Recently a friend (whose daughter I am tutoring in creative writing) sent me a link to this article about kids and writing. It’s long, and there’s a lot to ponder, but it inspired me to think about the different ways in which I teach and work with kids, and how to best help them with their writing, wherever they’re at. I never actually learned how to diagram a sentence, but I can certainly break them down and put them back together like a car engine if needed!
What do you think? Which tactic works better for you?
Why Kids Can’t Write
By DANA GOLDSTEINAUG. 2, 2017
Credit Angela Asemota
On a bright July morning in a windowless conference room in a Manhattan bookstore, several dozen elementary school teachers were learning how to create worksheets that would help children learn to write.
Judith C. Hochman, founder of an organization called the Writing Revolution, displayed examples of student work. A first grader had produced the following phrase: “Plants need water it need sun to” — that is, plants need water and sun, too. If the student didn’t learn how to correct pronoun disagreement and missing conjunctions, by high school he could be writing phrases like this one: “Well Machines are good but they take people jobs like if they don’t know how to use it they get fired.” That was a real submission on the essay section of the ACT.
“It all starts with a sentence,” Dr. Hochman said.
Focusing on the fundamentals of grammar is one approach to teaching writing. But it’s by no means the dominant one. Many educators are concerned less with sentence-level mechanics than with helping students draw inspiration from their own lives and from literature.
Thirty miles away at Nassau Community College, Meredith Wanzer, a high school teacher and instructor with the Long Island Writing Project, was running a weeklong workshop attended by six teenage girls. The goal was to prepare them to write winning college admissions essays — that delicate genre calling for a student to highlight her strengths (without sounding boastful) and tell a vivid personal story (without coming off as self-involved).
Ms. Wanzer led the students in a freewrite, a popular English class strategy of writing without stopping or judging. First, she read aloud from “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott’s 1995 classic on how to write with voice. “You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind,” the memoirist writes. “Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”