Hello, I have not been on MDC in a long time but recently re-discovered it. My son, who will be going into 4th grade, did the library summer reading program this summer. He completed those requirements and then kept right on reading other books. However, he has done little writing, and that is one of the things I meant to work w/ him on this summer. He will read thick books beyond his grade level but will complain about having to summarize the book or write anything about it and just moves right on to the next book. Sometimes I think that there is no way of knowing whether he is grasping all that he has read in the books, but during the school year, he takes Accelerated Reading tests on books he reads throughout the year and does well on those, so I guess he does. Also does well on achievement testing
I'm rambling a bit, but I guess I feel like I have failed in my goal of having him work on developing his writing skills this summer. When I have succeeded in getting him to write something, it is usually just a few sentences and not very detailed, etc. I will tell him to tell me more and write about what he wants to write, he complains and says he doesn't want to write, I give up b/c I have younger children and am usually frazzled and trying to do a million other things, etc. Can anyone relate? I am not one to drill him all summer, but I am worried that his thinking skills and reading comprehension do not come across in his writing. He also has always had sloppy handwriting and does not pay close attention to mechanics. Writing projects were a struggle during the school year. Now he is transitioning to a different school, so I wonder how he will come across.
My perspective is that of an unschooling mom to gifted kids, so we have not been bound by schools' expectation of written output -- at least not until my kids chose to enter school as teens. But for what it's worth ....
I've always believed that writing requires two things to begin with: something to say, and someone you want to say it to. Really writing is a form of communication, so without those two basics, there's really no point, and I don't blame kids for not wanting to bother with it after reading a summer novel for pleasure. So much of the writing kids are expected to do doesn't have that meaningfulness and authenticity. My kids wrote freely and prolifically once they discovered reasons to write: to share a walk-through of a computer game they loved, to record a fantastic dream they'd had that they didn't want to forget, to get others excited about reading a book they loved, to work through their feelings about family and social relationships, to request help on a tech-support issue on-line.
Assuming the motivation is there, there's still the craft of writing to learn. My dad was a philosophy professor who graded thousands and thousands of college essays during his career and he always said that the number one cause of poor writing was poor thinking. He was firmly of the opinion that clear and cogent thinking is a necessary and nearly-sufficient pre-requisite for good writing. If you can organize thoughts and ideas clearly in your mind, it is a pretty simple matter to put them down on paper. When I was growing up we were encouraged to take part in lively discussions at the dinner table about all sorts of interesting topics, and knew that when we voiced an opinion we would be expected to back it up with solid arguments, and I have to agree with my dad that this first and foremost built our writing skills.
Then of course there's the business of spelling and grammar -- best learned by most people through copious reading -- and the mechanical aspect of writing letters and words. I'm the mom to a dysgraphic son starting his senior year of high school: he uses a computer for anything longer than a short paragraph and has not been hampered by his handwriting issues in high school. I realize that in elementary and middle school teachers need kids to have legible handwriting to help them evaluate what children know and can do, so your ds probably can't vault to using a tablet or laptop for written work right away. But ultimately handwriting isn't nearly the necessary skill it was in the years prior to mobile devices. If you want your ds to work on his handwriting, I would probably do that as a discrete graphomotor task, using a workbook or copywork, rather than insisting he also compose, and spell, and organize and structure his ideas grammatically.
If it makes you feel any better, my two eldest children wrote almost nothing until ages 8.5 and 11 respectively (and the kid who started writing at age 8.5 didn't share any of her writing with anyone until she was about 13), and they both turned out to be incredibly gifted writers. Both got the highest marks in the district on their standardized 11th grade provincial written English examinations and received awards for their writing.
So I guess my vote would be to encourage plentiful reading and plentiful critical thinking and not stress about the writing. If you can encourage interests that generate authentic motivation for writing, that's great, because it will reassure you that the skill is being exercised ... but I don't think all that practice is really necessary at a young age. If you think he absolutely needs to work on handwriting, I would work with him to find relatively painless ways to do that specifically, separate from composition.
