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fisherfamily 04-06-2014 12:20 PM

I'm just looking for some perspective.  How much writing are your 4th graders expected to do?


Most people say their kids are still working on 5 sentence paragraphs (free writing), and children in gifted programs are beginning to write (5 paragraphs of 5 sentences each) research papers.  Does that sound right?


We homeschool, and I just want to see if we are on track.  Thanks!

beanma 04-06-2014 06:20 PM

I think that sounds about right, but maybe a little less than my 4th grader is being assigned at school. My dd2 is a gifted writer, though, and usually spends every free moment she has writing stories so I'm not sure I'm a great judge. From what I've seen of her other classmates' work this year, though, that sounds about right. I think maybe by this time of the year they've all moved past the single paragraph, but one paragraph is about what they were doing at the beginning of the year.

moominmamma 04-06-2014 07:21 PM

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Originally Posted by FisherFamily View Post

We homeschool, and I just want to see if we are on track.  Thanks!


Just inserting a long-time homeschoolers' perspective. What the school system expects for writing says more about the need to evaluate large groups of kids than it does about what is necessary for learning or for the development of good job- or college-ready writing skills. My kids, and many/most homeschoolers, were well "behind" school students in their expository writing skills and writing stamina up until they were almost teens. Suddenly as young teens they blossomed as writers, such that when they entered high school they were at the very top of their classes in creative and essay-writing skills. I don't think it takes 8 years to learn to write an essay -- at least not unless you start at age 8. In my experience it takes less than a year if you're a motivated teen with good general literacy skills and the habit of good critical thinking.



fisherfamily 04-06-2014 07:59 PM

Thank you both.

Miranda...thank you also. I agree with not worrying about school standards per se, just trying to get an overall feel. Dd1 is a good writer, and I think she is ready for more. I have been bumping up all the materials I offer her, and she is becoming much happier. So, I just wondered where she was if I was going to pick up some curriculum for her.

beanma 04-06-2014 08:47 PM

I really think that writing fluency really depends on the individual child. If kids are free to explore their interests on their own time it doesn't really matter if they're homeschooled or go to school. If they love writing, they'll write. My dd2 is currently writing 5 or 6 stories simultaneously (typing on her computer—they usually end up being 20-50 pp long). She does some expository writing (research topics and such) at school, but all writing is super easy for her. I certainly don't push her on this, but I do encourage it because she loves it. 


I do think that it makes sense for many homeschoolers (some of my best friends are homeschoolers — no, really!) to know what a general "grade level" ability in case their family decides to enter the school system, or circumstances force them to (illness, divorce, etc).

beanma 04-06-2014 09:06 PM

Here are a few websites that might help. Scroll down through the Great Schools page and they link to several examples of 4th grade writing. I would say that the opinion piece is right about on target for what they are doing in my 4th grader's class—maybe a 3 paragraph piece. The last piece on evolution looks like it might have been a power point or Google Drive presentation. My dd2 has been using that and everyone in her class has a Google Drive account.


If I were homeschooling (which is always on the table for us) I would like to see a blog or presentation about a topic that interests them. I'd definitely expect more than one paragraph from my kids, but if I had a kid who really struggled with writing one paragraph might be ok if the research, etc, was there. 


I think putting your sources down is very important, too. It doesn't have to be MLA format, but why not since that's really easy to do with online tools like easybib . I think citing sources drives home the point that researchers and authors deserve credit for their work and it's not okay to copy and paste and try to pass off someone else's work as your own.

One_Girl 04-07-2014 10:57 AM

That would be late first and early second around here. By late second they begin into one page research papers with support doing the research part. The state used to do a writing assessment at the beginning of the year in fourth and there were expected to know how to write a good paper with a clear beginning, middle, and end from a prompt they got at the beginning of the test and no support.

beanma 04-07-2014 05:45 PM

As an aside, I _really_ hate the rule on how many sentences should be in a paragraph. I've seen it be 5 sentences, 8 sentences, etc. Rather than set a minimum number of sentences in a paragraph, I think a paragraph should be focused around a topic sentence and when you're done with that topic you move on to a new paragraph. Sometimes that's 10 sentences later and sometimes it's just one sentence. My kids tend to write complex sentences, so having an arbitrary number like that forces them to write more simply instead of artfully using conjunctions and transitions.

