Writing Updates

If you’re a loyal reader, then you’ll know I’ve been struggling a little with figuring out what I want for writing as well as what the kids need.  I taught middle and high school level students writing, but figuring out how I want my kids to take those first steps is proving to be more difficult for me.  I already posted about my skepticism about the classical approach to writing and the emphasis on copywork.  Yet the current school model, pushing kids to write tons of drivel without any critical eye toward improving grammar, vocabulary or sentence structure doesn’t work for me either.

Here’s what we’ve been doing in the last month or so.  I bought both the Just Write program as well as an older (and therefore cheaper) version of the Write Source program.  I also bookmarked the Small World’s Wordsmithery, which is a free program from a fellow homeschool blogger.  After trying a few things, we’ve been using Just Write for a few weeks now.  If you saw my curriculum declaration about how my kids like workbooks, that helps explain why.  We’ve also been doing more Mad Libs as well as watching Schoolhouse Rock’s grammar songs and reading Brian Cleary’s cute picture books about the parts of speech.

Just Write is a program from EPS, who also make the popular Explode the Code series.  There are two workbooks for first grade called Write About Me and Write About My World.  Then there are three workbooks intended for grades 2-4 entitled Just Write 1-3.  There are also teacher books, but I skipped those.  We started with the Just Write 1 book.  Although it’s intended for second grade, it has so far been okay for my first graders.

The workbook is on the thick side, with nearly 150 pages.  The topics move pretty quickly from brainstorming into writing “stories” which can be true or fictional.  Later topics topics touch on punctuation, adding details, and editing a story.  Most pages are spent on developing skills, especially organizational skills.  For example, after the topic of sequence is introduced, kids are invited to put out of sequence stories in order.  Then, they must underline common sequence words, such as “first” and “later” in a story.  They add on to a story themselves, using sequence words.  They complete sentences using sequence words and order pictures with sequence words.  In the culminating activity, they must write a set of simple directions using sequence words.

Above you can see one of Mushroom’s writings from section on sequence.  Other than asking how to spell “teacups,” he didn’t get a lot of help with this, though he needed me to sit at the table to help with sheer persistence.  I recall he needed to be reminded to add periods at the end of his sentences.  I think it’s pretty decent for a first grader, especially one with his reading skills, which are not especially high.  He did this assignment with confidence and without complaint or too much anxiety, which can be a problem for him.  You can probably see that the text helped structure it for him by giving him a space to plan his “story” with a web.

Clearly, at least for my kids, that’s the strength of this particular program.  It builds kids up to where they feel like they can face a page of blank lines and write on them.  Some of the writing prompts are cute.  Others seem dreadful to me, but most of them are just open ended, such as this one, asking kids to demonstrate a particular skill or write about something very general, such as a feeling, a person, or a problem.

On the other hand, the writing that Mushroom did there is interminably dull.  I don’t want to be mean.  I’m proud of what he did.  I don’t really expect more from a first grader.  It’s possible that the purpose of him writing with a workbook is to simply remove the anxiety associated with a blank page in his journal.  And once he’s confident enough to write, then we can start thinking about things like beautiful, interesting words.  That’s what I hope anyway.

What I worry is that it’s too fill in the blank.  It’s certainly a very schooly program.  It’s always a balance between pushing kids toward thinking for themselves and providing the structure so they can.  Fill in the blank is the easy way out, but I’m trying to figure out when it’s necessary.  I’m sure I’ll swing back at some point and rebel against this writing in a box attitude, which doesn’t entirely suit me and which I don’t want to suit my kids too well either.

* Did you notice that Just Write uses a font very much like Comic Sans?  As it’s not quite comic sans, I have been managing to live with it.  But only barely.

4 thoughts on “Writing Updates

  1. Hmm. We actually gave something like this ( obviously for older kids ) a try for dd11 – to get her used to the way school teaches writing, the language most people use to teach writing, as we don’t teach it at all. It was OK. I can see the logic behind it and I take your point about breaking the task down reducing writerly anxiety.

    The trouble we found was that it was so freakingly boring, and produced freakingly boring writing. So we quit.

    Still, if the kids are happy, that’s a good thing.

  2. Hi,

    I found your site via another home schooling blog, Tinderbox. I’ve got a two-year old and am thinking about home schooling when she is older….so I feel inspired and awed by your blog, and rivka’s.

    I find the whole writing issue interesting and sad. I had no idea that teaching writing to kids was so, well, structured. I found myself instantly rebelling against the idea of putting the story fragments “in order.” You’ve given me something new to think about. Thanks!

    1. I guess, while I see it as boring, I don’t see it as sad any more than I see doing single digit addition or subtraction sad. Baby steps. What would be really sad would be if they needed structure to learn, but I just wanted writing to only be this magical, creative thing, so I didn’t give them that structure and then was disappointed in how they never learned how to write. But we also do more open ended, fun writing when it does feel like a magical moment. Plus, some kids don’t need this sort of thing – they do just write naturally. But that’s what’s great about homeschooling – different approaches for different kids.

      Glad you found my blog!

  3. I have never heard of this program, but we tried a very similar one. I found that for the first few lessons it was fine, but then the kids were bored and it was a struggle. The best tools for me have been a weekly fun journal exercise (I give a prompt) and time. Once my girls hit somewhere around 2nd grade they have all become major writers – writing stories, reports, etc. That makes instructive writing (“How to Write a Persuasive Essay”) so much easier because they aren’t balking at actually writing. Now that we’ve tried MBtP this year (heavy writing) I feel like they are getting more consistent instruction, and it’s been great. This isn’t very helpful to you, I guess but I thought I’d share our experience! 😉

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