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Kathy Ceceri

I Stink at Teaching Writing

By February 6, 2013

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Girl writing

Did I say that out loud? In any case, it's true. Despite the fact that I have written professionally throughout my adult life, I am probably a terrible writing teacher.

For me, the process of writing is so automatic that I have a tough time trying to explain it to my kids. We tried workbooks and writing systems galore, but none of them inspired my kids or made a difference in their writing.

In the end, the best method seemed to have been benign neglect. I stopped paying attention to their writing (except for one or two major assignments a year, or things they were writing for publication) and just let them write whatever they wanted for themselves. That (and some local creative writing classes with other homeschoolers on the side) seems to have worked -- both kids are now getting A's in their college writing courses.

My article about Teaching Writing includes some ideas for encouraging your kids to write without stifling them. And as it happens, unschooling pioneer John Holt felt the same way. This week Richard Norquist, About.com's Guide to Grammar, wrote about Holt's the concept of "private papers" -- which says that practice alone is as helpful as feedback from a teacher or parent.

What do you think? Is writing something that needs to be taught, or just encouraged?

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr user Alexandratx


February 12, 2013 at 2:25 pm
(1) Suzanne says:

My kids are grown now but I’m like you..I’ve written all my life and I just could not teach it. We tried every program, it seems, out there until I finally gave up. I let our Junior College teach them. Not surprisingly my son tested into Basic Writing when he was 18. He learned a lot from the JC instructors and now writes competently. My daughter tested into college entry level writing and has since become quite proficient at it. All’s well that ends well!

March 10, 2013 at 4:11 pm
(2) Forrester Lybrand says:

I say go ahead and teach it. I and my siblings (five of us total) were homeschooled, and our dad made sure writing was a significant part of our curriculum. He developed a writing course and used it to teach us (among other children), and it never felt stifling. It’s all in how you approach it. I loved reading and making up stories so it was easy for me to enjoy that aspect of school, but several of my other siblings couldn’t care less about writing, yet they still enjoyed it the way it was structured for us. We were allowed to write about what we chose to, and we were given lots of feedback, so it wasn’t overly complicated or oppressive. Still, it helped us learn a lot about communication and language, as a regularly scheduled practice, rather than something we were simply encouraged to do. Lots of practice, lots of feedback, and no stress. That’s just my opinion as a former kid and current writer.

Teach Kids to Write: http://www.advanced-writing-resources.com/

January 17, 2014 at 11:27 am
(3) John Maguire says:

I’m a professional writer who has learned how to teach students to write, and I am in complete agreement that most writers have developed their skills over time and do not remember what it was like not to know how to write.

There is a way to do it. As other commenters have said, lots of practice and lots of feedback can do wonders.

When I face incompetent writers in the college classroom, I teach them to be physically concrete and to use active verbs. Those two habits–concrete nouns and active verbs–are the key to clarity and they can be directly taught.

I have an essay on this topic that is getting a fair amount of attention from home schoolers. It’s:

An essay on this topic:

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