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Monday, July 4, 2011

On Teaching Writing

I don’t usually talk very much about my own educational background, but my own educational experience is actually fairly relevant to my opinions on education in general and on writing in particular.

I have a degree in English and Philosophy. As a freshman at a small state university, I was fortunate to arrive with a decent English background. My performance on the AP English exam qualified me to skip English 101 & 102, courses that were required of all incoming freshmen, except for those who had displayed competence in basic composition skills.

This is telling. English 101 & 102 were, essentially, very basic courses in composition and comprehension. I would even consider them remedial, and yet most of my friends were required to take them! And many of them had real difficulty passing these courses. They needed to be tutored.

That was nearly 20 years ago, and things haven’t improved.

My dear husband teaches Philosophy at a small Catholic university. Over the past 10 years, he has also taught at a state university and a small college seminary, and there are 2 things that he has observed in most of his undergraduate students:

  1. They don’t read enough (they certainly don’t read the chapters he assigns).
  2. They don’t write very well.

And this seems to be true, regardless of their educational background.

We’re not talking about Ivy League schools, here, but let’s face it…the vast majority of students who attend college will not be going to Ivy League schools, nor should they. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the tools and experience they need in order to express themselves in the written word, especially as so much of our communication in this technological society is written (or typed).

Now, I make no claim to being a stellar writer. Nobody is beating down my door, begging me to publish a book, or asking me for permission to use snippets of my prose as examples of excellent writing in a new style guide (it would be funny if I were selected as an example of writing atrocities, though ;0). And I’m sure that you can find places on this site where I’ve made grammatical errors or have left the style guide on the shelf.

But as a parent raising kiddos, I recognize the importance of my children becoming good writers. It’s an investment we all need to make, whether we homeschool, send our kiddos to school, or even just happen to know some kiddos down the street. Communication is part of their future, it’s part of our future, and we all have a stake in whether or not Johnny learns to read and write.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately, especially as I put together our curriculum for the coming year. I hope you won’t mind if I share some of my random thoughts on teaching writing over the next week or so. You may find them edifying. Or, you may just want to skip over my rambling. I don’t mind.


  1. I taught in a local state university and it made me want to run home and take my kids out of public school, which I did! I taught a required class for education majors and one of the things I asked them at the beginning of each semester was to name one book they had read over the summer or Christmas break. I was always shocked when only two or three students (future teachers)could think of anything. I agree that good writing and good reading are linked. It's almost impossible to have the one without the other. I look forward to your thoughts, as I haven't really taught writing with my kids, yet.


  2. I am curious as well. I'm like you, always had an interest in reading and writing, did well at both in school, went on to get a degree in English. What I have noticed in the 11 years I have been homeschooling my boys is that, while the techniques of writing can be taught and honed, there is a natural ability in those who are good readers/writers. I can't teach that and had to accept that not all my boys will do as well as I would like in those subjects...or be as easy teach lol. It's been a struggle for some to say the least.

  3. As part of her Senior year courses (we home school) my daughter took an English course at a local community college. She was truly shocked at the way most college students write. Her teacher knew she was an early admission (home school student) and was shocked at how well she was an easy A. I'm really looking forward to your upcoming posts!


  4. Julie,
    I agree that writing will not come easily for many. But, I also believe that most people (barring severe learning difficulties) are capable of becoming decent writers. I don't expect my children to be "master writers," but decent writers. What I've seen a lot of is people who simply cannot write well enough to get their point across.

    When I was in college, I participated in a number of creative writing workshops. These classes were open to anyone, talent or no talent. In fact, one of my professors was fond of saying that great writing is only about 1% talent (not original, I know). The rest comes from hard work. The most talented writer in the world won't accomplish much if she relies solely on her talent.

  5. The pressure is on, I had better come of with some real worthwhile posts on this, lol!

  6. I also look forward to you next post about writing.

    In my homeschool I put a huge emphasis on reading writing, and grammar. It is important to me that my kids can write well. When I read posts on different forum boards, I find many homeschool parents who struggle when it comes to teaching their children how to write. I am a fair teacher of writing but far from perfect. I miss some basic stuff when correcting student papers.

    There is a section on the Well Trained Mind forums where parents can post thier student's writing for feedback. I wish that you, I am blessed and others with more experience would contribute to these types of forums. I read posts from the writing section of this forum even if I am not posting my own student's work so I can be a better teacher.

  7. Wild Iris,
    Thank you for bringing that group on the Well-Trained Mind Forum to my attention! I'll have to look into that (sometime when my chest is not full of goo---I really hate summer colds, cough!).


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