We typically teach spelling by having kids write their words several times. We teach lots of subjects by having the child fill out a workbook page to see what they remember.
We give tests where they are asked to write things down. Even notebooking and lapbooking require the child to write out what they remember about certain subjects.
Most kids can talk endlessly about what they’ve seen or done at school but when asked to write them down, that is a disaster.
How Writing Works
You see, writing is an activity in which we should be using both hemispheres of our brain. Once we learn how to do something, after 6 months it is supposed to transfer over to the automatic processing part of our brain.
If children are struggling to write, often it is because this doesn’t happen. For these kids, they continue having to think about the letters they’re forming and the words they’re writing instead of that being an automatic process.
Let us take the analogy of learning to drive a car as an example. Do you remember how difficult it was for you first when you started to drive? You had to think about where your feet should be and how to push the different pedals. You had to think about when to use your turn signals and which lane to drive in. You had to remember to check behind, around, and in front of us before changing lanes. There were so many different things to think about that you had to use all of your focus to drive. You couldn’t talk at the same time and it wasn’t enjoyable. In fact, it was quite stressful.
That was the case until we had practiced long enough that the various processes necessary for us to drive transferred over to our automatic hemisphere. Then driving became enjoyable. We could carry on a conversation while driving. We could sing along with the radio. It was a whole different ballgame. We could turn our head to look at the sights. It became a relaxing experience!
This is what some of our kids feel like when they are writing. Instead of being able to write and think about anything else at the same time, they have to focus very hard just to write anything down. This takes a tremendous amount of energy and focus and having to write anything down zaps much of their strength.
Normally, if your child is right handed their right eye will be dominant. If they are left handed their left eye will be dominant. For some kids, this isn’t the case. One of my sons is left handed but his right eye is dominant. This can cause confusion in the brain while he is writing and can cause the writing process to be stopped from entering the automatic hemisphere.
Sometimes a child’s brain is hardwired for left-handedness even though they are right-handed or vice versa.
How can you tell if there is stress in your child’s writing system?
If they hate to write or take a long time to do so
If they have a mixed dominance
If they occasionally reverse their letters or numbers after age 7
If they are right handed but they make the letter ‘O’ clockwise
If they form some letters from bottom to top
If their copy work takes a long time and is labor intensive
If they do their math problems in their head to avoid writing them down
If their writing looks sloppy
If they tell great stories orally by write very little down
If they have a hard time lining up their math problems
If they press very hard when writing
If they are a teenager but they avoid writing at all costs
If they mix their capital and small letters when writing
Why Kids Struggle
Teachers don’t teach writing.
Why? Because they’ve never been taught how to teach writing.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Gary Troia of Michigan State University and Steve Graham of Arizona State University found that fewer than thirty percent of American elementary through high school grade teachers have ever taken a college course solely devoted to writing and writing instruction. Another researcher, Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, examined 2,400 syllabi from teacher preparation programs.
Walsh found almost no evidence that the teaching of writing is being covered in a widespread or systematic way.
As parents know, the results of these deficiencies are amply evident in our students’ performance. According to a recent study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a whopping three-quarters of American students in grade eight and grade twelve lack writing proficiency.
A study of students who took the ACT writing exam in 2016 revealed that forty percent of those students hadn’t the basic skills to pass even an entry level college composition class.
Students get inadequate practice.
Most tutors working with AP Language and Composition student s enrolled in an affluent, educationally privileged high school have notice that these kids had never received any writing assignments.
Two sixth graders with whom I had worked have never been asked to write a one-page essay, or even a short paragraph of academic writing. Instead, they are assigned content comprehension quizzes and tests. But writing, like any other skill, requires practice. The more you do it, the better you get at doing it. It’s that simple.
Students receive inadequate feedback from teachers.
Typically, students’ writing at the elementary and middle school level is assessed for completion, typically with a check, check plus, or check minus, but not for successful communication of ideas, writing fluency, or command of writing conventions.
Consequently, early on in their academic careers, students feel that writing is little more than a “time filler” assigned by an overworked teacher or a teacher who doesn’t want to grade their work, a random exercise the purpose and goal of which completely eludes them.
When students do begin to receive feedback addressing content, that feedback is typically written in cryptic marginalia (awk, detail!, elab, etc.). But if students are never taught how to detail or elaborate, how can they possibly perform those same required skills in their graded assignments?
Writing requires thinking.
Writing is ninety-nine percent thinking, one percent writing. In other words, when you know what you want to say and how you want to say it, writing becomes easier and more successful.
But students are not taught how to think about what they want to communicate and how they want to represent their thoughts before they write.
In other words, they are not taught how to make evident to themselves what they know about the prompt, how to organize those thoughts into relevant and less relevant patterns, and how to sequence those thoughts in a way that will be meaningful to a reader before writing.
As a result, when students do write, their writing is often confused, disorganized, undeveloped, and repetitive.
Good writing requires good reading skills.
Students need to be taught to read for comprehension especially in the early grades.
But by middle school, students need to be taught to read closely, purposefully, and strategically as well as for comprehension. This requires that teachers teach students ways of actively engaging with a text, not just passively consuming it. In other words, teachers have to help students realize that they are vital participants in the process of making meaning of the text.
To do this, teachers need to teach good annotation skills. While some teachers do require students to annotate, these notes are rarely if ever evaluated. If they are evaluated, typically teachers assess completion but not how well the students engaged with and thought about a text.
Building successful writing skills takes time and practice. But when writing instruction is done well, the results are remarkable: Students get better grades and gain confidence in themselves as learners, active agents meaningfully engaged in the creation of knowledge, not just passive consumers.
We all know that writing well is key to our students’ future success, in school and beyond.
Writing practice improves critical thinking and reading skills, develops mental flexibility, strengthens problem-solving abilities, enhances oral and written communication skills, and helps students evaluate and remember learned material.
But there is a deeper concern: Too often, lack of school writing success conduces to insecurity and self-doubt.
When left unattended, that insecurity often spills over into other areas of academic performance affecting grades and self-esteem.
It is important therefore to help your child to improve his/her writing skills.
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