Wednesday, January 16, 2019



This is part two of a series about how to help kids not only learn to write well but to love it. Excerpts are taken from my book TEACHING KIDS TO WRITE WELL: SIX SECRETS EVERY GROWN-UP SHOULD KNOW.

“I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in fifty years what my father taught by example in one week.” – Mario Cuomo

Prior to publishing my first novel in 2012, I had spent eight years as a writing instructor for a homeschool co-op. One afternoon following one of my writing classes, I chatted with some of my students’ mothers. I asked them why they enrolled their children in my class. All of these women were intelligent, mature, and confident, but they had one other thing in common: each had had a negative experience when they were children or teens that convinced them they could not write well.
One by one these women shared their stories. A teacher had criticized one in front of her class. Another had a teacher who covered her work in red marks. Still another was bored with the assignments given her.

Since then, I have discovered that many adults have had similar experiences. As a result of these experiences, they feel unqualified to teach their children how to write beyond the ABC’s and simple sentences. Yet if I were to ask these same parents if they were qualified to teach their child to walk, to talk, ride a bicycle, or even to read, they would answer with a resounding, Yes! Of course!

Learning to write may not be as simple a task as learning to walk or talk, but the process of learning is much the same. In 1967, American psychologists Michael Posner and Paul Fitts found that humans experience three phases when learning new skills: Cognitive, Associative, and Autonomous. In the Cognitive phase, we identify and form mental pictures of the new skill. In the Associative phase, we practice the skill, breaking it down to its component parts. And finally, in the Autonomous phase, our ability to perform the skill becomes automatic.

Though frequently applied to the development of motor skills, such as in sports and physical education, these phases can easily apply to other skills as well. (I’ll discuss these phases in greater detail next week.)

Experts in the educational field have found that it is best to begin teaching children to write at an early age, and that reading and writing are “best learned together” (The National Writing Project).
Formal instruction may not commence until a child is six, seven, or even eight years old, but that does not mean a younger child cannot grasp the fundamental concepts of reading and writing.

Learning to read begins the first time a mother opens a picture book and reads it to her baby.

Repeated daily interactions between parent, child, and books soon form the foundation that will one day motivate that child to learn to read on his own.

Likewise, when a child is introduced to words printed on a page, he is already gaining the preliminary understanding that letters form words, words form sentences, and these words and sentences express ideas.

During recent decades there has been an increasing push for parents to read to their children. Research has shown that when parents and children read consistently together, literacy improves.
The same holds true with writing.

In their report Because Writing Matters, The National Writing Project makes the following observation: “We cannot build a nation of educated people who can communicate effectively without teachers and administrators who value, understand, and practice writing themselves.”

Might I suggest that we cannot build a nation of educated people without parents who value, understand, and practice writing themselves. Teachers and administrators may have the expertise and curricula to educate mass numbers of students in the more technical side of writing, but no teacher is more effective in instilling within a child the love of writing than a parent who loves that child and who teaches by example.

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