Parents of homeschoolers often wonder if there kid is writing at Grade Level. Curricula and kids’ abilities all vary widely. What is reasonable and possible for a student to master before high school?
I have taught writing to homeschool students for 12 years. I regularly assign 5 paragraph essays, research reports, articles and questions to be answered. I have a pretty good idea what children of this age can do. What can you expect? When should you worry? Read on!
Note: We are only going to be discussing expository writing. Let’s leave creative writing and narratives for another post.
What kinds of non-fiction writing should kids be able to create, by the end of eighth grade?
Middle school students should be able to create, with little adult guidance:
-A solid argumentative 5 paragraph essay
-A 3-4 page long research paper
-Explanatory texts and how-to articles
-Organized paragraphs in response to questions from social studies or literature
What writing skills should your child be able to demonstrate, by the end of 8th grade?
Students should be able to:
-Write a strong thesis for an argumentative essay. They should know what a thesis is and how to create a good one.
-Structure an essay, with an introductory paragraph, body and conclusion.
-Support the thesis with reasons and examples from their reading, current events or their life. They should be able to accompany their reasons with quotes from an authority or text.
-Write in the third person and maintain a formal tone. I often tell my students to pretend that they are professors.
-Write with an awareness of the audience, using more formal and more casual styles as it is appropriate.
-Pick one point of view, and stick with it. Students at this age are often tempted to point out “Both sides of the story,” and mention why the opposing point of view has validity. While this is a great characteristic when thinking, it is not when writing. Students need to be taught to take one point of view and stick with it.
-Write without extraneous words (It seems to be that… Sometimes it makes you wonder if… I believe that when you…”
Grammar and Punctuation
They should be able to:
-Identify a complete sentence and an incomplete sentence, and explain why they are or are not complete. This does not mean that there is not an occasional run-on or incomplete sentence in their work. It just means that they should understand what they are and know how to fix them.
-Correctly use commas, most of the time.
Easy does it– Do not try to correct everything at one. Choose one or two errors each week. Explain the error to the student, do some activities around it and then move on. Check out “9 Killer Resources to Help you Improve your Grammar” for great interactive resources for grammar instruction.
Keep track of lessons– Make a log of the errors that you have explained, and refer back to it every time your student completes a piece. Have her read through the list before she submits her work. Keep the list small, with no more than 4-6 items that the student is actively working on. Do not teach anything new until something on the list is mastered.
Write a lot– Have the kids write a lot. Instead of correcting each piece, ask the kids to be more attentive to the new concepts in their next piece. If the kids are writing an essay every week, each individual essay is less important. Over time, there will be improvements without pain.
Hire a tutor– Consider hiring someone to help teach writing. Writing is very loaded. It is often very personal and middle school kids get angry when it is corrected by a parent. Parents often feel like their expectations should be met right away and do not understand that progress is slow. If there was one subject where it made sense to hire in help, it is writing.
When to worry
A label is better than a life of confusion- Often, learning disabilities come out in Middle School. Students are expected to engage in abstract thinking and organize longer pieces of information. If any of these expectations are painful to your child, resulting in lots of anxiety, crying, sadness or suffering, have your child evaluated. Yes, your child might be labelled, but that label often results in extra help for your child, additional time on tests like the SAT and PSAT and perhaps one-on-one assistance from your school district. Many children are relieved when they get a label, because it is not simply that they are “stupid.” They have a learning issue and there are specific skills that they can be taught to overcome their obstacles.
-If their oral ability far exceeds their written ability. There is always a small gap between what a child can say in words and what they can express in writing. When a child has a large gap between oral and written expression, it is a good idea to check.
-If, there is little or no progress. If, despite 4-5 months of lessons, your child still cannot define a complete sentence or use basic punctuation correctly, there might be a great problem.
A Nod to the Common Core
Whether or not you are a fan of the latest national education initiative, it is useful to be able to check out what the state believes that your child should be able to do. Without intending to meet the Common Core, my expectations are certainly in the neighborhood.
There You Have It
May your anxiety be relieved and may you walk confidently into the future, sure that your kid is making reasonable progress.