Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hope for the Reluctant Writer After All

Confession: I have not worked hard to teach my kids writing composition.

Why?

I have not been happy with various curricula. Those of us homeschool parents who think we're pretty knowledgable about something or at least think we can already do it better than the average man on the street, often are not happy with curricula that teach that topic. All we see is flaws with that program or weaknesses in the other, we like a little of that program and some other aspect of the other one. No one course of instruction ever seems good enough. To use a bit of this and a bit of that becomes laborious and some of us wind up creating our own program in the end. (Former math teachers who homeschool are notorious for doing this!)

I also have the opinion that sometimes schools teach a topic too young in a dumbed down way then keep repeating it year after year making it just a wee bit harder, in hopes that before graduation some level of competence will have been met. However if you listen to college professors or facts such as revealed in the documentary Race to Nowhere, you may feel that the writing skills of public school graduates are pathetic. Thus, whatever was done as "the accepted thing" was apparently not so great after all.

So my homeschool plan has been to delay teaching certain skills until my kids are old enough to grasp it quickly and effectively. However when that time came for my older son, we were dealing with his visual processing disorder treatment and he somehow went directly to the 'reluctant writer' category.

So here we are now with him in eighth grade. My son is working on a merit badge doing a class with a merit badge counselor. For the second class (of three) he was sick with fever and just diagnosed with an ear infection and was just starting antibiotics so he missed the meeting. I told him to do all the work that was not yet done before the next/last class. He didn't know what was missed versus what was planned for the last class so he did everything but one writing assignment.

He wanted the badge done and over with so he worked independently after I reminded him the deadline was looming. He went to the last meeting and was directed to do a written piece as one of the last things to do.

The assignment was to research and write about a specific career in meteorology. In all honesty it was a career I'd never even heard of and it was not easy to find the information which had to include details about the education for that job.

It took my son about two hours to research all over the Internet and find the answers then to write it out. The merit badge counselor is a grade 11 and 12 science teacher in a public high school. I don't know what her take on homeschooling is but I know that town is currently going after one family who pulled their kids out of public school in order to begin homeschooling. The school staff in the different schools in that town has a history of going after the families who withdraw their children to begin homeschooling.

I told my son he'd better do a good job on the writing since she's a teacher there and that presently the school is going after a homeschool family. I said what she sees of his work will give her an impression and an opinion of homeschooling and it had better be a good one. He didn't like hearing of what seems like us to be an abuse of power and he didn't like the idea of people having a negative impression of homeschoolers.

He declared he was finished writing, without any writing help from me. To be honest I had low expectations.
I checked his writing and there were no spelling or grammar mistakes. I almost gasped. He had also followed her directions to use one of two fonts of her choosing plus to make the font 12 point and to do one page.

I was impressed with his ability to write. The content was NOT plagarized, I verified that. I was surprised at the writing so looked at the readability score and it rated at grade 11.7 with the Flesch Kinkaid rating that Microsoft Word uses. I couldn't believe it. The kid wrote three years above grade level!

I guess there is hope for my reluctant writer, dyslexia-symptom, dysgraphia symptom kid after all.

The other night at the Scout Troop meeting the counselor came with the papers. Due to a mix-up in communication we found out my son has one more thing to do that he missed out on doing when he was not at the meeting back when he was sick.

The teacher/counselor told our Scoutmasters that she was impressed with my son's initiative to have come to the last meeting with a lot of work already finished rather than showing up empty handed. She also wrote "Well done!" on his paper (just like a teacher does). (Being homeschooled he is not used to that kind of feedback.). Lastly she told the leaders that she was impressed with his writing and instead of giving a 5 minute talk to the Troop about safety in certain storm emergencies, which he missed at that meeting, she would take a written piece from him on that topic instead.




You have no idea how happy and hopeful this makes me!

This underscores also that we are doing the right thing to have increased our son's academics in this grade eight year. He is taking this seriously, that he has to step up his output and get set for high school level studies and to do the things necessary for SAT testing and other tests, and for the type of work he'll be doing in college.

Some of the changes are being more strict on doing math work on a regular basis, doing more writing composition, and increasing the daily reading load . He also has to discuss and analyze and sometimes write about the content that was read.

It's great to feel hopeful instead of being in that rut of feeling worried about how to homeschool high school and how to best prepare for college admissions.

Postscript: He is not doing his homeschool lessons all on his own under his own initiative. I do have to tell him to read that history book and be prepared to write something about a topic he's learned, or to say this is the year we're focusing on American History. While he wants the Boy Scout merit badges he does the assignments from the counselor or from the book some of which requires reading and writing, and answering questions that is similar to reading comprehension type work. He hasn't completely taken the reigns. He does have a college major in mind and is relying on me to tell him what the colleges require for college prep work and standardized testing.

6 comments:

Ina's 5 and our Native Homeschool Blog said...

I really needed to read this post. I have taken a less conventional approach with writing as well and just keep telling myself to trust my instincts on this.

Marianne said...

Christine, I was so happy to read your blog post today. I have the same philosophy about writing skills and was waiting until my son was older before working on this, as opposed to the horrific battles back and truly lame results when he was in "regular school". He is 14 now so I'm starting to give him small writing assignments. Despite the normal grumblings and protestations, his work has been way beyond my initial expectations. I had not heard of the Flesch Kinkaid rating system before, so thanks for the tip - I'll look into that. Isn't it nice to feel like you're doing something right after all?! :) Have a great day!

ChristineMM said...

from FairyLover with spam link deleted by me:



I'm glad your son did such a great job on his paper. Yes, you are doing the right thing for him. It's sad when some school districts try to go way beyond their legal rights to force kids back into school. I hope the families you mentioned are strong enough to prevail. Kathi Sewing, Knitting, Candle Making, Homeschooling Mama

ChristineMM said...

Hi Marianne, In Word if you go to the options, I think it's called readability, you check a box off that turns on the flesch kinkaid system. When you do spell and grammar check it also tells the reading level.

BTW I am sure my son did use the spell check before I saw it but that's okay.

With that said I have been rushing to write blog posts online and have been skipping spell check so I may have some recent spelling errors from typing 110 words a minute.

Linda said...

I just wanted to say that I truely enjoyed reading this blog. I have doubts about my child's ability to write, but I also think that it is a little early to worry about it. She is in 5th/6th grade. She does have dysgraphia symptoms. Recently she has started "writing a book" by means of the word processor. Imagine my surprise when the first couple of paragraphs were fairly well written and spelled correctly, grammer looked pretty good too! I think it is probably a really reasonable thing to wait until they are ready for writing before teaching it. By waiting until she wanted to write, we have not had nearly the problems we were experiencing earlier, when I was forcing writing on her.
Thanks for confirming my thoughts on this.

Linda
Homeschooling 1 child for 4 years with Time4Learning!

ChristineMM said...

This is from Linda. I cut out the spam link.

I do not publish ads on my blog that I'm not getting paid for! I think the policies of that company are unethical!

"I just wanted to say that I truely enjoyed reading this blog. I have doubts about my child's ability to write, but I also think that it is a little early to worry about it. She is in 5th/6th grade. She does have dysgraphia symptoms. Recently she has started "writing a book" by means of the word processor. Imagine my surprise when the first couple of paragraphs were fairly well written and spelled correctly, grammer looked pretty good too! I think it is probably a really reasonable thing to wait until they are ready for writing before teaching it. By waiting until she wanted to write, we have not had nearly the problems we were experiencing earlier, when I was forcing writing on her. Thanks for confirming my thoughts on this. Linda Homeschooling 1 child for 4 years with (spam link)."