I think the one fear all traditional educators have about homeschooling is that children are watching television all day. Sure the programming will be Science Channel or History Channel, but the curriculum is passive.
In my own parenting experience, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of mythology my son learned from playing one of his computer games – and if the purpose of education is to regurgitate facts, then video games and television shows may work.
On the other hand, if learning is to be generative, if students are expected to generate their own creative work, solve interesting problems, or engage in academic conversations, then learning also requires students to generate responses in these activities. Playing video games is borderline generative, as my son will explain – he has to solve problems, after all. Activities like watching videos or reading textbooks and completing worksheets are not.
That’s why it was so refreshing to find the website “Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers” at http://www.weirdunsocializedhomeschoolers.com/2012/07/weekly-wrap-up-the-curriculum-edition/. Kate Bales, the mom, reviews her plans for a well-thought out curriculum which covers all curricular areas, plans best for how to use instructional time, and looks forward to engaging her daughter in generative learning.
You might want to check it out!
There’s a great website, Homeschooling Programs, http://www.homeschoolingprograms.net/homeschooling-programs/ which gives readers basic information about homeschooling programs, such as what to consider when choosing to home school, types of programs available for homeschooling, and resources for homeschooling. This website, and most home school websites, focuses on children of elementary school age.
All of the students I tutor have been at least middle school and high school age. Actually, I have referred some tutoring jobs to friends because I did not feel competent teaching writing to younger students since all of my experience is grade seven and above.
The trend toward finding alternatives to traditional high school for students is growing.
Many parents choose to continue to home school through high school though it used to be common practice to home school until high school, then find a more traditional approach to ensuring children were taught all the subjects required in high school.Many parents decide to home school using an online curriculum during high school because of the poor quality of the high school in their area. Many parents choose to continue to home school because they want to ensure their children stay excited about learning.
One great resource for navigating homeschooling though high school is Home School Legal Defense Association’s page “Homeschooling Thru High School” at http://www.hslda.org/highschool.asp. The site provides an overview of considerations and frequently asked questions about graduation and university preparation.
I especially appreciate the advice that parents might want to hire a tutor. As a tutor, I tell parents to be thoughtful about two things. When hiring a tutor, be sure that he 0r she is going to be responsive to your needs as the parent guiding your child, and be sure the tutor has the required knowledge of instructional strategies to meet the needs of your child. Referrals from other parents or from home school associations is a good way to find the right tutor.
Home school programs are no longer just about young children being taught by their parents, but now includes young adults learning the skills necessary to succeed in the larger world.
Another school district has decided to offer an online curriculum option (http://www.livingstondaily.com/article/20120712/NEWS01/207120321). I’m all for online learning just as I am all for finding what works best for each student. As a matter of fact, I have applied for a grant for my public school classroom to purchase what is considered an e-course in writing. But this all reminds me of…
Many years ago, my husband, Bill, went to the doctor. He had been sick for awhile and kept thinking that it was a virus and if he rode it out, it would go away. It didn’t so he finally got an appointment with a doctor to see what was up. When he got home, he was a bit concerned. He had a prescription and planned on taking it, but he was still a bit worried.
“The doctor had this book, like the encyclopedia of medical symptoms.” Bill’s eyes narrowed before he continued. “I told him my symptoms. He flipped the pages and would ask questions like, ‘Is it a dry or wet cough?’ then flip some more until he came up with a diagnosis, wrote me a prescription and sent me on my way.”
He held up the prescription bottle like it was snake oil.
And isn’t that what an e-course does? At least the smart ones. You do some work. It has a program which will diagnose where you are having trouble and it sends you on a path to practice those problems until you “get it”.
The trouble is the program is flipping through a book, its program. Bill could have looked up his symptoms and diagnosed himself, like many of us do today on the internet. But we still end up going to the doctor to get confirmation and a course for getting better. Only a person trained in the field is able to do this.
As I said, I think on-line courses are great, but not a complete picture. To really improve in any area, you have to go to someone who knows more, who can diagnose what is going wrong with your writing.