IdentityCrisisMama 04-08-2014 04:28 AM

I just asked my 6th grader and right now she has to do 5 paragraphs/at least 4 sentences each.  She did not write papers in 4th. They did creative writing but it was super relaxed. 

fisherfamily 04-08-2014 04:39 AM

Thank you, everyone!

Beanma, I agree with the sentences thing. Also, the book we were using was making dd's writing worse because of over simplifying things. She is a voracious reader, and writes in the same way. Reducing her to the use of "in conclusion", and making her restate her introductory sentence was like fingernails on a chalkboard!

beanma 04-08-2014 08:01 AM

I really hate that rule. I think it reinforces poor writing. A teacher should certainly give feedback on proper paragraph formation, but setting a sentence requirement for paragraphs is just a great way to make up some arbitrary rules for kids to get anxious about, instead of teaching them how to properly break their work into paragraphs as they introduce new ideas. It's just asking for far too simplistic writing as kids count up to see if they have enough: "A tree has many parts. It has leaves. It has bark. It has branches. It has roots."  Is that enough sentences? Instead I'd rather see kids being taught using techniques that facilitate the correct use of more sophisticated punctuation and conjunctions — "A tree has many parts including leaves, bark, branches, and roots." 


The fact is, there's just not a set number of sentences that needs to be in a paragraph and to tell kids that paragraphs have to have X number of sentences is just confusing and wrong. No editor at the NY Times is going to say, "You only have four sentences in this paragraph and you need to have five. We can't run this story! Go do it over." To make matters worse different teachers have different requirements about it, too. Most of my kids' teachers so far don't teach that way, but there have been a few and I've just told my kids that it's BS, but they can follow the teacher's rule if they want to or are concerned about their grade.


I think learning to paragraph properly is really important in learning to organize your thinking. I know when I'm writing, I'm cutting and pasting all the time to keep my thoughts on an idea together in one paragraph instead of strung out throughout my writing, and to make my meaning clearer to the reader. Setting an arbitrary minimum number of sentences obscures the real point of paragraphs as one of, if not the, most important organizational tools in good writing.

moominmamma 04-08-2014 08:11 AM

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This formulaic stuff is why I think it's best to wait to formally teach writing until kids have broad an sophisticated body of reading experience, strong critical thinking skills, the ability to organize their thoughts in informal debates and discussions and the motivation to want to write really well. What FisherFamily noticed about her dd's writing getting worse while working through a [presumably formulaic] writing curriculum, and the wooden writing that typically passes for research papers or book reports in public schools ... I think those outcomes are the result of too much didactic teaching too early in a child's scholastic career. 



beanma 04-08-2014 10:08 AM

Nah, I don't think so at all Miranda. I think young kids can learn to write fluently, persuasively, informatively and in a non-formulaic way and they need to be doing it from early on. I think kids can grasp the need for elaboration (presumably what the X number of sentences requirement for paragraphs is about) and also the subtlety of deciding when a new idea deserves its own paragraph. 


Formulaic writing instruction is certainly not limited to elementary school educational methods. It's way, way too common in high school, too. Just google "five paragraph essay" and "college" to read many college professors bemoaning the formulaic papers their college freshmen are handing in.  I know there are many homeschooling curriculums that teach that tired, old method, too.

whatsnextmom 04-08-2014 06:41 PM

4th grade is a heavy writing year in our area largely because state testing included a special writing exam in 4th and 7th grades. That said, research papers started in 3rd grade and paragraph writing was typical in 2nd grade. 4th grade is when teachers start to expect stronger grammar and spelling. There really is a wide range of normal though. I was a paid classroom aide for a year in our district and I remember being surprised in the range of writing ability but the teacher not only understood it but expected it.

moominmamma 04-09-2014 07:59 AM

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Originally Posted by beanma View Post

I think young kids can learn to write fluently, persuasively, informatively and in a non-formulaic way and they need to be doing it from early on.

