If your child is in elementary school you’ve hopefully noticed that the way that writing is taught differs vastly from when you were a kid. Not that I want to age you, – (or myself for that matter), – but I’ll bet that you had either worksheets or a workbook, or maybe both. If so, then it’s highly unlikely that you had many chances to express yourself through writing and develop ideas or a “voice” to accompany those ideas. It is my hope, that the one-size-fits all approach is a thing of the past for your children.
Why you ask? Let me provide you with the following analogy: when we admire a work of visual art, we are more apt to comment on its aesthetics, the message, its meaning and so forth. Yes, the medium and the techniques that were used, help to convey that message, but it’s not the techniques in and of themselves that determine its aesthetic value. Now try to transfer that over to writing. As writers, what’s important for children is for them to get an idea or message out.
Word work and conventions
Of course, in order to do that they also need to pick the right form to do it in and to have the skill necessary to carry forward that idea. So where do conventions come in? You know, the dreaded, – (by some), – spelling, grammar and punctuation “rules”? Well, your child is likely engaged in word work in class, which means exactly what it’s called, working with words in various ways at school. Children have to manipulate words and sentences, and expand vocabulary in activities that honour their abilities. There’s no need for a spelling test because researchers have long known that rote memorization doesn’t usually transfer over to our writing.
Your child’s conference with their teacher: Feedback at its finest
Most importantly, it should be the case that your child’s teacher is spending oodles of one-on-one or small group time in teacher-student conferences – little meetings where the teacher helps to guide the young writer and help them develop their craft. This is often based on written works that students have chosen to write about in accordance with their interests. Each child’s conference is unlike another’s and deals with distinct writing needs because each child develops writing abilities differently from the next one.
So what’s left for you as a parent to encourage writing at home?
➢ Get you child hooked on writing. Relax, it’s easier than it sounds. Does your child like dinosaurs, skateboarding or the latest kid craze? Let them write about it…without restrictions, so they choose the genre or form and the purpose or reason for their writing. The kid who loves board games can make up board games and write the procedures for them, the little cook, can re-write or invent a recipe, the kid who misses her faraway cousin can write emails to them. The music lover can write rap lyrics. Children are ALWAYS motivated to write when they have choice in the topic. They HAVE to have a vested interest in the topic. When they see they have a purpose for writing, they just want to write.
Form + Purpose + Audience
➢ There are many ways to get out an idea, but some ways are better than others, and your kids might need some guidance. For example, for families planning a yard sale, the kids can write posts on Craigslist, make posters, signs, flyers or brochures. All of these forms have different features and though the idea of getting out a message is the same, the medium changes what goes into it. So a posting online will have more details than a sign to be hung on a lawn. But all require an understanding of writing as well as how media informs us. Kids will need your gentle guidance for writing.
Be the editor…and only pick one area of focus for them
➢ Which brings me to the next point: spelling, grammar and punctuation. After the message has been written, this is the best time to work on these, so as not to hamper the thought process as children brainstorm and write. Kids can pick one thing they find challenging enough to work on (e.g. the capitalization in a poster), while you, their editor walks them through the rest. It’s important for them to develop the skills about how language is structured so that they can convey their message well. No one wants to send out an important written message that is incorrect.
So, how do you see writing being taught in your child’s class? Which approaches do you prefer? How do you encourage writing to happen at home? Share your ideas with other parents below!