This week I am attending the Tin House Writing Conference because I need help. Some of my essays are not getting accepted for publication. Something is wrong, and my workshop leader – Stephen Elliott – pointed it out to me immediately. Okay, many things were wrong, but the major thing – he saw it right away and told me the course to take to make it better. (He didn’t solve my acne or my aching back.)
If you are going to use an online curriculum with your child, student, learner – be sure to augment it with a tutor, someone who is an actual audience reading your child’s writing, someone who has enough experience to see exactly what is ailing a writing project, and someone who can send the writer on a path to making things better.
Improving one’s writing is always what we want, as writers and students. A tutor or writing teacher will always send you on the path to improvement.
Today in the Star Tribune, Asha Anchan examines the approach of some home-schoolers to “unschool” in her article, “The DIY Approach to Education” http://www.startribune.com/local/161685515.html. It’s an interesting look at the idea that children do not need a set curriculum to be able to “learn”.
As a public school teacher, I recognize that the reason we work with a curriculum is to be sure that we have met the needs of all students through exposure to key concepts the powers that be have deemed important for future success. Remember, in the public arena, teachers are no longer in charge of their curriculum. Instead state standards and common core standards dictate what we need to teach and curriculum companies put together books to ensure that we teach these concepts. Then students are tested to be sure teachers have taught these concepts to our classrooms full of 30 – 40 students… but I digress.
As a tutor for students who are homeschooled, I do not work through a set curriculum. I basically use the technique of”unschooling” my pupils. Does this mean I let them write what they want? Of course. As a writer myself, I get to write what I want. Granted, sometimes what I want to write is something that will earn me money – and it’s important for students to write sometimes for a grade, but still, I tailor all my writing to projects I want to complete, money or no money.
Yet, I do have goals in mind. As a trained public school teacher, I know that if my home-schooled pupils ever transfer to the public school, there will be certain expectations for them. I also can’t shake the notion that all students should have certain aptitudes, especially when it comes to writing.
So, how does this translate into “unschooling.” The student and I discuss what he or she is interested in and then we craft a writing project geared toward helping the student further explore the topic. I set up the parameters by guiding the student to selecting the type of writing which would best fit his or her interest and skill level.
One of the key elements of making a writing project successful is choosing the right genre for the project. The expectation is that younger students understand narratives (stories) because they are used in so many other genres of writing. Writing a narrative requires that students be able to summarize and describe, both essential elements of all other genres.
Once the student has mastered narrative, we work toward mastering persuasion and compare/contrast essays. These types of essays require that students analyze subjects and explain their ideas. Finally, we move onto complex essays which include literary or research analysis.
And this is where a writing curriculum fits in. Following a curriculum for writing a persuasive essay is so much easier than attempting to muddle your way through it. Setting up clear expectations for the assignment using a grading rubric http://www.rubrics4teachers.com/writing.php, using specific examples for models, providing ways of thinking about drafting an essay with graphic organizers or outlines http://www.eduplace.com/graphicorganizer/, and reviewing key transition words or vocabulary used in the genre is the curriculum. It’s possible for anyone to hobble together this curriculum, but it makes more sense to use one already thoughtfully put together – hopefully by an expert.
Does using a curriculum contradict the idea of unschooling? That’s like saying using a GPS contradicts driving.
In the online New Zealand newspaper, “Nelson Mail,” the topic of whether or not home schooling children is effective was raised and answered in the article, “Fear home school can’t make the grade.” http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/7226245/Fears-homeschool-can-t-make-grade
Though in New Zealand there are no government checks on home schooling and the curriculum, the discussion boiled down to the same thing – learners got individualized curriculum and attention meeting their needs and interests.
I especially liked the example of the parent who had hired a tutor for his son to learn Danish before his trip to Denmark. According to the dad, “Once you get to a certain level of knowledge where you can’t provide those resources… that would be the time that you get somebody else in.”
