Thoughts on teaching writing
In addition to being a teacher for Oak Meadow, Lesley Arnold also works as a youth librarian. Being both a teacher (for over 40 years) and a children’s book librarian allows her to combine her love of children with her love of books.
Leslie Daniels has been an Oak Meadow teacher for over 30 years. She also created a program that offers educational activities to groups of homeschooled students, guiding children and their families toward the joy of discovery.
Lesley, you teach many middle school students. What are some of the most fun aspects of teaching writing to middle schoolers?
Lesley A: Middle schoolers that really love to write improve quickly even with the smallest amount of help. That’s the most fun for me—seeing the improvement and great strides a student can make.
What are some of the greatest challenges in teaching writing to 5th-8th graders?
Lesley A: I think the biggest challenge is getting a student to understand that writing is a process that takes years to get “good” at. From 5th to 8th grade is a long time and each year the student improves. My hope is that students, and their parents, learn that this is a practice time! Just like soccer or painting or playing an instrument, the writing skills need practice and will get better with time.
Many parents complain that their once highly-motivated children become complacent or disengaged in middle school. Can you talk a little about how writing can be used as a tool to help motivate students and sustain engagement?
Lesley A: The Oak Meadow curriculum offers many different kinds of opportunities for diverse types of writing and projects. With variety, flexibility, and creativity in different assignments, a student will be able to find something to be engaged in.
Leslie D: I’ve also found that having students do interesting assignments, like writing a dialogue between historical figures or writing the journal of a child who lives in prehistoric times, really sparks their imagination. They start to run with the idea, and suddenly it doesn’t feel like work anymore. Keeping a journal, writing poetry or song lyrics, or writing comic books or graphic novels are also great ways to revive an interest in writing.
What are some of the most important habits to instill in this age group, especially as they approach the high school years?
Lesley A: Note-taking, outline, first draft, second draft, final draft! The whole process should be a comfortable habit. I recommend spending time with reworking a rough draft. Read it out loud to check for punctuation and grammar errors. Then go over it again for spelling. Then again for content. Then read through it again and put in adjectives or adverbs that would add more detail to the sentences. I think that once a student can be comfortable and confident with reworking the rough draft, the final draft is easy!
In your experience, what are some of the most common writing challenges for children who are struggling with writing? What are some tips parents can use to help their children overcome each of these challenges?
Lesley A: Most kids will say, “I don’t know what to write.” I like to tell students, “Write what you see!” Writing is like painting with words. If you have an image in your mind, you can create it in words. If you can’t get started, then paint it, draw it, find a photograph, or talk about it and the writing will be much easier. For example, if you are going to write about a tree, what type of tree do you picture in your mind? Describe it so that others can “see” it too! There’s a great book for students that describes this process really well: Show, Don’t tell! Secrets of Writing by Josephine Nobisso. The writing process takes time. Some kids need to spend a lot of time just jotting down ideas, or doodling, or walking around before they begin writing. Some need to spend a lot of time taking notes or correcting a first draft. Let each part of the process take its own time.
Are there any homeschooling strategies for teaching writing that you would caution parents not to pursue?
Lesley A: I have complete trust that when the tears start to flow or anger erupts, parents will sense that they are pursuing the wrong teaching strategy!
Leslie D: Good point! Don’t be afraid to try something new, or to let it go for a while and then revisit it a few days or weeks later. There’s no reason to push or rush.
The Oak Meadow Grade 7 Earth Science curriculum includes a chapter on the Earth’s water cycle, or hydrologic cycle. Students of any age can create a terrarium to observe the distinct phases of the water cycle: precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, condensation. While gardens lie dormant over the winter, it’s also a fun way to play in the dirt. Click here to download the instructions, straight from our Earth Science Lab Manual. (Image credit: Leighanne Sturgis)
Motivating middle schoolers
Middle schoolers—there’s so much to love about kids in this age group, but they’re not always the easiest bunch! As your child’s home teacher, you have the difficult position of being both parent and educator to a child who is quickly gaining independence and assertiveness. As former middle-school teacher and editor of Cult of Pedagogy Jennifer Gonzalez says: “One word could never quite capture the ridiculous, smelly, stubborn, fragile beauty of them all.”
Click here for some tips on how to connect with and motivate your middle schooler.
Decluttering: It’s all the rage!
Well, for parents, maybe. But wait! Now it seems teens are getting into the act, too. There are lots of articles out there for parents, such as How to Get Your Grumpy Middle-Schooler to Help at Home, but have you heard about the KonMari method of decluttering that’s gone viral on social media? Now the “celebrity of tidying,” Marie Kondo, has published a manga comic that seems to be motivating some teens to start neatening their endless piles of stuff. You can read about the phenomenon here, then head over to Oak Meadow’s Pinterest board: Getting Organized for some visual tips and ideas.
And just for fun…
Messy Room by Shel Silverstein
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater’s been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or–
Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!