- Essays have a clear structure. The professor frequently drew a diagram of this structure on the chalkboard (yes, it was a long time ago!) throughout the semester, which helped solidify the concept in my mind.
- I am a good writer. The professor made one or two suggestions per essay on how I could improve it, moving me forward step by step and building my confidence in writing.
As a result of this class, I resolved to ensure that my children had this tool of a structured essay in their writing toolbox by high school and the encouragement to be confident in their writing skills (and, by the way, I also resolved that they would have enough academic and career direction so they wouldn’t need to pursue a second Bachelor’s degree).
High school students usually need a wider audience for their prose than just their parents in order to encourage their writing style, technique, and understanding to grow and mature. This audience can be found in the writing classes of organizations that offer classes for homeschool high school students (e.g., South Heights Christian Classes and CHAT) and through writing contests. However, homeschool parents might still need to guide their students and even grade some of their students’ work during the high school years.
For these instances where you need to get involved in your student’s writing process, a few foundational concepts for teaching, guiding, and grading writing are helpful:
- Spelling list skills don’t directly transfer to good spelling in the writing of sentences and paragraphs.
- Take-away: Keep the grading of spelling in a separate category from the grading of writing skills.
- Suggestion: In the margin of your student’s paper, write sp-2 if he has two spelling errors on that line. Then he can find and correct the errors without being distracted from his focus on the structure and flow of his writing.
- Punctuation skills don’t directly transfer to good punctuation in the writing of sentences and paragraphs.
- Take-away: Keep the grading of grammar and punctuation in a separate category from the grading of writing skills.
- Suggestion: In the margin of his paper, write p-3 if he has three punctuation errors on that line. Then he can find and correct them without being distracted from his focus on the structure and flow of his writing.
- If you have to solve a problem, draw a picture.
- Take-away: Draw shapes to show how the ideas of the paragraph or essay are supposed to flow. Most students find this an empowering tool for writing.
- Suggestion: Use this structure for reminding your student the purpose of the introductory paragraph, where the thesis statement goes, how to support the thesis with three body paragraphs, the position of the topic sentences, and how to review the thesis statement and main points in the conclusion.
- Word choices mature with time and experience.
- Take-away: A student will gain confidence in his writing abilities as he is allowed to write with his own word choices.
- Suggestion: Ask your student to read his prose aloud; he will hear problems and be able to make an improvement…or maybe even two! We’re looking for progress, not perfection.
Therefore, as you are helping your student find mechanical errors in his paragraphs, resist the temptation to change his word choices. Remember his age; remember how many more years of writing experience you have than he does; remember how many years of writing lessons and opportunities he has ahead of him; and remember that learning is a step-by-step process. He will get there someday--or go beyond there, in many cases.