Mountain mama to three great kids and one great grown-up
You have, in fact, been working on writing by working on reading. It is through reading lots of other authors that young writers find their own voice. And don't worry too much about handwriting--my son is going into 6th grade and is only now starting to care about his handwriting.
You could try to get your son a pen-pal if you wanted to. That would be a fun way to practice writing.
I agree with Miranda. If there is no intrinsic purpose in writing, then it is more of a chore than a challenge or a joy. Discussions and debates at the dinner table can help kids learn to organize their thoughts; which will help later when they try and write their thoughts. I wish we did that more often. But when DH and I start discussing any interesting topic, 9 times out of 10 the kids zone out or talk about something else.
We went to Italy during the school year, and both kids, 6yo DD and 8yo DS, were expected to write a bit each day about their trip. DD was interested in doing this. Her book had long, flowing descriptions of all the things we did. She is also more verbal. DS is more quiet, and he considered it boring, if not a chore. He wrote nearly the same thing every day, with the same sentence structure. We went swimming. We had ice cream... Next day - nearly the same sentences. But his reading is way beyond this writing level. His heart and mind were not into the writing project, so the results were poor. However, if he is interested, they are much better. If he had to write a description or a story about Minecraft, he would probably write 3 interesting pages. Now that I think about it, I don't really blame him. I do the same thing, and I am 46. If I have to do something that I am not interested in, I do it, I make it acceptable, because I take pride in my work, but I certainly don't spend extra time to make it much better. I save up that time to use on something I am interested in, and I do that well. I think this is human nature. We can not all be interested in everything.
.....Sometimes I think that there is no way of knowing whether he is grasping all that he has read in the books, but during the school year, he takes Accelerated Reading tests on books he reads throughout the year and does well on those, so I guess he does. Also does well on achievement testing
.....I am not one to drill him all summer, but I am worried that his thinking skills and reading comprehension do not come across in his writing. He also has always had sloppy handwriting and does not pay close attention to mechanics. Writing projects were a struggle during the school year. Now he is transitioning to a different school, so I wonder how he will come across.
There are so many components to good writing. You may need to sort out where he is struggling in order to help him. As you point out, writing involves higher cognitive level skills of comprehension, analysis, organization and so on. Since he does well in school in reading comprehension tasks and achievement testing, it suggests that you may want to look elsewhere to make sure other issues aren't interfering. There is also a critical musculoskeletal component necessary to generate written work. There tends to be a focus on fine motor skills but poor gross motor function can be an overlooked problem. Kids with low muscle tone and poor core trunk strength will fatigue more quickly as they try to do sustained tasks like writing for long periods. They will get distracted easily and tend to abandon the task as soon as possible. Swimming, gymnastics, and martial arts are good activities to help these kids develop gross motor function.
For fine motor skill development, you may want to offer him activities that he finds more enjoyable than simply practicing letter formation on the page. Pre-schooler activities including things like stringing beads and using tweezers to pick up small objects, but that probably won't interest a 4th grader. Perhaps he'd like to try drawing cartoons, hand sewing patches on to a bag or eating with chopsticks instead.
To develop his skills in logic, critical analysis, organizing his thoughts and communicating them, perhaps he would prefer to try storyboarding or photo essays or filming a video documentary or recording a radio interview or putting together a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation or blogging instead of traditional pen-to-paper writing. What interests him right now? Solar systems or rock collecting or wolves and their habitats or Star Wars lego or whatever? Maybe he might be more enthusiastic about putting something together on a current hobby, rather than a book he has read.
If he hasn't already been introduced to mind-mapping, brain storming, outlining and other pre-writing organizational assists, he may find them very helpful to overcome the sense of being overwhelmed when he sits down to write. My DS had some issues with writing when he was about the same age. He also found the increase in written work that came in 3rd grade to be a challenge. At first he resisted outlining and mind-mapping before he started a written assignment because it seemed to prolong his agony. He soon realized how helpful it was to the overall process and made the whole thing less onerous.
Anyway, those are just a few thoughts, hope they help.
