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Taking the tears out of copywork

by | Oct 27, 2014 | Reluctant or Struggling Writers, Special Needs

If your child can't finish copywork because he daydreams or keeps losing his place, try these 2 simple tools for taking the tears out of copywork!
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I usually don’t get to observe my grandkids’ homework process. Now and then they’ll do schoolwork at our house, but when their family lived with us temporarily during their home remodeling project, I had a birds’-eye view!

Copying by Hand Can Be Tedious 

This particular day, Ryan was not a happy camper. His 4th-grade teacher had assigned a 3- to 5-page California mission report to his class of 9-year-olds.

On the plus side, Ryan had finished all his research. And his mom took some of the pressure off by letting him dictate his rough draft as she typed it. Still, this project ultimately had to be written by hand, meaning Ryan still had to copy the report using pencil and paper.

It was excruciating for him—and almost as painful for the rest of us. By 6:00 p.m. (with the rough draft due the next day), our reluctant writer had already spent hours recopying with not much to show for his trouble.

Ryan was quickly becoming an emotional wreck. Over the past two weeks, he’d spent all his free time on this thing and was aching to be done. But the more he fretted, the slower he seemed to go. Indeed, he was convinced he’d be at it till midnight. Ryan—and his report—were nearing zero hour, and as the pressure mounted, so did the anxiety and tears.

Three Problems with Copywork

As I observed him at the table, I began to notice three things:

  • He lost his place. Every time Ryan’s eyes returned to the typed page, he wasted precious moments trying to find where he’d left off. This made the copying process all the slower.
  • He lost his focus. Losing his place affected his ability to concentrate. He’d simply disappear into deep thought and stare off into space.
  • He lost his joy. (Well, to be honest, the joy was never there to begin with.) But as time edged forward, mounting discouragement gave way to slumped shoulders and tears.

Tools That Help

To her credit, his mom had done everything she could think of to help Ryan along.

They read and researched together for hours every day. She helped him gather his thoughts and write notes. She made the wise decision to let him narrate the report as a time-saving and encouraging step in the process. But facing this last mountain with her son, she was finally at her wits’ end.

Leaning over Ryan, I gave him a hug and introduced two little tricks that I hoped would help him over the hump. My fingers were crossed—you just never know what’s going to inspire a kid!

1. Reading Tracker

First I gave him a reading tracker. This handy gadget reveals one line of text while hiding what’s above and below. To continue reading, the child simply slides the tracker down to the next line. The surrounding text no longer overwhelms or confuses him, allowing him to focus on the line he is reading.

While a reading tracker is typically used to help a child keep his place when reading a book, it’s also an effective copywork aid. In Ryan’s case, it took care of two immediate problems:

  • He no longer lost his place as his eyes moved between the typed page and his handwritten copy.
  • As a result, he was able to concentrate on the task for longer periods of time.

You can purchase reading trackers herehere, and here, or you can make your own. I made Ryan’s from two sheets of folded paper, but you can also make your own using colored plastic dividers.

2. Timer

Along with the tracker, I set my kitchen timer in front of Ryan. Up to now, it had taken him hours to recopy just a few paragraphs, but I had no clue how much time was reasonable for him to copy a small section of text.

To begin with, I timed him as he copied two lines of text using his new tracker. I figured if he could copy two lines in three minutes, he could copy most paragraphs in 12-15 minutes. We started with 15. When he proclaimed he’d copied his first paragraph with time to spare, we were ecstatic!

Success breeds more success, so we tried it again. This time, I reduced the time to 12 minutes. Again, Ryan surprised us by beating the clock. Immediately, the atmosphere in the room changed from one of weighty oppression to buoyant optimism: Ryan could see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Some children just don’t handle timed activities very well. For Ryan, however, the use of a timer proved magical. Instead of fearing the advance of the clock, he let his vivid imagination take over. When I asked him which tool—the tracker or the timer—was the most helpful, he said with a gleeful smile, “The timer! I pretended it was a ticking bomb and tried to finish before it went off.”

“My Hand Hurts”

Writing with renewed speed did produce one consequence for Ryan: hand cramping. Many young children complain that their hand gets tired or sore when writing. If your child experiences this, let him take occasional breaks to have a snack or play outside.

Finishing by bedtime bolstered Ryan’s shaky confidence. With these two simple tools—the tracker and the timer—his mood went from foul to fabulous!

Does copywork produce tears at your house? Next time, give these a try and let me know how it goes!

If your child can't finish copywork because he daydreams or keeps losing his place, try these 2 simple tools for taking the tears out of copywork!

Photo: eren{sea+prairie}, courtesy of Creative Commons