Frankly, we know, the more we teach kids to obsess on correctness in grammar and writing…the worse they write and the less motivated they are (oh no…did I end with a verb thingy?).
If you want to grow a fine writer, then help them find their voice. Here’s a starter kit of the point!
Off to learn,
Fred Ray Lybrand
HERE'S A QUESTION ON ESSAY WRITING I RECEIVED RECENTLY:
Hi, Firstly, thank you for answering all of my questions. After a careful look I was able to find all the downloads and have listened to the first 3 lessons. The Essay Course is quite different from your Writing Course.
How would you advise a homeschool mum who has very limited experience with essay writing? I have a reluctant 15 year old daughter who understands the importance of learning how to write clearly but has a fear when it comes to writing essays.Does this program give a step by step guide on how to write a great essay and give essay tasks or do I need to come up with writing tasks? I read that you suggest that my daughter re-write her essay until it is great, do you have some information for me on how I can help guide her or mark the essay? I'm not sure I could even tell her what a good essay or what isn't.
HERE'S MY RESPONSE:
Yes, I do think the Essay Course will give her plenty of direction to become good at essays. I'm assuming she can already write pretty well...if not, she needs to go through The Writing Course and practice some more. There isn't much of a point of working on something formal like essays if the student can't yet manage 'made up' sentences and paragraphs (The Writing Course)
Given what you've told me, I think I might first begin with getting her to do a number of book reports until she gets good at them (at least 5). Of course, I mean book reports done the way we recommend:
From there she will be getting more comfortable sharing her view about something in writing.
Next, move to writing 5 different essays, with one re-write on each.
Finally, make one essay the object of writing and re-writing until it is great and she knows what is needed.
This isn't a 'single day' process for any of the things I mention above (unless she just wants to spend a whole day on something). You are growing a skill which takes a little time.
In evaluating an essay, think about these things and give feedback accordingly.
1. Do I know the author's opinion now that I've read the essay?
2. Is the language and grammar fine or is it distracting?
3. Do I understand the aim of the essay from the beginning?
4. Is the essay organized and easy to follow (using major points)?
5. Does the essay make sense?
6. Is there a good review/summary at the end of the essay?
REMEMBER: Always ask,
"Would this sound a little better with ____________________________?"
when you are making a suggestion or giving feedback (as we teach in our Writing Course).
Well, that should be a good start!
Hope that helps,
Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand Jr.
As you may well know, I have been an almost-lone-voice in how rediculously useless teaching grammar (to grow writers) is as homeschoolers. Honestly, it's the same with mass education as well. Happily, or sadly, the Brits are figuring this out as well 🙂
In an article in THE ECONOMIST entitled Rue the Rules, the author (Johnson) is strikingly honest about the problem with grammar instruction at earlier ages:
Frankly, grammar is only effective for analysis of a text (as in Bible or Literature scholarship). It is all-but-never helpful for encouraging writing. Rudolph Flesch took (the author of Why Johnny Can't Read) us to task about this years ago.
Youngs students need to read and write and read and write. This very approach improves motivation and connects the student to the instinct everyone has for language.
If you are a parent and think doing grammar correctly is the key, please re-think this view. Language is an evolving thing & no Grammarian ever won a Nobel Prize for Literature. We need inventiveness and freshness in writing.
Please help bring about a fresh generation of writers. Please stop with the obsession on grammar. If grammar was the key and given to absolutes, then we'd all still sound like Shakespeare (or Chaucer) wouldn't we?
Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
P.S. We have a writing curriculum that is built on this very idea of instinct over grammar. Check it out: www.advanced-writing-resources.com
When I taught the high school fine arts class at Midland Classical Academy, I used a little phrase— “Everything’s hard before it’s easy, but it’s easy once you know how.” I don’t know if it was Sesame Street or Mister Rogers, but somebody started the silly notion that education should really be fun or children won’t learn. What a terrible thing for a child to believe…and, I might add…have to ‘shake off’ in order to get a PhD!
The fact is that learning involves NEW, and new involves UNCOMFORTABLE. However, just like our emotions, the discomfort doesn’t last. One of the great lessons in education is to looking at the task, admitting you don’t feel like doing it, and then saying, “So what?’—then getting started because learning is a little more important than your momentary feelings!
