View Full Version : Writing - tell me this is ok?

03-24-2011, 04:12 PM
Ok, I decided to use a writing contest as part of our curriculum this month with Orion. We have been doing very few assignments with MCT, as we are just moving really slowly. He'd been improving, but needing a LOT of work.

I'm struggling really hard to get this essay done without me writing it.

First i had him write an outline, but i didnt look at it. Then he wrote the essay, but it wasnt even half of the required length. When I looked, it had neither and intro nor a conclusion and it didnt cover the topic specified in the contest. I, um, kinda lost it. I raised my voice in frustration. I asked him why he would write an essay without an intro and a conclusion? I made him read the requirement out loud and asked him (in maybe not my most patient voice) if his essay was about that topic? He was not very happy. I walked away and calmed down.

So the next day I had him write a new outline, and I read it. And it still didnt answer the question. I found myself telling him what the outline's major points SHOULD be in order to answer the question, so I decided I was going overboard and we stopped for that week.

Earlier this week, I had him read the assignment AGAIN - i swear I made him put it at the top of the outline, but he swears its not there. I think he'd just made too many copies of the outline and couldnt find them all. I looked at his most recent outline, and it was . . . totally disorganized. Subtopics not related ot the topic above them. Main topics in no order. Nothing to really support the subject of the essay AGAIN. And AGAIN i got frustrated and had to walk away.

anyways, I tried getting him to write down ideas he might want to cover on 3x5 cards. I sent him some links ot FAQ's about homeschooling, so he could learn about what homeschool moms actually ask about. And of course, he ended up copying those questions right on to the cards. I'm keeping a lid on my frustration, tho. I pick up each card and ask him, does this help you write an essay about what makes your homeschool experience specail? Is this something you think belongs in this essay? We eliminated many of the questions that way.

So he organized it in to piles . . . and translated those piles in to an outline . . . and i breathed a lot. We reviewed the assignment AGAIN and i tried to get him to write a thesis statement. We discussed and discussed, and I think it took 4 times until he came up w something I thought was even vaguely workable . . ie, included both something about the assignment and something about what made his experience unique.

I looked at the outline again, and had to breath deeply. The first major item was 'about me' . . . and he mentioned 3 hobbies at the specifics. I tried to keep my voice calm, but asked him if these were the things that people needed to know about him before he could explain his homeschool experience. He admitted it wasnt. And when he rewrote that section . . . and after i'd asked him to review it to see if it was in logical order . . . . it still wasnt. I asked him why item 1 was before item 2, and of course, he couldnt answer because it was just really obvious item 2 should come first. I'm breathing deeply.

Basically, I looked at his structure, decided it was ok if we change the first two sections titles. His first section 'what i like' was renamed something more like 'about me'. I finally asked him, what would you want to know FIRST about someone, if he was going to tell you about himself? That helped. I pointed out his specail needs might need thier own paragraph, and he was ok w that.

His second section was called 'personal', but i pointed out that it was really his homeschool experience, and should include something about his daily schedule. He agreed. (it already had things like how he makes freinds and if he gets graded)

His third section was 'advantages' - and my only comment there was that it should focus a bit more on what I was doing for him, but basically it was fine.

Now . . . first question . . . have I done too much? I feel like I'm getting dangerously close to writing this for him. I have to believe that, if I keep incrementally showing him how to find his way towards structure, he'll learn something. But sometimes I'm not sure, sometimes I feel like he's just not ready or I'm just not giving him the right tools.

He's working on writing now. I told him not to start with the word 'Hi' in his first body paragraph. Oy.

Ok, the good news is, with this structure, and with me encouraging him to not just write 'i'm a kid who likes games', but to go in to great detail about anything which might help someone understand him and esp aspects of his personality that affect his homeschool experience - he seems to be getting more written.

Tell me this is ok? or tell me what I should be doing instead? Keep in mind we HAVE been working through the MCT program, and I was able to remind him about topic sentences and their purpose (from the MCT book), and about theses (from the MCT book) and that paragraphs should be in some sort of logical order (from the MCT book).

help me keep my cool!!!

03-24-2011, 04:32 PM
That all sounded... extremely stressful. Over a long period of time... for BOTH of you. It seems clear that he doesnt know "how" to write a proper essay. Maybe he has done it before, and maybe you have taught him how a few times too. Writing such essays may just be his most difficult thing. Every kid has one yes?

This is only my IDEA and you can of course take it or leave it, but perhaps putting this particular essay away and then starting new ones. Ones you create the topic for out of thin air.. and then doing the entire process with him step by frustrating step... hover all the way... By the third or fourth one.. he will have a much stronger grasp. THEN let him go at it with the one you want. I mean at this point..the writing contest is no longer the point. Going through 3-4 essays every single step of the way is going to be much harder for you I think than my mind imagines because the two of us have very different teaching styles. So really, I dont know if this will even help. Its the only thing I can think of though. I know DD struggles with maths and thats what I have to do with her on a few things. Repeat repeat repeat WITH mom teaching heavily.. then wean her off slowly until she is doing it at least semi confidently on her own.