As a writing tutor myself, I have appreciated being able to individualize instruction for students who are learning to articulate their opinions and ideas in writing, but have also appreciated the parental involvement.
The other interesting idea was that home schooled children fail to be exposed to other cultures would lead to a “narrow world-view.” This struck a chord with me because I used to also believe this as a public school teacher. But, what I have found while working with home schooled students is that they are no different from their same age peers in trying on different identities and finding their place in the world. If anything, in my experience these students have a stronger sense of self than students in the public school arena. Students in the public school arena often give in to negative peer pressure, whereas home schooled students are not faced with this negative pressure to conform.
The article points out many of the misconceptions about home schooling and makes us realize that home schooling faces the same misconceptions beyond the United States.
Effective Writing Strategies
In case you are out of the loop with edu-speak, the latest trend is that all strategies be “evidence-based.” What does that mean? Quite simply, for any strategy to be evidence-based there must be several studies completed which prove its effectiveness. With the internet and computers, this is getting easier and easier to do. A program is written to scan for all studies completed measuring the effectiveness of strategies then a meta-analysis is completed to rate the effectiveness of each strategy. The great thing about using “evidence-based” strategies for teachers and tutors is through the research they can be sure the strategies they use with students are the best. The only thing to be aware of – every student is a unique learner and what works the best for large groups of students may not be the best approach for your learner.
In 2007, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York was published which outlined the most effective strategies for teaching writing. You can see the full report here: http://www.all4ed.org/files/WritingNext.pdf. Below are the highlights from the report and quick explanations.
Page 3 – writing skill is a predictor of academic success and a basic requirement for participation in civic life and in the global economy.
This point seems self-evident, unless your learner is a math-wonk or science-brain. But even in math and science, and if your learner doesn’t seem university bound, writing is a basic requirement for participation in the work-place (think incident reports and writing cover letters) and civic life (think writing letters to the editor or emails to family).
Being able to write proficiently allows learners to master all concepts, to think about their thinking and to explain their thinking to others.
Page 7 – …although reading and writing are complementary skills whose development runs a roughly parallel course, they do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Conventional wisdom has held that if a person is an avid reader, he will be a good writer. It is true that there are many learners who learn good writing skills through reading; they absorb the rules and talents implicit in the writing of others. For other learners, though, writing skills and strategies must be made explicit. Making writing skills and strategies is much more than learning to place a comma in the right place. It is learning the rhetorical moves writers make to communicate a point to their readers or audience.
Page 8 – While readers form a mental representation of thoughts written by someone else, writers formulate their own thoughts, organize them, and create a written record of them using the conventions of spelling and grammar.
The key here is that written conventions: spelling, punctuation and rules of grammar, help readers understand a writer’s point. Likewise, writers must master these conventions to avoid their readers misinterpreting their message. Sure, you can hire an editor to fix all those things, but only if the editor understands your intent.
… although writing and reading are both vital aspects of literacy, they each require their own dedicated instruction.
This reiterates the idea that being a good reader does not necessarily make a learner a good writer. Dedicated instruction in writing is important to teach the forms of written expression, the rhetorical moves used by writers to enhance their message, and the specific conventions needed to ensure reader understanding of written expression.
Page 9 – Proficient writers can adapt their writing flexibly to the context in which it takes place.
Reading and responding to a writing prompt appropriately is a discreet skill, a skill that can be taught. Good writers have the ability to write a variety of forms for a variety of purposes to fit the context of the writing situation.
For instance, it used to be that college application essays were about “Why should we admit you?” Today, colleges require applicants to write a unique essay for each their application, and to demonstrate creativity. Some writing prompts include: What have you undertaken or done on your own in the last year or two that has nothing to do with academic work? (Northwestern) or Select a creative work — a novel, a film, a poem, a musical piece, a painting or other work of art — that has influenced the way you view the world and the way you view yourself. Discuss the work and its effect on you. (New York University). You can find 100 examples here: http://www.hpregional.org/departments/english/mhassenplug/100%20topics.html.
