Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How Many Words Do We Have to Write?

Why is writing so difficult for many children?  The schools test writing, the SAT has a writing section, and schools have children write, write, write;  yet we still hear the complaint that children and young adults are poor writers. On a national writing test only "27% of eighth-graders and the same rate of 12th graders scored proficient or advanced, meaning they developed explanations with well-chosen details to enhance meaning, present a clear progression of ideas, chose precise words and crafted well-controlled sentences."

Children too often are told to write but not taught to write. They are encouraged to fill journals, write book reports and follow a template to pass the writing test, but they are not taught how our written language differs from our spoken language. Steven Graham, a professor of education instruction at Arizona State University explained the "popular thinking is that writing should be caught, not taught." This idea gave birth to journals, and an emphasis on creative writing for the school age child with little instruction on grammar, sentence structure, and formal composition.

Our written language is different than our spoken language. Written language expected in academics and business has capitals, punctuation, sentences, and paragraphs. Unless one is writing dialog, written language is not just writing words down the way you speak.  I remember a child who wrote the following sentence: A bear is like you know a mammal.  Many children are expected to do a rough draft, edit and do a final paper without understanding how to get the thought into written form.

What are some of the activities that can help a child learn how to write?
  • Familiarize them with written language.
    • Read, read, read to your child. Even when your child is reading, read books that are at a higher lever then his reading level. 
  • Have a young child (ages  6 - 8) copy sentences from good children's literature. Start with a short sentence. Throughout the year move up to longer, more complex sentences. Remind him to use all the capitals and punctuation in the sentence. Many children need practice copying before they can fluidly put their own thoughts on paper.
  • Read excerpts from children's books and ask questions about what was read. Repeat the answers in complete sentences. For example:
                 Adult: Who gave Snow White the poison apple? 
                 Child: the witch 
                Adult: Yes! Say, The witch gave Snow White the poison apple. 
                Child: The witch gave Snow White the poison apple.
  • Teach children how words such as although, unless, if, and because are used in sentences. Direct teaching of how these words are used will also improve reading comprehension.
  • Popular thought is that children with LDs should not be graded on spelling, grammar and punctuation. It is important that writing skills are re-enforced across subjects. A child should receive credit for a correct answer in history or science, but she should also be expected to use writing skills across the board. Answering a question with a complete sentence is not above the ability of an elementary child, especially a child who has been specifically taught writing skills.
What about creativity?  What about excitement in writing unfettered by rules?  Yes, there are children who delight in writing long, convoluted stories and sharing them with the class. There are children who pick up grammar, spelling and punctuation seemingly by osmosis.  But most children would be better off following Picasso's quote, "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."

Note: One example of a program that includes copy work,  excerpts from children's literature with questions and  dictation is Writing with Ease.

1 comment:

  1. Help students expand their vocabulary when they are writing. Tell them to concentrate not on the number of words, but the quality of their word choice.