a. Overjoyed – spending time with family
b. Happy – to play with cousins
c. Sad – to have to leave everyone
So, how did I change her reaction to this assignment? In the beginning she was terribly stuck on the introduction and couldn’t move any further. However, since we already know what the topic is – because we have to write about this – it was something that she could easily come back to. She asked me to show her pictures of the houses, the market and the dress of Yemenis so she could better describe them. However, I had to cook dinner and didn’t have a chance yet. I encouraged her to just use the outline as a guide (instead of having to go step by step through it). So, she first wrote about the smells of Yemen because it was something that she really remembered – and then progressed through all the other categories.
To make it easier for her to write the different parts out of sequence, I gave her pages labeled with the Roman numerals so she made sure to write the parts where they belonged. I also told her that if she decided to write about the items out of order (writing about bukhoor before the smell of food, for instance – that she needed to make sure to write the letter beside each part so we could more easily put it back together once she was done. In the end, we even found that some things made better sense out of order and kept it that way.
Now, before we had this little talk – she hadn’t written a thing. Instead she kept staring at the empty page – wringing her hands and saying she couldn’t write. Once I offered her just a little flexibility – to be able to go to the part that was easier – it gave her the confidence she needed to begin writing. . In fact, she found that once she found her voice for the easy parts – the more difficult parts came much easier. I should also mention that she was extremely excited as she gained confidence in her skills. She actually started to enjoy it! The next day she had actually already written her first draft.
In the end, her paper ended up being about 6-7 paragraphs long – which is a lot for her, masha’Allah. She loved writing it though. Insha’Allah I will keep everyone updated on how this little project goes. I think at this point we are all excited, masha’Allah.
Sumayyah Umm SAA