…it [writing] is a skill that draws on the use of strategies (such as planning, evaluating, and revising texts) to accomplish a variety of goals, such as writing a report or expressing an opinion with the support of evidence. Second, writing is a means of extending and deepening students’ knowledge; it acts as a tool for learning the subject matter.
Writing as a tool for learning the subject matter is a time-honored tradition. E.M. Forster famously said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Translation = writing down your thoughts helps to clarify what you think, or what you know. Keeping notes, organizing those notes into a plan, writing an essay or report then revising the text to make sure your ideas are clear is set of complex cognitive skills. This is why writing instruction is so important.
Page 15 – Teaching adolescents strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions has shown a dramatic effect on the quality of students’ writing. Strategy instruction involves explicitly and systematically teaching steps necessary for planning, revising, and/or editing text (Graham, 2006).
Specific strategies for completing specific writing assignments help learners to understand explicitly how to be successful for each writing situation. For example, a basic book report requires simply that the learner summarize the contents of the book, answering the questions of who, where, when, what and why. Whereas, a book review, while containing a summary, also requires that the learner make evaluations and support those evaluations. Finally, a literary analysis of a book requires the reader to summarize, create a thesis about the literary value of the book, and evaluate the success of the book based on the thesis.
This is just one example of how responding to reading a book can require quite different strategies for planning, revising and editing work.
…specific types of writing tasks, such as writing a story, or a persuasive essay… explicitly teaching adolescents strategies for planning, revising and/or editing has a strong impact on the quality of their writing.
Again, the research shows that the most effective strategies for teaching planning and revising of a writing project must be specific to the writing task. Writing a story requires much different planning and revisions to be successful than the planning and revisions for writing a successful persuasive essay.
Page 16 – [Effective writing instruction is]…characterized by explicit instruction of writing strategies and self-regulation procedures (e.g., self-assessment, and goal- setting), as well as individualized instruction and criterion-based learning.
Teaching writing is not only about the teaching of evidence-based writing strategies, but also include teaching learners to assess their own writing (self-assessment) and goal-setting. Helping learners recognize their strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement engages learners in metacognition (thinking about their thinking). Having students set and reach writing goals creates habits for writing that will carry them throughout their writing life. Finally, individualized instruction that is “criterion-based” or based on specific expectations, with a skilled teacher or tutor, is best.
Page 17 – Setting product goals involves assigning students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete. It includes identifying the purpose of the assignment (e.g., to persuade) as well as characteristics of the final product.
These goals include a clear writing prompt which declares the writing situation, the needed written response and the intended audience for the assignment, as well as clear expectations for the final product. A great way to be sure your learner has access to both the purpose of the assignment and the characteristics of the final product is to use the “test-released” writing prompts and accompanying grading rubrics from state tests.
In the state of California, sample writing prompts and sample student responses are available for learners to use as guides for their own writing. http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/hs/documents/studyela08sec6.pdf . Using these writing prompts and rubrics helps teachers and tutors to define the writing situation and the expectations.
The use of word-processing equipment can be particularly helpful for low-achieving writers. …may be especially effective in enhancing the quality of text produced by low-achieving writers.
The use of technology not only motivates advanced learners, but also aids learners who struggle with writing. In my experience, showing learners the tools to help them with spelling and watching them use the program to free themselves to worry more about creating an engaging story or persuasive argument is, well, priceless!
Page 18 – …Pre-writing engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition. Engaging adolescents in such activities before they write a first draft improves the quality of their writing. Pre-writing activities include gathering possible information for a paper through reading or developing a visual representation of their ideas before sitting down to write.
Offering learners a variety of methods for pre-writing allows them to find the strategy that works best for their writing style or for the writing assignment. Teaching how to outline, how to free-write, how to use graphic organizers or thinking maps, or how to write from the end gives learners a assortment of tools to help them prepare to write.
Page 19 – encouraging cycles of planning, translating, and reviewing: stressing personal responsibility and ownership of writing projects; …encouraging self-reflection and evaluation; and offering personalized individual assistance, brief instructional lessons to meet students’ individual needs, and, in some instances, more extended and systematic instruction.