This makes the difference in college. Recognizing that learning involves frustration because we are trying to reach a goal of knowing something we didn’t know before, everything becomes less frustrating. It may seem to be a paradox, but knowing that learning isn’t ‘a snap’ gives you (and your students) a realistic assessment of what they are facing. Surely you don’t go on a long trip with the kids thinking your just going over to Wal-mart…do you?
So, if you are teaching your children at home (and everyone is!…not just homeschoolers), then realize that you are giving them a real gift in learning some discipline. If they can grasp the lesson and go from ‘not enjoy’ to ‘enjoy’ learning through discipline…nothing will be out there to stop them!
In the last letter we looked at the fact that FRUSTRATION is a big part of learning, but becoming a good learner isn’t just about overcoming frustration. There is a second thing that explains what makes a good learner.
What is the One Word that Explains Why Some People Are Learners and Some People Are Not?
It’s definitely not the word intellect!
There are bright people who don’t learn and average people who go on from learning to learning. If you’ll just pay attention to yourself you can figure this one out! When have you learned your best? What was the subject? Why were you so interested? Do you think this is any different for children or adults?
My guess is that you are thinking you were ‘interested’ or ‘entertained’, but neither of those explain it. Let me give you a personal example. I used to hate music…and I hated musicals even more! The Sound of Music honestly used to wig me out…but today I love musicals (I’ll tell you why in a moment). Now, I’m not trying to tell you a secret for liking things you hate, but rather to learning things that don’t interest you. More importantly, this can a big difference with helping your children learn.
What is the secret? Well, in the last post we discussed the fact that FRUSTRATION is a key. Of course, it’s true–unless a student learns to tolerate frustration, there isn’t much of a chance to learn. Instead, they’ll just blame the teacher, the system, or ‘the man’ (whoever that is in each context). While learning to tolerate frustration in order to learn is important, it isn’t the reason some of us learn things and others don’t.
Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to change how you feel about a subject so you could immediately and joyfully begin to study it? Well, it isn’t only possible, it is likely, if you’ll make use of this one word:
Learning always involves curiosity (the exception might be when fear is forcing someone to learn something he otherwise isn’t interested in).
Curiosity draws us along as learners. It adds intrigue and mystery and hope to the effort. If you are curious, then you have the energy to satisfy that curiosity. You want to know (learn) because that is where satisfaction is…not knowing (learning) is dissatisfaction and angst (the good kind).
With music (and musicals) and me , one day I asked a new question, “Why do so many people like musicals, The Sound of Music in particular?” So, armed with that question I found the answer… a part of which, is that you must realize the movie’s ‘universe or world’ isn’t the same as our own. The rules are different there so people can break out into song to communicate (yes, I was missing this point). There are other reasons, but I’ll leave that to your own curiosity.
Make it Useful
OK, so Dr. Lybrand, what do we do with this info? Well, if you are a teacher of any kind (and especially if you homeschool), then why not invite more curiosity in your students? I did not say ‘make it more interesting’ here. How could you make curiosity happen? The easiest way is by asking questions. Specifically, something like, “Who…what…when…where…why…how.” Or, “What would you like to know about this?” Who would learning this subject help? How does this work? Why is studying this subject valuable? Where will you use this if your really learn it?” It’s even better to think of your own ways!
Well, you get the idea. Here’s where to start— Start with being curious about helping others get curious about their own learning. If you get curious about learning and teaching…you’ll figure it out.
How do I know? Well, you’re curious aren’t you?
Detroit Public Schools (DPS) president, Otis Mathis, admits he can’t write a coherent sentence. He further argues that he is a role model as a leader who can’t write. He’s a math whiz (high school) and can speak cogently…but when it comes to writing, it no worky (see: Otis Mathis Can’t Write)
Now, you may hear a skeptic’s voice in all of this, but my hope is to bolster you as an educator or as a learner. Otis Mathis says he is a role model because he shows that even if you can’t write, you can become a success (a president of a school system, no less).
Clearly there is something wrong with this picture, but what? It is easy enough to say that it would be an even better model if he could learn to write (overcoming the obstacle), however, something is more essential here concerning the future for our children.
Here is the question that needs careful reflection:
Do we pursue our talents or do we bend the world to our flaws?
The move is afoot to bend the world to our flaws. In fact, if you read the articles on Otis Mathis, you’ll find that there are related lawsuits to drop certain competencies for admission in to various academic programs. It isn’t that academia is nuts, but rather that there is a values shift in play. The underlying issue is COMPETENCE v. FAIRNESS. Another version of this dilemma asks if you are SPECIAL or is EVERYONE THE SAME.