Totally. I think there are a few reasons. First, if you're a typical 7-year-old, writing "We went swimming. It was fun." is completely consistent with your reading and vocabulary level. When you're 7 and reading at a 6th grade level, and holding conversations with adults about existential matters, those same simplistic sentences seem like an aversion, or a lag -- that asynchronous development thing. Second, there's the "brain thinks faster than hand can write" effect, though I tend to believe that's true of almost everyone almost all the time. Surely it takes even a non-gifted 7-year-old less than 25 seconds to conceptualize the sentence "It was fun." We all write much more slowly than we think -- though for gifted kids the discrepancy may be greater, for what that's worth. Thirdly, gifted kids tend to have a much clearer understanding of what constitutes good writing, and therefore are easily frustrated by their (developmentally-appropriate) inability to produce such writing. It's an aspect of perfectionism, if you will. They are aware that what they are capable of is rudimentary and unpolished at best -- whereas other 7-year-olds might have no clue that they are not writing inspired, publishable stuff -- and figure why bother. So they have a greater aesthetic appreciation of good writing, and therefore more awareness of their competence gap. Finally, I think that many gifted kids have had the majority of their learning come quite easily, with little real effort, and handwriting is something that will, even for them, require a fair bit of long-term painstaking practice with only gradual improvement. Because they've not had experience with slow-and-steady learning, they often don't have the patience and trust in the process.
I wouldn't assign summer writing with a 7-year-old, but lol about Minecraft. My ds had to contribute a writing sample as part of his homeschooling portfolio when he was 13, and chose to write with great passion about the unusual model for software development that Notch had used during the alpha-release phase of Minecraft. I still have that paper... it was robust and interesting and probably one of the first things that reassured me that he was blossoming into a great writer, despite having written very very little over the course of his unschooled life.
Mountain mama to three great kids and one great grown-up
You know i hadnt thought of it that way - what he's writing is appropriate for a 7 year old - just seems like knowing how he speaks and what level he reads at he should be doing more! I'll have to tell that to his teachers when they start complaining again that he is"capable of better work" - sometimes i forget he is just 7!
I think that's when it's useful to discuss modifications and alternatives to written work with teachers. I mentioned a few possibilities in my previous post. An oral presentation, poster presentation, Powerpoint or video documentary allows a child to demonstrate their knowledge without the discouraging challenge of struggling with still-developing (and often age-appropriate) writing skills. As their writing ability progresses, they can incorporate more written output into their schoolwork for academic evaluation. Some of those options may be more applicable for 9 or 10 or 12 y.o.'s (closer to the age of the OP's 4th grader), rather than 7 y.o's - I'm thinking Powerpoint and filming may be a little advanced for the primary grades - but I hope you get the general idea.
Thanks to all for your wonderful suggestions! I will try to help him find his purpose in writing, and hopefully then he will be more motivated and willing.
I think there is some of this going on w/ ds. He likes to be done quickly w/ assignments, and just the act of handwriting itself takes more time & effort. I wonder if the output will increase a lot when he starts typing assignments?
There is also a critical musculoskeletal component necessary to generate written work. There tends to be a focus on fine motor skills but poor gross motor function can be an overlooked problem.
I have frequently heard, "It hurts my hand..." Seems to grip the pencil pretty tightly and is also a leftie (pencil smudges due to hand going over writing).
Great suggestions! I almost feel like I should read the books he is reading so that we can engage in some good discussions...or maybe just search for some summaries!
It sounds like he could use some help with his grasp. An assist may help. Has he tried using a soft grip or triangular pencils?
A quick google search turned up this link that might be helpful. "When a child is compensating for poor tactile perception or weak shoulder muscles, he may hold the pencil very tightly, which results in an inefficient pencil grasp."
Thank you for the link, ollyoxenfree. You know, I haven't really thought much about those pencil grips and triangular pencils for a long time - prob. not since he was in Kind. or 1st grade...but maybe it's time to try them again. He is pretty strong/sturdy, so I don't think it's weak shoulder muscles. As an aside, I have a kindergartner who is soooo particular about his writing - it is like night and day!