Though there will be times when learners must write a composition on demand, teaching writing is more about teaching the process of writing, of creating a finished product which has gone through several cycles of writing and rewriting and ending with editing. Teachers and tutors must focus on the needs of the individual learner in the process of writing a specific, unique product to help that learner reach her full potential.
Page 20 – The study of models provides adolescents with good models for each type of writing that is the focus of instruction.
This seems to contradict the idea that good readers are automatically good writers. Actually, if teachers or tutors can explicitly use models of good writing to teach explicitly the rhetorical moves made by proficient writers, this allows learners to model these specific rhetorical moves within their own writing.
Page 21 – …traditional grammar instruction is unlikely to help improve the quality of students’ writing. Studies specifically examining the impact of grammar instruction with low-achieving writers…yielded negative results.
Do not make the mistake here that learners don’t need grammar instruction. The key here is “traditional grammar instruction” which includes “drill and kill” worksheets. What has been proven to work are mini-lessons focused on the needs of the learner and the specific writing assignment. So…
…teaching students to focus on the function and practical application of grammar within the context of writing (versus teaching grammar as an independent activity) produced strong and positive effects on students’ writing.
Of course, this requires having a proficient instructor who is able to identify the needs of a learner in the context of the writing assignment.
Page 23 – Writing proficiency develops over time. … As they become more proficient writers, students gradually move from “knowledge-telling” to “knowledge-transformation” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987, p. 5 – 6 ).
This is the movement of learners writing to show us what they know to writing to express what they are learning to writing to express what we should know. This is a magical transformation that is possible for all writers with the application of these “evidence-based” practices.
In conclusion, this is an important meta-analysis of what works for writing instruction. If you want to examine the “Eleven Elements of Effective Adolescent Writing Instruction” in order of effectiveness, it is found on page 4 of the report. Learners who have instructors who are versed in these evidence-based strategies or who have writing curriculum which makes these strategies explicit will find success on their writing journeys.
Graham, S., & Perin, D.(2007). Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington,DC:Alliance for Excellent Education.
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” – Joan Didion
Journaling (or keeping letters or diaries) is an ancient tradition, one that dates back to at least 10th centuryJapan. Successful people throughout history have kept journals. Presidents have maintained them for posterity. Oscar Wilde, 19th century playwright, said: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”
Journaling is also beneficial for the typical citizen. The benefits of journaling are numerous.
Journaling has been shown to strengthen the right brain, the area of the brain that is creative and intuitive, as well as the left brain, the area of the brain that is rational, intellectual, and orderly (Dowrick, 2007). The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.
Journaling offers you the chance to reflect on what you are learning and experiencing (Spalding & Wilson, 2002) because journaling triggers metacognition – the ability to think about one’s thinking – requiring you to think about how you are thinking and how to express that it writing (Urquhart & McIver, 2005).
Journaling is a means of recording your personal thoughts, daily experiences, and evolving insights. You also are able to review or reread earlier writings to gain perspective or obtain clarification of previous events, feelings or thoughts. Journaling can also be used as a means for recording parts of books and articles you read, insights gained, new ideas you find, and reflection of your own personal growth. (Purcell, 2006).
You may also use journaling as a means for critical self-reflection when dilemmas, contradictions or changing life-views occur. Writing about these occurrences allows you the private time and space to explore, work through and hopefully resolve these moments in your growth.
Keeping track of what you did and when is another aspect of journal keeping. The ability to look back on your progress at the end of each school year will help you recognize the effort and commitment you have made to your education.
Finally, if you are hurt or angry about something that happens, a journal is a great place to vent your feelings. This may help take the “edge off” how you are feeling and make you more capable of handling the situation calmly and effectively.