The current uproar about healthcare has this issue at the core as well. On some level there is the notion that things should be equal for everyone…and on another level, we all know that only one person can win American Idol.
I remember when our daughter played soccer as a little girl there was no score-keeping by the referees, coaches, or parents (it was seen as wrong and too competitive); except, the girls on the team all kept score!
Here’s the secret: Nature wins out over Culture. The culture says let’s make it fair for everyone. Nature says we are better than others at something. Culture says bring competitiveness down. Nature says you’ll survive with your strengths. Culture says you are a victim who needs help. Nature says your skill will help true victims.
My personal conviction is that Otis Mathis can learn to write (& if he’ll come stay with me for a week I can show him exactly how to connect his speaking to his writing). I have a strength here and I’d love to serve him with it. It was indeed the reason I organized the insights I’ve discovered into The Writing Course.
If you are still helping your children to get educated, please make sure two simple things are in play:
1. They are getting a solid and broad foundation. This hooks their brain together…yes, reading AND writing AND arithmetic.
2. Encourage them to stretch to their strengths. When they pursue their talents they make a contribution…which means they are almost infinitely more employable.
If you are still helping others to get educated at any age…what’s the difference?
You think it takes more, but it really doesn’t. Keep at it…everything is better learned by practice; and, everything that is learned becomes useful. The best examples are those who play to their strengths and serve others with them. Don’t buy the whim of culture…just learn it, or admit it isn’t a strength— no matter what ‘it’ is. Steer clear of trying to bend the world to think you don’t have to be educated to be an educator…it will always smell funny.
Dr. Fred Lybrand
In a recent conversation about grammar and writing, I made the following point. Hope it is helpful.
In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms that the teaching of formal [traditional] grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in actual composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing. (pp. 37-38)
Think about editing for a moment.
All it involves is going back through something written and looking for two things:
1. Any mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.
2. Any ways to say a sentence or phrase better (as needed or desired). Both of these are much easier to do if the child reads his/her own paper out loud.
Reading it out loud is exactly what works because writing has always been about getting someone else to read your work the WAY you want it read. This best comes about through SOUND! When we read our own writing the way it is written, we can see things to change with much greater ease…it is often obvious. It isn’t a perfect approach, but it helps a great deal…especially as this ‘feedback loop’ aides in hooking up your child’s brain (visual and auditory).
Try this: Before you grade / correct the next writing assignment (even copy work), have them go off by themselves and read the paper out load, making any ‘tweaks’ they want to. I bet you’ll see the mistakes drop and the quality go up! I sometimes find so many mistakes (for that child) that I ask, “Did you read this out loud?” Often they admit they didn’t…so I send them off to really edit. Other times, I just send them off to edit again if it is loaded with mistakes. I don’t want to take their own opportunity to learn to edit away…and I don’t want to waste my time doing their responsibility.
P.S. Yes, I read this out loud!
I want to encourage everyone to avoid underestimating the value of feedback in learning anything (especially writing). It is so important that you can simply rest on the fact that without feedback there is no learning. Imagine a golfer NEVER KNOWING where his shot lands, or never hearing a putt go in the hole. Learning the sport becomes impossible. Public speakers almost always improve if they have folks critiquing them (or can watch themselves on video). A singer cannot possibly stay on key (or improve) if she NEVER HEARS her voice or the other instruments. These are all FEEDBACK mechanisms.
Now, since writing is about the scariest thing anyone can do (it is permanent…written…can be passed along), we rarely seek feedback without some significant growing up! Since we are educating our kids, we can just baste (cooking definition) them with it anyway! But, you must do it right (or, at least, right enough).
We have video training for giving feedback in the unique way we’ve designed (for grammar, punctuation, spelling, creativity, etc.), but let me tell you the essentials:
1. Use a RED PEN to mark things your student should improve (correct)
2. Use a GREEN PEN to mark things your student should do more of (encouragement)
3. When making suggestions use these exact words, “Does this sound better?”
4. Don’t overwhelm — Instead, please focus on one or two things at a time until mastered (example: Just work on capitalizing the first word in a sentence if that’s an issue).
P.S. Here’s where to learn more about us: www.advanced-writing-resources.com