Even when a homeschool student has wisely followed the early steps in the writing process (click here for more on those steps in our writing series), the time still comes when he or she has to edit and revise what has been written. As writing teachers, we need to remember what a sensitive moment this can be for many students.
What if we use an analogy from our own lives as mothers?
* Remove food from refrigerator and cupboards, and prepare meal.
* Remove plates and silverware from cupboards and drawers and serve meal.
* Eat meal with family.
* Collect dishes (now covered with food) and wash them. Return them to cupboards and drawers.
* A few hours later, begin again at step one, and resist the urge to ask yourself, “Didn’t I DO all this already???”
It’s helpful to think in these terms when it comes time to require edits on our students’ writing.
For a lot of students, that’s how they feel when we ask them to edit the work they spent hours creating. In their minds:
* They read the material needed to research their topic.
* They got pen and paper (or computer and printer) out and served up ideas.
* They turned in the assignment and you got to eat it…I mean READ it.
* Now you have handed them back the dish they lovingly served you only moments ago (it seems), but now it just looks dirty — red pen marks all over it, where once the margins were white and clean.
They have to resist the urge to say, “But didn’t I already DO this assignment???”
We set our kids up for frustration when we aren’t careful in explaining writing as a process of many steps. (We also set ourselves up for frustration when we aren’t careful to learn that PARENTING works the same way!)
Writing is unlike most academic subjects. The first thing to understand is that many students HAVE NEVER GRASPED THAT IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE. (Sadly, there are teachers who haven’t, either….)
In Math, there is a right answer. If the student arrives at that answer, he is right. If he can arrive at the right answer on many similar problems consistently, he has demonstrated mastery of the concept and can check “dividing with fractions” off his list of things to learn.
In History, if a test is fact-based (rather than essay questions that ask a student to ponder the significance of the events studied), the student’s answers are either right or wrong. The same is true for Science. Even foreign language classes have separate components, and a child who struggles with translation may still ace a vocabulary quiz by simply learning the RIGHT answers.
Writing is a funny thing as far as academic subjects go. We pull out all of the “right or wrong” elements and teach them separately much of the time, especially in the early elementary years: penmanship (physically putting the letters legibly on paper), vocabulary (what words mean), spelling (I’d be insulting you if I included a definition of this one, wouldn’t I?), grammar (what roles different words may play in constructing a sentence), and syntax (the rules about how words can best be combined in their varying roles to create strong sentences).
By high school, however, we want our homeschoolers to take all those separate areas of language knowledge, put them together without error, AND add in high-level critical-thinking in regards to their subject matter.
If our students think of writing assignments just like math homework (do the problems until the answers are right), they are doomed to frustration. We give them an empowering gift when we are careful to remember and repeatedly communicate to them that writing is an intensely complex series of steps. We are wise in guiding them through the final steps in the process (editing, revising, and proofreading) when we are careful to remember and be sensitive to the fact that revising the work is a painful thing for many writers. It must be done, but we must be kind even as we require it.
If you hadn’t understood when you started having kids that they would need to eat over and over again, different foods at different times for different reasons, wouldn’t the dinner-time routine be even MORE frustrating than it sometimes is?
Sometimes we fail to equip our students for hard, long-range assignments because we have failed to understand WHY they feel daunted by the task. A little understanding can pave the way for a whole lot of learning if we’re willing.
No writing requires more revising and editing than a research paper.
Avoid feeling overwhelmed with the task: download Allison Thorp’s Research Paper Writing Guide for step-by-step instruction, a suggested timeline for accountability, and loads of tips for creating a strongly-written, clearly-cited MLA-style paper.
If you haven’t yet seen our new vlog to help you and your student understand how to avoid plagiarism, have a look: