In case you missed it—and lots of folks did—October 20th was the National Day on Writing. That’s right: one day set aside, one day that slipped by largely unnoticed. Unfortunately.
Writing skills are essential to academic, social, and career success, yet are apparently sorely missing in today’s students. A quick glance at the results on the writing portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress—aka “the nation’s report card”– tells the story:
· Only about 33% of 8th graders scored at or above the proficient level;
· Only about 25% of 12th graders scored at or above the proficient level.
That leaves a majority of the 14,000 8th graders and 28,000 seniors who took the test unable to satisfactorily compose two 25-minute essays that are either informative, persuasive, or narrative in nature. Hence, a day devoted to writing.
It was established on October 20th by the National Council of Teachers of English in order to . . .
· “Point to the importance of writing instruction and practice at every grade level, for every student and in every subject area from preschool through university;
· Emphasize the lifelong process of learning to write and composing for different audiences, purposes, and occasions; and
· Encourage Americans to write and enjoy and learn from the writing of others.”
The case for improving writing skills can’t be overstated. One form common to most kids is, of course, texting, but that is contrived and confining. True writing, on the other hand, is exploratory, expansive, and so much better than LOL and OMG. So what can you do to hook your kid on writing? Here are a few tips:
1. Provide a “writer’s notebook”—any kind of notebook will do—for recording bits of interesting conversation, quotes, and cool facts, such as a 15-mile line can be drawn with an ordinary pencil. These notations then serve as a valuable writing resource.
2. Make sure there’s a dictionary and thesaurus in the house, along with How to Spell It if spelling is an issue. The book offers up how a word might typically be misspelled along with the correct spelling, such as numonia/pneumonia. Now your child is ready for both writing and spelling.
3. Engage your child in “copy-change” writing—using her or his own words but imitating the form and structure of another writer. This activity improves writing fluency and style.
4. Encourage “free writing” to combat writer’s block—writing for 5 minutes about a favorite person, place, thing, or event and then switching gears to the distasteful, such as dentist drills. This warm-up activity gets the creative juices flowing.
5. Promote “brainstorming” a topic before the actual writing. A list of associated facts, ideas, and details is then ready for possible inclusion in the piece.
6. Insist on the burial of good, nice, and great. Used so often, they’ve lost their impact and meaning. For instance, it’s hard to know what nice really means.
7. Recommend limiting the use of excessive adjectives and adverbs. They clutter rather than clarify. For instance, use blissful instead of so really, really happy. One word can do it all.
8. Persuade your child to rely on strong action verbs and nouns. They are more effective descriptors than adjectives and adverbs. Instead of “Sam drank his soda very quickly,” have him gulp, chug, guzzle, or inhale his Pepsi.
9. Recommend removing linking and helping verbs to increase the writing’s impact. Say, for instance, “We relaxed by the pool,” instead of “We had been relaxing by the pool.”
10. Insist that your child read the essay/report out loud several times, hearing what the eyes so often miss. This independently ensures that the writing makes sense, is well-organized, and correctly spelled and punctuated.
Meanwhile, if you’ve a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grader in your house, here’s a writing opportunity like no other. That’s because the winner of the Casey and Bella Story Contest will have his/her story published as the next adventure in the Casey and Bella book series. There’s no fee to enter; no purchase necessary either.
Entries are judged on their creativity and the originality of the title, the adventure, and the introduction of three new characters. Plus, there should be a moral or lesson taught.
The deadline is April 15, 2012, with the top 10 finalists notified by May 1st. The winner is then recognized in front of their school with a plaque and a $500 reward. Plus, the following school year, the student gets to celebrate the launch of his/her book at a book signing at Barnes and Noble with the real Casey and Bella—two dogs.
And it just doesn’t get any better than that, so get out the paper, pencils, and pens and start your child crafting story after story—and reading every day, too.