I'm curious why you think they need to be doing it from early on, since my experience flies in the face of this assertion.

I don't doubt that some children are capable of writing very well at young ages, but I think there's an incredibly wide range of what they're capable of, and I think that when children are prodded along before they're ready, you can end up with some pretty negative fallout... whether the formulaic, wooden writing that is all about counting sentences and dropping anything in to fill a template, or a lasting dislike of writing assignments. My kids have always been very bright and highly literate, but my ds -- probably now my most gifted essay-writer -- had some dysgraphic tendencies when he was younger and was physically and mentally incapable of translating his thoughts into fluent written form until age 11 or 12 or so. As a homeschooler he didn't need to write for evaluation, so I just let him be. By age 9 or 10 his touch-typing had got blisteringly fast from playing online RPGs, and then a couple of years later his writers' cork came unstopped. At 17 he absolutely loves writing essays and technical guides and short stories, and he is very, very good at it. My girls have followed a similar trajectory, though they were not as starkly resistant to writing for quite as long as he was.


beanma 04-09-2014 10:12 AM

Well, I just think kids should learn the basics of good writing early on because if they learn to write poorly they may ingrain bad habits that are hard to break.  It's easier just to learn it the best way from the get go, ability and age appropriately, of course. My best way does not include 5 sentence paragraphs or other formulaic writing methods and I'm not saying you should put them in a structured writing program in 1st grade. 


As MDC readers, we know how daunting it can be to come across posts that have no paragraph breaks and are full of misspellings and run-on sentences. I'm not suggesting that you have to pass the Grammar Police checkpoint to post in an online forum, but there are many times that I just skip posts that are one giant block of text. Put a paragraph break in there somewhere! If you don't learn how to effectively communicate via written text your message will be ignored. 


In cases like your son's, Miranda, taking dictation can be helpful. I did that very early on with my kids (like when they were preschool aged up until maybe 1st grade). The teachers at school worked that way as well. We have a lovely poetry book from my dd1's 1st & 2nd grade class that the teacher put together for them. She helped them write their own "books", too.  I think it's very empowering for kids to express their ideas and see them on the page. As the helper takes dictation from the child you have an opportunity to engage the child in thinking about ways to organize their ideas, to recognize the need for a new paragraph, etc. (BTW, Dd2 was absolutely ecstatic that we got one of her stories bound and printed at — fairly cheap, too. Could be a great homeschooling project.) I don't necessarily think 1st graders should write 5 page research papers, but I do think they should be engaged in the act of writing in the way that is most appropriate to their abilities. If they can type it up themselves — yay, go for it. If they need someone to take dictation, that works, too. The important thing is to learn how to effectively express ideas in a written form. 


I am all for exploration and am definitely not advocating a super structured approach to writing, but there comes a time when you do need to point out the misspellings and help them organize their thoughts. That time is probably not preschool or Kindergarten so much—I'm all about just encouraging creativity and free expression in little ones—but I do think that early on (1st, 2nd grade) you can encourage the idea of reviewing what you have written, correcting mistakes, and organizing for clarity—especially as kids move to writing on the computer. If they're hand-writing sometimes one pass is enough or you run the risk of squelching any enthusiasm. It's such a daunting idea for a young child to re-hand-write a paragraph she labored over. As they move on to doing their projects on a computer, however, the opportunity is there to really dive in to thinking about organization. I pushed for my dd1 to start typing her papers once she got to middle school and had many more papers assigned. Initially she was reluctant because she was not a fluent typist then, but because revising is soooooooo much easier on the computer she became a fairly fluent typist very quickly.


