I read an article this weekend by David Marks on Homeschool World. He wrote the popular curriculum Writing Strands. My Father’s World curriculum even recommends it. His article entitled, “To Journal…Or Not,” was about whether or not the practice of journaling is effective at teaching good writing. Because journaling is going to be a major component of our class, I would like to give you the opportunity to read his article linked above.
In the article he says,
Not understanding how to teach writing, many schools adopt the attitude that if their students write every day and in every class they will gain proficiency. But in both cases, in journal writing and in all classes demanding writing, the results have to be failure, for obvious reasons. What the schools end up with are students who don’t know how to do something doing an awful lot of it. What happens is the students just reinforce their errors week after week.
I would have to say that I agree, that journal writing does not TEACH good writing. There needs to be intensive hands on work and instruction for students to understand how to revise and edit their work.
When I used to work in the classroom, we would journal often but I would also spend WEEKS teaching the kids to write different essays. I would go through the writing process. We would work on brainstorming, cluster diagrams, outlines, drafting. I would give them sample essays on the overhead projector. We would work with paragraph revision, word choice, descriptive language, thesis statements, etc. I would have them take their own rough drafts and revise the organization, and make sure they have given enough supporting evidence. This takes a lot of work, and a lot of time. It is very hands on, and very technical.
I would say that teaching writing is much like wood working. You need to look at the piece as a whole, and you need to look at all the small details, adding pieces, carving, sanding, and the very last step would be the polishing.
But you could never ask a student in wood shop to build, sand, or carve, let alone polish their project if they didn’t have any wood to work with. Right? Journaling is to writing as growing a tree is to wood working. It gives them something to work with. If the student is so wrapped up in their writer’s block that they can’t even get their good ideas onto paper, they are stuck. What can they get their hands on? What can they shape? What can they learn to sand?
Writing is messy.
Writing is also very personal.
I can’t write their thoughts down for them. They have to learn to do this for themselves.
The students need to know how to take that first step and WRITE things down. THEN I can teach them how to shape it, sand it, and polish it.
I hope that makes sense.
For other wonderful articles on writing instruction by David Marks, check out this archive at Homeschool World.