Ask the readers: How do I teach my middle-schooler writing?

While we have been impressed with the math and orchestra teaching in public schools where we are, we have been less so with the humanities.  DC1 is not learning how to write.  Zie is not getting many writing assignments, and the one that zie gets are completed in-class with minimal feedback and are mostly creative writing or opinion.  (Add to that the ELA teacher doesn’t exactly show great writing skills in hir own written communications… though I suppose my blog writing doesn’t show the same level of quality as my professional writing so I shouldn’t throw stones.  Still…)

Looking online most of the recommendations seem to be “let them read a lot and write a lot”… well, DC1 already reads a lot.  And, having looked into the “research” that claims that writing cannot be taught, I am less than impressed with the methodology.  I can believe that writing cannot be taught in a single semester, and that grammar instruction without  combined writing instruction doesn’t transfer, but I have a bright 10 year old with a growth mindset for at least another 6 years of instruction, not a fixed-mindset college student for a semester of remediation.   I have to believe that there’s something more systematic that can be done than just having DC1 write about a wedding zie has attended.

I am most interested in teaching DC1 technical writing, especially given that technical writing seems to be completely neglected in hir classes thus far.  As I’m grading my college students’ policy briefs, I find I worry that DC1 doesn’t know how to use topic sentences or craft a paragraph that supports such sentences.  I want hir to learn outlining.  And have the ability to skim an article that has been written with topic sentences and an outline.

I vaguely remember learning in 3rd grade about topic sentences, diagramming sentences in 4th grade, and outlining in 5th grade.  (My juvenilia is actually pretty good… at least compared to the writings of many of my college students…)  A high school history teacher taught the art of transitions (though in college I learned that not all disciplines appreciate them, so I have stopped doing that final step except when writing in more historical sub-fields).  My mom did a lot of teaching me how to fix my grammar, clarity, and so on.  #2 also helped form my writing (her mom is a professional editor).  One of my grad advisors taught me discipline-specific tricks for writing in my main field.

Students at elite private schools get a lot of technical instruction in writing.  The results are impressive.  And I can’t believe it’s just their socioeconomic status or a greater propensity to read that’s the cause of it.  My sister got actual technical writing instruction at the private school she went to for high school and her writing ability and writing enjoyment improved tremendously (despite heavy amounts of constructive feedback).  There are rules that can be taught.

So I’m asking you:  How do I teach writing to my kids?  Is there a curriculum that would be good?  A workbook series or set of prompts that would guide them through the basics of technical writing? A Kumon-style academy that does a particularly good job?  How did you learn how to write?

Advertisements

Please use more topic sentences

In your technical writing.  Please!

What is a topic sentence, you ask?  Since they no longer seem to cover that in third grade…

A topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph that provides the main idea of the paragraph.  Essentially it introduces a paragraph and summarizes what the paragraph is going to say.  It isn’t, “Now we turn to Table 2”.   It isn’t, “[Author (DATE)] studies X.”  What does Table 2 say?  Why is it there?  Why are you talking about Author (DATE)?  What is the relationship to your paper?  Convey this information in the first sentence of each paragraph.

The topic sentence should tell you why that paragraph is there.  If you don’t know why that paragraph is there, then maybe it shouldn’t be.

This PSA brought to you by a grumpy rumbler who has had to do waaay too many referee reports recently.

Stocks and bonds, Writing and outreach

I had an idea.  Follow me, here:

For academic careers, writing is like investing in stocks.  Outreach and translational research are like investing in bonds.

Stocks and writing:  Get lots while you’re young.  You need to write prolifically enough to get tenure, and gain the national or international reputation you need for those outside letters.  Spread your name, become known in your field.  Start early.  Because the return is uncertain, put a lot of writing out there in the world (and buy stocks).  Stocks are a good investment when you have a long timeline until retirement; you have time to weather the ups-and-downs of the market and can have a higher tolerance for risk, in exchange for possibly higher returns.

Bonds and outreach/translation:  These are more effective when you’re older.  When you’re more experienced in your field, you have more experience and a reputation that you can leverage for influence.  Research-wise, you’ve got a better idea of what works and what’s worth developing further, as well as potential pitfalls and objections.  You also know people who can help spread your ideas.  You may have more time to devote to making the world a better place.  When you’re closer to retirement, you also want the safety and security of bonds: potentially lower return, but steady.

In financial investing, as in an academic career, you’ll need a balance and variety throughout your life.  You might want to be doing both of these things (and more!) at all times, but in varying ratios.  Diversify and rebalance your portfolio and life.

This idea: off the wall, or right on target?  Tell me, Grumpeteers.

Part 4 of writing series: Hope

This part’s about treating writer’s block and being more productive.

Here are the other parts of the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

What follows is a series of chunks from a paper I wrote for a class.  If you’re my boss or co-worker (or mom), please don’t tell anybody my secret identity  :-) 

The paper is about a topic near and dear to us here on this blog: how to be a more productive writer.  These sections are mostly unedited, but some parts have been snipped out for snappier reading (hahaha!).

Text behind the cut, for lengthiness.  (snerk.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Part 3 of Writing Productivity Series (prevalence)

Here are the first parts of the series: Part 1, Part 2Part 4 is next.

What follows is a series of chunks from a paper I wrote for a class.  If you’re my boss or co-worker (or mom), please don’t tell anybody my secret identity  :-) 

The paper is about a topic near and dear to us here on this blog: how to be a more productive writer.  These sections are mostly unedited, but some parts have been snipped out for snappier reading (hahaha!).

 

Text behind the cut.

Read the rest of this entry »

Part 2 of Writing Productivity: Quick starters

Part 1 is herePart 3 is herePart 4.

What follows is a series of chunks from a paper I wrote for a class.  If you’re my boss or co-worker (or mom), please don’t tell anybody my secret identity  :-)

The paper is about a topic near and dear to us here on this blog: how to be a more productive writer.

These sections are mostly unedited [they could use it but this is a blog post], but some parts have been snipped out for snappier reading (hahaha!).

In part 1 I talked about what ‘writer’s block’ might be.  In part 2, I discuss its opposite.  It’s behind the cut (for length).

Read the rest of this entry »

Part 1 of a series: Writing productivity

Hey, a series!  Wow, it’s gonna be terrific.  Starring everybody, and me!

Part 2Part 3.

What follows is a series of chunks from a paper I wrote for a thing.  If you’re my boss or co-worker (or mom), please don’t tell anybody my secret identity  :-)

The paper is about a topic near and dear to us here on this blog: how to be a more productive writer.  Stay tuned for lit review extravaganza.

These sections are mostly unedited, but some parts have been snipped out for snappier reading (hahaha!).

Because these are so long, they’re behind a cut.

Read the rest of this entry »