Thursday, June 19, 2014

Writing: Can we make it less painful?!

It's nearing the end of June and I'm just now getting settled into a cozy/crazy summer but the realist in me knows that school planning is just around the corner. Today, Nikolas Baron from Grammarly is guest posting with some suggestions and tips to lend a hand as we encourage young writers to achieve new heights.

Written work can be a problem for many students, including homeschoolers. You’ve gone to great lengths to create a fun, life-learning, homeschool environment, right? Forcing your child to sit down and churn out essays can then feel like a step backwards—particularly if they have existing negative experiences concerning their abilities to write the typical school “show what you know” assignments.

Pick ‘n’ mix methods

The Internet is a fantastic source of writing tools for homeschoolers. Gone are the days when the only options were laboriously copying sentences and answering complicated grammar questions without any real understanding of what they meant. Gone are the days when the only options were the laborious copying of sentences and complicated grammar questions without any real understanding of what they meant. There’s a huge drive to make writing a natural part of every child’s education in a way that makes sense for each individual. If one method doesn’t work, just try another!

Spark creativity and imagination

Consider the approach used by writing prompt sites. Kids are encouraged to be creative, writing their own stories with the help of artwork that’s designed to stimulate the imagination and prompt ideas. It not only engages them but also simplifies the process by providing them with a “puzzle-solving” approach to writing. The stories are already there, and kids enjoy the satisfaction of “finding” them. The ease with which they can create something they’re proud of is often the incentive they need to keep writing. 
As a bonus, many of these sites have “share” features which allow the writer to embed their stories on blogs, e-mail them to relatives, or receive feedback in a safe, monitored forum. All are surefire ways to build confidence and encourage more writing! There’s a plethora of sites like this, and a bit of Googling is sure to hook you up with at least one or two that suit your own young writer (or anti-writer!). 

To criticize, or not to criticize?

Major obstacles to overcome are criticism and correction. Is it better to let the child write freely with minimal correction, and thus build confidence and avoid discouragement, or to have a strict “red pen” approach right from the start to make sure they don’t develop bad habits that will be difficult to undo? It depends on the child to a large extent, but it’s safe to say that you need a bit of both. Rare is the student who is encouraged by pages filled with critique and error. Motivation and confidence are paramount when it comes to something as subjective as writing. 
A good tip is to let the child take responsibility for correcting their own work. There are plenty of spell-check and grammar check programs available online - with varying degrees of success. It’s important for kids to know not just that their sentence is grammatically incorrect but why it’s incorrect. Find an online grammar check tool that you can use alongside your own teaching. Sites like Grammarly offer proofreading and correction with useful explanations, hints, and suggestions. This approach can be invaluable when it comes to striking the careful balance between encouragement and accuracy, as it gives the writer a chance to identify and understand their errors in their work before presenting it for evaluation. It is like having a personal, online writing tutor and is infinitely more useful than standard spell-check software.

Go with what works

Some kids love creating stories from prompts. Some prefer using graphic organizer tools (check out Writing Fun as a well-developed example) to help them gather their ideas and put them into writing. Some young writers need interactive and practical instruction to help them with the technicalities of grammar and structure. Whatever your child’s struggle with writing may be, there’s help to be found! Find the method that works for you, and roll with it! Make it relevant, make it personal, and make it fun. 
By Nikolas Baron  

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

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