Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on Writing

Today I was talking with a new homeschooling mom who was very concerned about teaching writing to her daughter. She showed me an example of her girl's writing lessons and my first reaction was "did you write this for her? " The printing was impeccable and the spelling and punctuation perfect.

"How old did you say she is?" I asked.
"She's almost 8."
"And what is your concern?"

I really didn't get it. I saw nothing wrong with this young girl's writing. Sentence structure was fine. The sentences made sense. And the handwriting floored me. I know that often girls are more meticulous than boys but when I thought about my son's handwriting I have to admit I was a little embarrassed. I'm not sure I'd want to show this particular mom a sample of Eric's writing. Especially since she obviously has very high expectations. You see, she was concerned because her daughter had struggled to write this paper. She had complained and whined and fussed. She wanted to go outside and search for bugs not write a paper. Mom was worried that her daughter wasn't up to par with others in her age bracket.

I did my best to reassure her. At the same time, inside of me I wanted to say, "cut the girl some slack!" She has been having her daughter write a daily journal, as well as do all other kinds of writing depending on the curriculum assignments of the day. No wonder the girl was whining! I would whine too if I had to sit for 3 hours a day writing when the world outside was calling me.

Even as a seasoned homeschooler it is hard for me to get parents to understand that this kind of coercive writing is not going to encourage a young child to be creative. She complained to me that her daughter didn't have any ideas for what to write and had a hard time using her imagination. My best advice to her was to ease off. Have her write one story a week. The rest of the time, let her explore her world. As she is given the freedom to do this, I have a feeling the ideas will start to flow.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Beta Testing

Back in January I signed my 9yo son and myself up to be beta testers for a writing curriculum. I was probably too ambitious in doing such a thing. The product, Write Shop Primary, Book C, is a wonderful easy to use writing curriculum for children in 2nd or 3rd grade. Our job was to test and evaluate this product. 

When the intro and first lessons arrived in my inbox, I eagerly printed them out. In my effort to be conservative and thrifty, I printed it double sided and reduced the text to fit two pages per side of the sheet. This was my first mistake! I keep neglecting to factor in, that at 45, my eyes are just not as good as they used to be. As I read through the introduction I found myself straining to read the small text and ultimately straining to understand it! But really this was a visual problem and no fault of the material. So after realizing that I just wasn't getting it, I printed it out again, still double siding the paper, but in it's original font. So much for saving a tree! And now I was a week behind in my "testing" schedule. 

Eager to prove that this unschooling mom could in fact follow and implement a lesson plan when necessary, I proceeded throught the first 3 activities for week 1. Only it took me all week instead of 3 days. Oops. Getting further behind now. Other participants were already commenting on Week 2 lessons and I had 5 more activities to do to finish week 1! Now granted this program is designed to do the Lessons (each consisting of 8 activities, plus bonus levels...I mean extras ...sorry to slip into video game speak, my kids are rubbing off on me) in 3 weeks but we are supposed to be on the fast track in order to finish this evaluation in 10 weeks. Yikes. 

So maybe we'll skip some activities to speed things up. One activity is a Daily Writing Activity, or Guided Writing Practice. The accelerated schedule would mean we would have to do two of these a day. So we skip the second one. Thankfully the consensus from the group is in agreement on this. Granted every day we are supposed to do the GWP as a warm up for the rest of the lesson. Eric found this hard to do everyday. And since our educational philosophy balks at "forcing" a child to do something, I tend to let it slide. Eric does write everyday. But it is what he choses to write. He has a whole video game/comic book series going on in his head day and night. So as the muse hits him he draws these out - cartoon style with more drawing than writing. But a story is being told, so I encourage this form of writing. However, it is not what the curriculum requires....

It's been three weeks now and I have basically let this "project" slide further down the hill of procrastination. We have several things that have occurred in our lives - my husband started working for a new wedding company which means more work & more stress as we all adjust to his new schedule. I've had to assume more responsibility at the office. At the same time I've been battling depression and weight issues and trying to get to the gym more often. And we decided to move from our beach house. We have given ourselves lots of time to do this move, but it still requires us to do some planning and packing and lots of cleaning. Needless to say, making sure I do a lesson everyday with Eric has not been happening. 

But all is not lost. The ideas in this writing curriculum are really valuable. I sure could have used this and implemented it well when I was teaching at ECA last year. I will highly recommend this to anyone looking for a good writing program for their children. 

How does an unschooler utilize such a great program? Ideas!! I collect books, curricula, magazines, e-books, lesson plans, etc. so that I can strew them before me kids. Yesterday I told Eric that we really needed to crack down and do some story writing and that tomorrow we would start. Later in the evening I asked Cassie where Eric was and found out he was in the bedroom working on one of his Whiskers stories. When I later checked, sure enough he had written two full pages. His spelling and punctuation where non existent but the sentence structure and thought were wonderful. 

Using hints and pointers from the Write Shop program, I photocopied Eric's story and we used the copy to edit his spelling and punctuation. Then I showed him how to open up Word and type this on the computer. He has just recently been playing with typing on the computer so this is great practice for him. At first he was silly and started banging on the keyboard, typing gibberous.  I have to be careful not to get exasperated with this behavior as it is part of his personality to try to irritate his mother. So I walked away saying "never mind, I can see you're not ready for this" which made him stop and say "no I'll do it proper now" and he began typing his story. He managed to work for about 10 minutes dilligently before he grew tired, announcing that it is much harder to tpye than to use a pen. I showed him how to save his work. 

So in one day's time we covered "computer capers", "editing", and we also went back and did one of the lesson activity pages from lesson two - the secret file. We are waiting on his dad's opinion on whether to pursue turning that into a real story due to the "RRRRRRRRR" rating Eric gave his story (due to extreme blood he said - the hero is decapitated and the monster drowns in the ensuing blood). 

We may not be the best beta testers for this program, and we may not be following the lessons to the "t" but Eric is having fun and mom is learning how to roll with the flow.