Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Writing and the Teaching of Writing...

Writing is hard work. And often teaching writing seems even more difficult. In addition to teaching my own home-educated students, I teach online classes through Brave Writer and two high school writing courses (which I designed and wrote myself) at our private independent study program (PSP) co-op Class Days. The Brave Writer classes are a great deal of fun because I teach workshops in areas that are of special interest to me: grammar, poetry, and Shakespeare.

But the Intermediate (college prep) and Advanced (honors) Writing courses take a great deal of grading time. I only have fifteen students between the two classes, but grading their three-to-five page essays every two weeks is time-consuming and, at times, frustrating when they don't "get it." Grading essays for these co-op classes take approximately 25 hours per month, if not more. Plus I fill up my fountain pen every other day when grading; I think my students may end up with an abhorrence of sepia ink. ;) (Because of my rheumatoid arthritis, I use a fountain pen for all handwriting because I don't have to press down at all while writing so I can write for much longer than with another instrument.)

In addition to teaching at Brave Writer and Class Day, I also tutor four students, three of them weekly and one on alternate Thursdays with my own boys, J and T. Two are in tenth grade, one in eighth, and one in sixth (along with my 6th and 8th grade boys). All four are using the same curriculum: the Beginning Writing Course I helped Becky Winn, the founder of our homeschool PSP, revise from her original class notes. This course is also taught at Class Day for students in grades 7-12. All three of my weekly students are writing the typical five-paragraph essays while the writing class, meeting every other week, is finishing up process paragraphs before heading into five-paragraph territory.

Tutoring is enjoyable for me, but it's just hard to fit in our schoolwork before my tutoring students arrive. I need to get started earlier or do something to help us finish by 3:30 when they come as I'm really tired of starting school back up at 4:30 and continuing until 5:30 or 6:00 PM (often later) until we finish the day's work. Sometimes their growth as writers is painstakingly slow, a frustration for both them and me. I have to bolster and encourage all of my tutored students a great deal in order to keep them writing. Writing *is* very hard work, especially when they have either a first draft or a final draft of an essay due each week. That's a lot of writing.

But there are moments of joy as well. Yesterday one of my sophomores made a complete breakthrough. Over the course of the year, she had been discouraged as her younger sister (8th grade) received better grades and turned in more creative and descriptive work. But as we've started expository writing, the older sister has started to really bloom as a writer. And the second draft she turned in to me yesterday was every bit as good as final drafts I receive from sophomores and juniors in Intermediate Writing at Class Day. Her essay was well over two pages long (typewritten and double-spaced) and she developed her ideas very well with specific images. She also followed the block format of the compare/contrast essay perfectly. Her introduction was strong, starting with a clever title and a wonderful "hook" of an opening line, and her conclusion was very strong as well. I am so proud of her for breaking through! It was a result of her hard work and determination, and I just about bubbled over when telling her mother about it yesterday. And this sophomore who has rarely smiled during our sessions was glowing. I am so thrilled for her.

Yes, writing is hard work. And teaching writing is even more difficult. But when a student discovers her strength in writing and is able to write strong, expressive sentences, assert and support her points clearly, and cleverly entice her audience into both reading her essay and also leaves them with some "food for thought" at her closing, we have absolute success. She no longer writes like an early junior high student but at the level that a sophomore should be writing -- if not better. I am bustin' with pride and happiness at her successful essay. And such moments make all of the blood, sweat, and tears of writing worthwhile -- for both of us.

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