Example: Graphing parabolas .. I do about 20 problems in a row... explaining what I am doing each step of the way.. towards the end I start asking her .. "ok what IS my next step?" I keep doing this until she can tell me all the steps as _I_ do the problem. Then we trade places and she is the one writing the problem while I tell her the steps.. by this point she knows most of the steps but her confidence is building . We do this for a few DAYS... the same process.. over and over. When she has good speed and frankly starts telling me I KNOW I KNOW ALREADY and gets "stompy" about it... then.. its over.
The beginning though.. Lots of deep breaths because _I_ thought this was something she already knew etc.

This process can be modified essay wise as well. Writing an essay is about a lot of small steps to get to the final product. anyway... ok I will shut up SORRY!

03-24-2011, 04:46 PM
No, its ok Brenda. I know he did do one full essay along this style. It was when we learned about a thesis as a statement to prove with supporting ideas. His first essay was expository instead. I had to review with him the purpose, that he needed to make a statement and support it with evidence. He changed the topic to a compare/contrast using the same subject. Again, each paragraph I had to point out where he wasnt actually comparing but just explaining, I had to point out places where he wasnt supporting his thesis or getting off topic. But after working on it for 2 weeks, I thought it was really good.

So this happenned to come up, and it has a prize . . . an electronics prize. I thought it was uniquely suited to him - what does your mom do to make your homeschool experience good - something like that. Since i'm doing this because of his specail needs, I thought he would really have something to say about this. Plus, with a deadline, its extra motivation for us both.

He seems willing to keep working through this, and I want to also. I guess I mostly want to knowif I'm doing too much - but really, I doubt he'll win anyways. He's not that good a writer (obviously lol). I will try to keep making him write essays at least every other week. I started with that intent last year, but was horrified by his lack of skills. More and more, I think its mostly lack of organizational skills . . which affects him in every single aspect of his life.

But thanks for at least backing me up on the idea that its ok to be his training wheels for as long as it takes!

03-24-2011, 07:41 PM
Now . . . first question . . . have I done too much? I feel like I'm getting dangerously close to writing this for him. I have to believe that, if I keep incrementally showing him how to find his way towards structure, he'll learn something. But sometimes I'm not sure, sometimes I feel like he's just not ready or I'm just not giving him the right tools.

No. I don't think so. For my middle schoolers who used to really, really struggle - my worst case kids - I used to literally sit there and make the outline with them and write it myself and compose it entirely in question form and tell them that a 1-2 sentence answer to each question that clearly showed what the question was would build the paragraph. The first time I did it, I was kicking myself after because I thought, good grief, I can't believe I just basically did that kid's work for him. But he wrote the paper. And it was... well, it was very basic and not great writing, but it was coherent and organized and made sense. And he *SMILED* when he gave it to me. And then, next go around, when I went to make another kid do this who was groaning about outlines, the first kid actually intervened and told him, "No, she makes it really easy. You can do it!" Well, I was sold after that. And a most of the kids that I did this with over the course of two years went on to make their OWN outlines eventually and they kept writing - not amazing - but coherent, readable papers. So that sort of sold me on the idea that it's worth it to overstructure the assignment for them. Obviously, it's desirable for kids to write their own papers and outlines by that age, but every kid has their own challenges.

But I know it's tiring. And trying. Oy. I'm taking a deep breath on your behalf.

03-24-2011, 08:10 PM
Thank you Farrar!!!

03-24-2011, 08:48 PM
I like BrendaE's solution of little steps building into a final essay. Not everyone writes with an outline. What about just listing ideas using a dash or a bullet? What if your son came up with three ideas that made his homeschooling experience special? Developing just three ideas may help him focus especially if he moved from a general statement to specific examples. Those three idea would become the main points of each paragraph in the body of the essay.

An essay of this type requires a degree of reflection and brainstorming before figuring out what one wants to say. Playing secretary during a brainstorming session may help your son keep track of and clarify his thoughts while you brainstorm together. It maybe in your discussion that your son has an "ah-ha!" moment and you want to capture that before it gets away.

I am all for training wheels. Keep it positive and remind him that his writing is a work in progress. It might take some researching, but I've seen manuscripts from notable writers with huge blots of ink or large sections of type scribbled over and rewritten. Showing these to your son may help him realize that no one writes a perfect first draft or even a perfect tenth draft. The perfection of prose and style is the reason why God invented editors.