For 4th grade, I do think kids should be able to write meaningfully, and they should be able to type with enough fluency that it's not slowing them down. I'm working on this with my dd2 because she has ingrained some bad typing habits and is a very fluent and fast one-finger typist. It drives me crazy because there's only so fast you can go with one finger, and although she's really quite quick, in the long run she will end up slowing herself down if she continues to use that method. 


Similarly, If you let the bad writing habits get ingrained it's harder to break them and move beyond those bad habits. I guess if a kid just didn't write at all until high school and was a completely blank slate it would be possible to teach her or him good writing skills without having to overcome any bad habits he or she had picked up. But it's a rare kid who doesn't do some kind of writing — facebook, online forums (Disney, games, etc), email to grandma, thank you notes, etc. Learning how to do it the right way from the get go saves trouble down the road. If I were homeschooling I don't think I'd be assigning research papers (I'm much more child-led) but I would be looking closely at my kid's writing and making suggestions where it was appropriate. I have one dd1 who is super sensitive so I have to be careful that I don't suggest too much and squash her enthusiasm, but I usually manage to restrain myself. I try to phrase my suggestions as questions —"what do you think about a colon or an em dash here?" — rather than corrections. I do point out straight errors, though, so she learns what a comma splice is and how she might avoid run-on sentences. And of course I try to offer plenty of specific praise, too — not just suggestions for improvement. 

moominmamma 04-09-2014 11:18 AM

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Originally Posted by beanma View Post

In cases like your son's, Miranda, taking dictation can be helpful. 


Well certainly! We did that when my kids had a desire or a need to write and couldn't manage effectively on their own -- though I wouldn't call transcribing what someone is saying a case of them "writing." Given the absence of institutional schooling, though, in my son's case there was precious little desire or need for written communication so dictation wasn't necessary often. I'm firmly of the the opinion that there are two important prerequisites for good writing that are often given short shrift when teaching children: having something you want to communicate, and an audience you want to communicate it to. (The latter could merely be yourself, of course, in the case of journaling.) In our child-led homeschooling environment those prerequisites weren't satisfied very often until the tween and early teen years. And so my kids rarely wrote.


Originally Posted by beanma View Post

Similarly, If you let the bad writing habits get ingrained it's harder to break them and move beyond those bad habits. 


This seems to me to be an argument against requiring lots of writing from kids who don't yet know how to write well, nothing more. Here's a snapshot of my ds's writing at age 7.5. I saved it because I found it years later and thought it was hilarious and because he didn't often write much of anything. I really don't see how a few notes like this, scrawled every few weeks or months, would set a child up for a lifetime of ingrained bad writing habits. I don't think you need to be a completely blank slate to learn something well.




This type of rudimentary writing did not become an ingrained life-long habit in the absence of corrective instruction; to imagine that it would is in my opinion to greatly under-value children's natural ability to learn. Given the necessary maturity, appropriately meaningful motivation, ongoing experience reading and no negative emotional baggage surrounding coerced writing, vast leaps in ability can and do occur. My ds wrote his first-ever actual essay at age 15 in a high school history class, earned a 97% and has never looked back. 


I think that people who see copious high quality instruction followed by the gradual attainment of high levels of skill often assume that there is a causal relationship between the two when in fact the instruction is rather beside the point. Unschoolers' experiences often provide challenges to these assumptions, as they tend to learn things later but with breath-taking speed and efficiency, quickly catching up to their extensively schooled peers.


I apologize for taking this thread off on a tangent, but since the original poster is homeschooling I think there's some value in my perspective as a homeschooling parent whose children have successfully entered the school system with excellent writing skills. I just don't think that assumptions based on institutional schooling about the necessity of writing instruction and writing practice are valid in a homeschooling situation.



beanma 04-09-2014 03:59 PM

Definitely it's all about what works for an individual child, but you made the comment about waiting to teach writing to kids, rather than one particular child. I think it gets a little confusing trying to tease out what's good for one individual child vs what's good for kids in general. I think most kids do benefit from learning the basics of good writing early on. Sounds like everything worked out great for your son to wait, but just look around the internet and you can see many, many examples of poor writing. I doubt that less instruction would have helped those anonymous poor writers become better. I'm not of the opinion that a more formulaic approach would have helped (though in some cases you wonder), but I do think more time spent on learning the basics of good writing, especially organizational skills, and making sure the writer's intended message is getting across, would benefit most kids in general. 


