Thursday, November 29, 2012


Wrapping up our semester...Writing!

I like to teach writing in a workshop format.  I give the girls a reason to write.  Neither one of them likes prompts -- too many bad memories from standardized testing.  Lilah loves to write stories and has a vivid imagination, but Grace despises creative writing and prefers to write either historically accurate pieces of fiction or more technical pieces of non-fiction.  Regardless of their preferences, each girl must be a proficient writer and needs to develop her skills in order to continue experiencing growth and development in their craft.
I have come to realize that writing can be a bit tricky.  In school the kids are motivated (either positively or negatively) by grades.  You have an arbitrary deadline and if you meet it and produce a well written, grammatically correct piece of writing you receive a good grade.  If you miss the deadline, forget the grammatical requirements associated with the grade you are in, or don’t hit the key points on a standardized rubric, you receive a grade that is in accordance with the work you produced.
This does not work in our home.  We don’t grade and I can’t seem to make a deadline stick.  Our writing needs to be authentic and have a purpose.  Both my girls can write well, but both need to see a reason other than simply having a composition book filled with stories. 

Grace wrote a lovely little piece of fiction about a meteorologist, Mr. Wick, whose dog gives him warning signs that a tornado was fast approaching.  She needed to write a story line for her DI team (when she was a participating member on the team) and the words just flowed from her finger tips.  I also asked her to write a story that we could turn into a picture book as a Christmas gift for her 2 year old cousin.  This story is about a mischievous little monkey who loves to explore and gets into a bit of trouble along the way.   She has written letters to Billy the Exterminator, a meteorologist at a local news station, and casual letters to friends.  The letter to Billy received a reply which I still need to frame.  He is one very cool dude.   She has made several blog entries and is working on creating a new weather themed blog for which she is polishing up a great biographical "about me" page.
Lilah took a class this fall called Writeopia.  It is a workshop facilitated by a published author.  She met every Friday with one of her friends who is also a prolific writer.  Lilah has stories to tell.  Really wonderful stories.  I am not joking when I say that I can see her publishing her work someday.  Perhaps she will own a bakery and in between batches of fabulous vegan chocolate cupcakes, type away on her next novel.......  However, what Lilah lacks is good grammar.  It is laziness more than lack of knowledge.  Since she likes to write longhand, I can’t blame it on spell check or keyboarding skills.  The girl just is not fond of capital letters and proper use of commas and quotations!  When she sees my marks all over her papers, she gets very annoyed and this has prompted her to step up and do it right the first time.  
She is not finished with her story yet.....but it is now 13 typed pages of pure joy.  She wrote a piece about a girl (Lilah) with two dogs (Jake and Daphne).  Lilah (the fictional character) bakes cupcakes with a new ingredient which were eaten by the dogs and causes very special powers.  The dogs are not the only ones who have discovered this secret ingredient and now they must use their powers to stop a maniacal cat who is using her powers for evil!
I would like this story completed asap.  She would like to turn it into the next great novel.  While I understand this, and support it, the story must progress and at some point, come to a conclusion.  This is where those grades can come in handy.  What motivates her to finish?  Grades will not motivate her.  There is no real repercussion if the story is a day or a week or a month past the arbitrary deadline that I set.  I am not going to ground her for not finishing a story “on time”.  But in life there are deadlines.  Our friend is a newspaper editor.  He is a writer with deadlines!  If she would like to submit this story to the Writeopia Paranthetical it must be complete by December 14th.  If not, there is no chance for it to be published in the newsletter.  Natural deadline.  
I know she can work on a deadline.  Like Grace, I asked her to write a story to be turned into a picture book for her cousin.  In one sitting she wrote a lovely little tale about a dog in New York City who scavenges scraps on the street to eat and one day steals a little boy’s hot dog thus initiating a very special friendship...  She then took pieces of paper the size of the book she would like to make and made a prototype of the book laying out the words, the space for the pictures and where the text would go.  The book is 25 pages long.  She bought a sketchbook and has begun the final copy and illustrations.  Before it is given, I will have it copied and bound so that she has a copy of it always. 

 Why is it that some projects are easily completed and others lay in this wasteland of neverendingness?  I have been giving this much thought.  For my children it really comes down to the intent of the work.  If it has a purpose and an outcome, it will be completed and often will far exceed my expectation.  If they perceive it as a random assignment with no purpose other than to practice something, it is arduous and becomes the source of conflict.  
In school report cards are a really bid deal to students.  I used to love to get my report card, read my teacher’s comments and run home to show my parents.  I did well in school and never had report card anxiety which I know is very very real.  Some children even receive money for grades which amounts to a double reward.  Homeschooling is very much about life long learning and learning for the intrinsic joy, not for an external reward.  For some children this is hard, especially if they have been in the public school system where children are often rewarded for the amount of time they read, how well they walk in the hall, how good their behavior is and of course, how well they perform on tests.  My children seem to fall in the middle.  For some things they just love to learn and expect nothing in return.  They will read their science text when asked, will work on math for hours and when we were doing Story of the World, they just leaped from one thing to the next.  (we will be returning to Story of the World in January).  However, for Grace, reading is our biggest struggle and for Lilah it is not the physical act of writing, but the completion of a piece of writing that we struggle with.  For these two areas only, I am considering some type of reward system.  I don’t know what yet.  I remember my mom used for pay me $1 a book but I read so many she gave up the reward and I never minded since she bought me every book I wanted anyway!  I am thinking I could use a $.99 app as a reward......part of me thinks it could work and part of me cringes that I would even think to use a reward.  I am still pondering this one.
In the meantime, I am pleased with what they have worked on this fall.  I am also pondering beginning a writing group of my own where kids will gather to write in a workshop setting with a mini lesson on the craft of writing and an opportunity to share their work with their peers, similar to what she is doing in her Writeopia class but without the cost and the minus the hour + of driving! 


Anonymous said...

Love waking up to your blog! Thank you for the info on beyond the page. Writing has also been on my mind. Feel like it is a real miss at this house. Thanks for the insight!

Anonymous said...

Both of my girls love to write and we often have the dilemma of having a story go on and on forever. I have tried to teach them about character arcs and mapping and outlining, but I do understand how sometimes characters take on a life of their own and I don't want to impede on the creativity. Right now they are both writing plays for their friends to perform and videotape, but they are also working on an assignment from Writing Strands that has clearly defined parameters. But it is a struggle sometimes even with assignments that they want to put their own touches on...and that can really take a lot longer than I expected.

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