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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.


Works Cited


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.


Journal Writing

Why Journal?


“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

  1. Use a standard, spiral notebook for your journal.


  1. Use your journal only for writing. Do not use it for other subjects


  1. Write in your journal outside of the required writing assignments, as well as for prewriting and drafting for your writing assignments.


  1. Write about topics that interest you.


  1. Experiment with new writing forms and styles in your journal.


  1. 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.


  1. Take some of your good journal entries and develop them into polished pieces.


  1. Review your journal periodically and see how you are growing as a writer.


*Templates for each “journal” type are provided below.


Learning Journal



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:












Date :___________________________





































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.