Journal writing captures our thoughts and feelings on paper. This shows us how we think, create, learn and intuit. When we can see what we’re thinking, we can work with our thoughts in new ways. We break through habitual patterns to discover our innate wisdom and creative genius. (Hiemstra, 2002)
Types of Journal Writing
There are such a variety of journal writing “types” that it should be easy for everyone to find a type which fits his or her style. Once familiar with the types of journal writing, you may want to choose one type and stick with it for the year, or switch among the types to fit your mood, or the constraints of your time.
Learning Journals: This is typically a hand-written notebook or pad of paper for recording thoughts, reflections, feeling, personal opinions, and even hopes or fears during the learning experience. The process of maintaining this type of journal will help you become more organized and focused on the topic at hand. It may also help with the forming of new opinions, changing beliefs and changing feelings about certain topics.
Diary: This is typically a notebook or booklet of blank pages where you can record your thoughts, feelings, reactions to life, and fears about your experiences. It is usually unstructured, but many students like to keep track of dated entries for reflection at some future time. This is usually the most private type of writing and generally not shared with others.
Autobiography, Life Stories or Memoirs: This type of journal provides you with an arena to record your life experiences. This writing focuses not only on the experiences you have had, but allows you to focus on an understanding of your life experiences especially as they relate to a specific topic. Writing your life story allows you to be self-reflective and may encourage you to share your experiences with others to examine similarities or differences.
Interactive Reading Log: The interactive reading log provides you with a space to copy or record specific information you read, rephrase the reading into your own words then reflect on what the reading means to you personally. It is helpful to begin with a paragraph explaining what you are reading and why, make your entries as you read, and finish with a paragraph or two summarizing your experience.
Making Journaling a Family Activity
Journaling as a family activity allows all members of the family to connect in new ways. Perhaps one family member is quiet while others are boisterous. Often, the quiet person doesn’t always get to share his/her opinion and ideas because the boisterous members are better at being heard. A journal that is shared with the entire family allows everyone to have an equal voice in the discussions.
Sharing family stories used to be done around the dinner table, around the camp fire or for simple family entertainment. With our fast-paced lives and technology, often these stories go untold. Recording family stories is way to record family history and create a shared family history and vision.
Family journaling also allows senior members of the family to share their life experiences and wisdom gained from those experiences while allowing younger members to share their hopes and dreams for the future.
Family journals allow readers to see the world through another family member’s eyes. Gaining a new perspective on an event or idea by reading what someone else thinks about it broadens the family vision and allows for empathy to be shared among family members.
Finally, family journaling allows everyone to feel connected. Being able to share one’s feelings and read about another family member’s feelings about the same thing helps the family to feel connected. (Huxley, 2003).
Family journaling can take many forms. One simple way to begin family journaling is to create a space for a common family journal where all family members are welcome to read and write in. Making time once a week when the family gets together to volunteer to read from their journals also works. What is important is to create a family dynamic that is sustainable around journaling, whatever form that takes for your family.
If you are new to journaling, it is a good idea to explore several types of journal writing. Practice with each type will provide you an opportunity to explore which type fits your style of reflection and, hopefully, you will be comfortable using many of the types to fit your desired outcome. (Hiemstra, 2002)
Journal Writing Guidelines
- Use a standard, spiral notebook for your journal.
- Use your journal only for writing. Do not use it for other subjects
- Write in your journal outside of the required writing assignments, as well as for prewriting and drafting for your writing assignments.
- Write about topics that interest you.
- Experiment with new writing forms and styles in your journal.
- You will be “graded” for completion. I will not read your journal unless you invite me to. I will flip through pages to be sure you have completed the assigned amount of writing.
- Take some of your good journal entries and develop them into polished pieces.
- Review your journal periodically and see how you are growing as a writer.
*Templates for each “journal” type are provided below.
What I learned today:
My thoughts about what I learned today:
How I feel about what I learned today:
Other areas of my life I can apply this new knowledge to:
Autobiography, Life Stories, Memoirs
I remember when…
(Be sure to include sensory details: what you heard, saw, felt, smelled and tasted, as well as how you felt about the experience then and how you feel about the experience now.)
