4 tips for teaching the strong-willed writer
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By Daniella Dautrich
Do you have a strong-willed writer or two? These children aren’t always reluctant writers. As a matter of fact, many strong-willed children love to write! What they don’t appreciate are instructions and guidelines, which they perceive as restrictive stumbling blocks to their writing freedoms.
- Have a mind of their own when it comes to picking writing topics.
- Are perfectionists who wants to shine and excel in their work.
- Cry at the sight of red pencil corrections: “You wrote on my paper!”
- Become disheartened if you suggest any changes to their writing.
Guiding the Strong-Willed Writer
From childhood onward, I have been that strong-willed writer. My mother began homeschooling me when I was in second grade, and she quickly encountered my tears and protests whenever she corrected a writing assignments.
When I entered high school, my parents enrolled me in a WriteShop class, and the course was a perfect fit for my tenacious ways. When I went on to study American literature in college, my essential personality was blessedly unchanged. However, I carried with me those fundamental writing skills I first learned as a young high schooler.
Your strong-willed children are who they are, and you cannot change that about them. You can, however, guide them into a mastery of writing skills. Speaking from experience, I offer four teaching tools for more effective—and, I hope, more enjoyable—writing instruction:
1. Teach self-editing skills.
Checklists are invaluable tools for teaching self-editing. Instead of giving your kids red-pencil corrections, give a checklist with reminders about strong nouns, colorful adjectives, various sentence starters, minimal “to be” verbs, etc. It diffuses emotion when you hold their paper accountable to a list of lesson requirements instead of weighing it against their own (or your) subjective expectations.
WriteShop is an excellent curriculum for teaching self-editing skills.
2. Commend her efforts and praise her successes.
You’ll probably feel some frustration when a strong-willed child sees every writing assignment as a performance, with more ecstatic highs and devastating lows than the average homeschool is fit to bear.
While others are satisfied to take directions, your kids want to be original and take the lead, so be sure to point out the positive aspects of both their writing and personality.
“Your word choices are excellent.”
“You really captured the emotion of that experience!”
“I love how you think outside the box. Your creative ending totally took me by surprise!”
3. Focus on incremental writing corrections.
Don’t overhaul the first draft. Instead, address errors bit by bit. For example, during the first week you might say: “I can spot three repeated words, five weak nouns, and four dull verbs in your paragraph.” Armed with tools such as word lists and a thesaurus [affiliate], your student can identify the problem words and make the changes.
If you must make comments on the paper, use sticky notes that won’t deface your students’ work. Once they’ve addressed those specific issues, you might turn your focus the next week to spelling and punctuation. Review the writing and say: “I can see five misspelled words, one comma error, and two misplaced apostrophes.” Again, let them find the mistakes and make the corrections.
All the while, try to keep the editing process light-hearted. See if you can make it a game!
4. Challenge your student to imitate great writing.
Did you know that Ben Franklin taught himself to write by studying and imitating great books? Samuel Johnson, who compiled the first English dictionary, likewise believed that fine written expression could only be acquired by “daily imitation” of the best authors.
When you give your students writing instruction, set aside time to examine a passage from a great book. Ask your child, “What sentence starters does the author use? Where does he place commas, periods, and quotation marks?” Copywork and dictation exercises, such as those used to supplement WriteShop I, are useful for reinforcing this learning experience.
Each of these correction strategies will teach your students to think independently and solve problems creatively. In turn, this will prepare them for the kind of self-directed study that becomes essential in higher education. If they emotionally connect and personally identify with their own writing, so much the better! They’ll be more likely to engage with topics and make persuasive arguments in college and beyond.
When you approach a new writing assignment, your job as teacher is to provide the right tools and vocabulary. Remember that these strong-willed kids have firm ideas and convictions, and they’re already motivated to express those thoughts in their own terms.