Waldorf philosophy says that kids should avoid reading and books until they're 7 or so, but if your 4 year old loves books and has already taught herself to read that might not really work for your family. It can work great for a reluctant reader if the light bulb turns on when they're in 2nd grade, but for kids who are itching to get their hands on books not so much. I think for most kids early exposure to reading and books is definitely a very good thing. Similarly, I also think that early exposure to good basic writing techniques is a good thing. 


It sounds like the OP's dd is wanting to write more, but the curriculum they were using was holding her back. I would definitely encourage her to do more writing and to not worry about how many sentences are in a paragraph or how many paragraphs are in a paper or blog or how many words are in an essay. I would encourage reviewing, editing, revising; typing skills; organizing her thoughts on paper/computer; and above all making sure that she is communicating the message she wants to get out.


ETA: the list is really cute! 

One_Girl 04-09-2014 06:49 PM

Me !I think that as long as children are well read and has had the opportunity to develop their writing in ways that interest them it is very likely that they will pick up formal writing and editing quickly once they are exposed to it. I don't know that the same holds true for children who aren't well read though but in those cases I think even with formal writing instruction it would be very difficult.

I really don't know that I would classify my dd's experience as one of being taught formulaic stuff. My dd's school started out with a very developmental approach to writing, sometimes they free wrote and sometimes they wrote to a prompt. They did activities that encouraged a clear beginning, middle, and end. They then moved into some of the norms for sentences like capitalization and punctuation. They learned how to look for information when they were writing a research paper but there wasn't a set way to do it other than have a clear beginning, details, and a clear conclusion. There was no counting of sentences or minimum number of paragraphs until this year, just the expectation for the things that were taught to be present. I also hate the five sentence rule because it makes no sense but I use it to encourage my dd to delve deeper into a topic without resorting to making her sentences shorter to meet the requirement and that usually works for her.

Linda on the move 04-10-2014 05:28 AM

Originally Posted by whatsnextmom View Post

4th grade is a heavy writing year in our area largely because state testing included a special writing exam in 4th and 7th grades.  


this, and the OPer was asking about what goes on in schools, not what SHOULD go on


Fourth graders in my state are expected to be able to write different types of essays, including a persuasive essay. They are expected to be able to create a graphic organizer to organize showing the relationships of  their basic ideas, a rough draft, and a final copy. The PROCESS is emphasized. The state writing test for 4th graders is 3 hours and students are expected to produce a 2 page essay with an intro, body, and a conclusion. (more time is available if needed, it isn't timed).


We were homeschooling at that age and neither of my children were capable of that. They were both "behind" in writing. Now one is in highschool and one is in college, and both are excellent writers, among the top students. I feel that the other things we were doing at the age paved the way for the THINKING that makes their writing so solid now


If I were picking curriculum for a student her age, I would look for something that emphasized different types of writing -- writing to inform, writing to persuade, writing to entertain, etc. 



fisherfamily 04-10-2014 07:42 AM

Thank you, everyone. I am really enjoying this.discussion!

As far as my dd, she has written as she pleases, and does so quite well, two pages is no effort. I started feeling like I should encourage "school writing", so I bought a book. We didn't do much of it, because it was making things worse. This is the first formal instruction she has had.

I wanted to know the general expectations to see if I should seek materials to help her along, or just let her continue. I don't want more formal writing curriculum,but would make an effort to expose her to well written short pieces.

Anyway, I think we are all right.

Thanks so much!

janicerwagner 06-04-2014 11:17 PM

My daughter isstudying in Sunnybrook School Toronto. She is very good at study. But the problem she is not interested to do homework. She spent more time in playing & drawing. But she have good marks in all exams. But i am afraid will she concentrate more on studies ? Or shall i forced her to study everyday?

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