Interactive Reading Log
What I’m reading and why:
Excerpt or Quote: _________________________________________________________
Rephrasing of Information: ________________________________________________________________________
My thoughts about this:
Excerpt or Quote: _________________________________________________________
Rephrasing of Information: ________________________________________________________________________
My thoughts about this:
Summary of what I read:
Student will be assessed based on oral description of assigned reading materials, completion of worksheets and evidence of self-motivated writing assignments.
I moved into my first house when I was 19 years old. My husband and I had very little money since I was still in college and he was a new teacher. Still, right away I was motivated to improve my new house. With very little money, the easiest transformation was to fix up the yard. When you do the work yourself, moving dirt, getting cuttings from family and friends and planting these cuttings, and clearing weeds is cheap. It also improved the property so much so, that neighbors came by to comment and friends were impressed.
I did not have any gardening experience before that first house. I had never worked in the yard as part of my chores, never taken a horticulture class at school, nor ever thought before buying that first house that I would be interested in gardening.
Twenty-five years later, I have a beautiful yard in my third house. I am a self-taught gardener. I still have never taken a class, but I have paid attention. First I bought lots of books about gardening. I read through them carefully, studying the names of plants, the diagrams for planting schemes, and the pictures of gardens I liked. Then I paid attention to the gardens in my neighborhood. If there was a plant in a neighbor’s yard I liked, I went to the nursery and asked about it. If my neighbor had entire plantings I thought were beautiful, when I saw that neighbor out, I would strike up a conversation the next time I saw that neighbor and ask lots of questions. And, I experimented. There have been lots of misguided plantings in all of my yards. In other words, when I decide to plant my yard, I pay attention.
Gardening is like writing. When I begin to plant in a new yard, I pay attention to other gardens and gardeners in the area. A desert garden is different than a valley garden. When I begin to write a new piece, I pay attention to other writing in that genre and other writers of that genre. A legend is different than a research report. Paying attention means reading in that genre.
In the National report put out by Alliance for Excellent Education, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York, it is acknowledged that reading and writing are complementary skills whose development runs a roughly parallel course (Graham, S., & Perin, D. 2007). To grow as a writer, you must become a good reader.
Besides, reading can motivate your own writing. There is the legend of James Fenimore Cooper, that after reading a western novel of his time, he commented to his wife that he could write a better book than the one he just read. His wife told him to go ahead and do it, then. And he did, becoming one of the most celebrated writers of westerns. Currently I am working on a series of essays about my job. Mr. Cooper was inspired by other writers through his belief that he could do better.
On the other hand, reading other writers can inspire you to improve your own writing by trying to write as well as writers you love. After I write a first draft of an essay, I read other writers I enjoy and admire. I look for how these writers successfully completed their essays then apply those techniques to my own writing. I am motivated to improve my writing through reading the writing of others.
Good writers are excellent readers, so in addition to your writing assignments, you need to read. The reading should be enjoyable and introduce you to both classic literature that every writer needs to be familiar with, as well as introduce you to new writers you may not yet know.
It’s a good idea to complete a reading log for each reading session. The reading log allows you to record what you read, summarizing what you read. Writing summaries is a skill you will need for most types of writing, whether for tests at school, providing readers summaries of information that is pertinent to your topic, but not the focus of your essay or story, or completing incident reports at work. Like any skill, the more you practice the skill, the better you will be at it. Remember that to write a summary, you need to record the who, where, when, what and why of the reading you’ve completed. The expectation is that the summary will be written in complete sentences, in paragraph form.
Reading for 20 minutes five days a week should inform the type of writing you are completing. Reading is part of any writing curriculum, just like weeding is part of any gardener’s chores. The weeding is never admired, but all good gardeners know that without weeding, the most avid planter will not have a garden. Likewise, though reading is not the measurable part of this curriculum, without it writing quality pieces is very unlikely.
After twenty-five years as a public school educator, a published writer and a writing tutor, it is time for me to share my perspective on how to teach writing.