In an on-line discussion someone wondered whether her observation was something that others had noticed — that homeschooled children tend to be “behind” in writing skills, particularly in the elementary years. I think that’s probably very true.

In school writing needs to be an early priority, because it’s used for evaluation. Imagine trying to evaluate knowledge and skills orally, through conversation, in a classroom of 24 kids! So schools need to push writing down into as early a grade level as possible to serve their administrative/evaluative needs efficiently.

I see that as artificial, and harmful to many children. I think the proper motivation for writing is to have something you want to say, and and audience you want to share it with.

Erin is an incredibly gifted writer. However in school this year she has really struggled with the idea of writing not motivated by the desire to communicate with an audience, of writing merely in order to have your knowledge and ability evaluated.

Her first 400-word essay answer in English took her 13 hours to complete. And oh my, it was painful to watch. At one point I recall her frustration and annoyance getting so overwhelming that I suggested that she just drop the course. She stuck it out, though. The biggest thing she’s learned this year is to write to serve the evaluative needs of the school. When she called me yesterday for a ride home after her English 10 provincial exam her brag was “I finished third.” Meaning, she was the third student in her class to complete her exam, well before the extra hour allotted for slower writers began. So she’s learned that lesson well, albeit with much existential wailing and gnashing of teeth. More power to her, I say. She’s absolutely right — it’s an necessary schoolish evil, this type of writing, and not the slightest bit authentic.

On writing, within school and without

6 thoughts on “On writing, within school and without

  • June 18, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    This is so true, about writing being pushed for evaluation purposes. Great post.

  • June 18, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Very true. It'll be interesting to see how Alex makes out in the fall with the whole contrived writing deal. He seems ready to give it a go, so here's hoping.

  • June 18, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Ah, yes. I agree it's pushed too early. We've done a little in the way of writing 'assignments' through the years, but nothing really formal. In the fall my older two will be doing a formal writing program, but that has been sort of requested by them so hopefully the motivation will last!

  • June 18, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    I just popped over to read that post and she really is brilliant (which I'm sure you already knew).

    The thing about homeschoolers is that they don't need to prove to us that they've read the book or memorized the material because we can (gasp) talk to them about it and figure it out. My homeschooler is 10 and I've been thinking how I want to introduce research projects to her. I've decided to have her write it, not to prove to me that she understands it, but to share it with others who might be interested in learning from her. And instead of doing a book report, it would be a book review, not to prove anything to me, but to help others choose an interesting book.

    Don't we all want our efforts to be relevant?

  • June 19, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Perfectly timed post!

    As I begin planning my son's next “school year” I ponder the subject of writing. He is a reluctant writer, but he can write. I looked into a writing class that is not taught in the schools, rather it is set up for private and home schoolers and has an outstanding reputation. Low and behold, I was told that the class wouldn't benefit my son until he enters the 5th grade! Interesting… he is very eager to advance and develop his math skills; he is fascinated with science; we encounter and embrace social studies all around us on a daily basis, but writing he has been slow to embrace.

    I feel reassured now. Unlike public schools, this writing program, these experienced educators and parents have observed and honored that many children are not really ready to write in those younger years and thus design their program and schedule around that.

    Personally, we can use this year to continue following my son's math inclinations and begin to really explore his science interest… and let writing wait until next year when he is more apt to understand and appreciate and enjoy it.

  • June 21, 2009 at 3:05 am

    I agree with school writing being artificial and frustrating. I used to read constantly as a child, and this led to me writing a lot of my own stories from when I was about nine.

    I found school writing incredibly frustrating, especially after I left primary school (when the writing activities tended to be fairly open in a 'write a story' sort of way) for seconday school where it was all writing for assessment. I was fine with the essays about books or poems we had read, but it was the creative writing that annoyed me.

    I was good at tests though, so I learnt to write the things they wanted to see. One and a half to two pages long, no space for character development, demonstrating use of advanced vocabulary, metaphors, similies, paragraphs, speech. It was like a game and I got very good at it.

    It wasn't really writing though. I stopped writing for fun during those years, because I'd learnt that what I wrote at home was too long, and not fast moving enough, and didn't have enough description. I only really started again a few years later when I got into writing fanfiction on the internet, and I learnt that people liked to read what I wrote. It also inspired me to improve my writing, and I did so much reading and reviewing of other people's work that I learnt much more about writing than I ever did in school.

    I reckon that people learn to write when they have something they want to share through writing (whether it's a blog, letters to a penpal, emails to a friend who moved away, or writing stories and poems). Until then, unless you're at school and are required to write set pieces, there's little motivation to learn.

    BTW, have you heard of Nanowrimo, and especially the Young Writers Program which I think is new, but looks amazing.

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