These days, helping our kids with their homework is a challenging task.
Technology is playing a larger role in what and how they work. Some of what they have to do for school may be baffling to us simply because it involves technology that we are not familiar with. But helping our kids with their writing homework, whether it involves technology or not, is challenging for a lot of reasons.
The opening paragraph is what will hook the reader — or not. Here are a few things to remember to get off on the right foot:
1. Keep the assignment requirements in mind.
2. Encourage your student to give you at least three different introductions — out loud or in writing.
3. Look for a creative way to connect the intro to the conclusion.
4. See whether you can find examples of techniques you like in newspapers, magazines or books.
Let's face it: When we write something for someone who is going to look at it closely for accuracy and for how well it reads, we get nervous. How do we help our kids with this if we would feel nervous writing what they have to write?
I think I can help.
Here are some tips that will empower you to help your middle-schooler revise his or her school writing projects.
First, lead from the side. When my son and I sit to revise his rough drafts, we sit on the couch where it is comfortable. He has the lapboard, the draft of his work and the red pen, but I am sitting right beside him. I am letting him know that I care, I want to be involved and I am confident that I can help.
Second, we agree at the beginning that we are going to work on only a page of the report. That is super important. Both of you need to know that the end is just a handful of minutes (10 to 20) and one page away. That makes the task bearable. If I told my son we were going to sit for two hours and make his paper great or that we were going to sit until he was done, not only would he hate the prospect (and learn that writing and revising was something to be loathed), I would be stuck there, as well.
Though the assignment might get finished, it would probably do more harm than good in the long run.
Third, have your daughter read her work aloud, but work on just a paragraph at a time. Ask her how the paragraph worked. She can be specific about what she did or did not like. Do some of the sentences need to be combined for more fluent reading? You will be amazed at the insights a middle-school student will have about her writing. Ideas will begin to come out of nowhere on making the piece sound better.
I will occasionally suggest an idea — a possible combination of sentences — and my son will take or leave the suggestion. Sometimes it will spark his thinking; sometimes he is not fond of my idea. The bottom line is that he is doing the real thinking about how the piece sounds and works. He owns the work. His voice is sounding out.
Fourth, look at transitions. Especially if this is some sort of report for science or social studies. Moving between the points of an outline is not always smooth for a middle-school student on the first pass (heck, it's not smooth for me on the first pass).
Ask questions like, "How clear is the transition between the ideas in paragraph one and two? Does it do a good job closing one idea and bridging to the next?" These questions will gently help your middle-schooler see where those transitions are rough.
Finally, as you finish the page, celebrate the hard work, the success, the experience. Make positive observations about the work your son or daughter has accomplished. Point out how effective it has been and that it did not take that long.
And leave it there.
Your child has other homework that is just as important; if you can leave the writing session on a positive note, you have just scored big points for the writing experience and built a great climate for future sessions.
Now, who said helping kids with their writing homework was challenging?