Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writing is Talking on Paper

Yesterday I was driving the car on the way back home from the library, and both of my sons, aged 9 and 12 were with me. I asked my older son what he had to do to complete the homework assignment for his merit badge work (due today). We had already done the first part: watch a movie about community. The teacher had suggested "Remember the Titans" so our whole family watched it and discussed it the other night.

My son replied that he had to write 8-10 sentences to summarize the movie and how it relates to the merit badge topic "Citizenship in the Community". I asked what he planned to write. He had tension in his voice when he said, "I don't know."

I set about immediately to calm him down. As a person who loves to write the last thing I want is a child afraid of writing. Honestly there is nothing to be afraid of about writing. I said, "Writing is talking, but on paper. If you were to tell me right now what the movie was about, do you know what you would say?"

He replied, "Yes. The movie is about..." and he went on to tell me a wonderful summary of the movie, rattled off quickly and easily. I prompted him to say at the end how the story impacted the community, which he then did state.

I said, "There, you are done. You know what you have to say; now you just have to sit down at the computer and write it out."

He breathed a sigh of relief.

And that was that. One writing lesson was done in the car while I was driving. I love that kind of lesson!

Later he did sit down and write it out. When he showed it to me I prodded him to recall something he left out that was pivotal to the story that related to the issue of community, without directly telling him what it was, and he added that in. The first draft was done.

Then Microsoft Word found some spelling errors and fixed some capitalization. After that second draft I reviewed it with him and tightened it up, showing him the parts that double-stated the facts. He took out some redundant words, capitalized some missed proper nouns and I showed him proper paragraph formatting (we've done this before but as with other things sometimes things need to be re-taught many times before it is learned and applied). What threw him was the teacher saying he wanted a certain number of sentences so my son had written each sentence separated by a space more like a bullet point list and I had to explain it should be in paragraphs but just add up to that length in total. After a final spell-check he printed it off and he was done.

Honestly, I feel we've slacked on writing composition. This seems crazy that something I'm strong in doing that I want my kids to do well also have not been a focus for us. This has been a combination of me feeling that to wait is sometimes better than to push early for easy goals, better to address it when the child is older and then expect bigger and better work. Secondly, my older son has struggled with writing using handwritten words so I've slacked back, not making it a priority as other things were being focused on.

The hardest part of writing is the content, the facts and/or ideas stated. Once that is known, the writing can be cleaned up to take out the things stated twice or pare down the rambling parts. A check for flow is easily done by reading the piece out loud; it's amazing how easy it is to find awkward parts with our ears that looked okay to our eyes reading the written text. Lastly a check for formatting, grammar and spelling and that's it.

The more a person writes, the better they get at it, so at some point the writer must just write and write and write.

I believe that anyone with anything they want to say, anyone with an opinion or who knows something about any topic can become a good writer. It seems we have no shortage of people who can communicate well orally, and all of those people have the potential to become good writers as well.


Victoria Smith said...

This is a great post, and one that I will remember the next time my son can't think of what to write.

Henry Cate said...

One of the great benefits of homeschooling is when our children are fearful of something, they feel safer with us. I remember being pushed to do a worksheet in 3rd grade, but I didn't have a clue what to do. The "professional" teacher didn't take the time to explain it and I felt stressed about it, and even now I remember the experience.

Ms. said...

You did with your son what comes naturally to those who love to write - talk about it first! We who love to write often chat about it as it marinates or gestates in our minds (and sometimes we keep talking about it and drive those around us a little nuts! ;-). Soon that baby must be born onto paper. Those who are not natural writers often don't realize this simple step/principle. Writing is just "talking on paper". And that talking part makes the writing part so much easier. Great post!

Pamela Jorrick said...

What a great way to put it- and so accurate. "Writing is just talking on paper." When my own kids were younger, and still working on the actual physical motor skills of writing, they often had elaborate stories they would dictate to me. When they had to do the physical act of all the writing, the stories began to shrink and lose content. I could see that they had more to say than they had the physical capability of putting on paper, so I decided to help them keep their content by letting them dictate and typing long pieces for them as their skills progressed. My oldest now does all her writing on her own, and still has her own strong "voice" on paper.
Thanks for the great post!