Monday, April 28, 2008

Writing courses

Time4Learning has been my main focus for awhile. It's this nifty automated educational system. After repeated requests, we have created another service, some online writing courses for kids. We've called it Time4Writing.

But, while there are less software issues, there are more other types of issues. What type of style guide do we rely on for the more technical questions of writing rules (such as a comma before the "and in a list)? Also, how do we manage the teachers? Do they get to spend as much time as they want per student.

The courses have been fun to pull together but this has created issues. For instance:

For a review middle school course, we help the students write different kinds of sentences: declarative, interrogatory, exclamatory, and imperative. One of our teachers says that some imperative sentences could be said with force and punctuated with an exclamation point.

The other teacher was shocked. She quickly pointed out the need for consistency and that in fact, by definition, once there is an exclamation point, the sentence becomes by definition exclamatory. And they disagreed. Other teachers have long experience, quoted some experts, and was entrenched in their position.

Initially, I was not that involved. I thought: Who cares? (Is that an interrogatory sentence even if it's said as an exclamation?). The point is that we are teaching kids to be educated. They should understand something, not memorize rules. If the rules are unclear or vague, explain that. Tell them that experts disagree. That way they understand the principles and are prepared to deal with whatever future teachers want to insist on.

But that is a little counter to how the educational system works. We have both principles and rules. One teacher wrote me:

According to NCTE and all other "experts" that I have consulted over the last 48 hours, an exclamatory sentence is the ONLY type of sentence that ends with an exclamation point. That said, there are a very few sentences that can be both interpreted as exclamatory or imperative. BUT! an imperative sentence will only end with a period and never an exclamation point. If it has an exclamation point, it is an exclamatory sentence. A short sentence such as Duck! or Watch out! would be considered exclamatory because it implies impending danger. By the way, I spoke with a former English Department Chair and a college professor as well because I wanted to triple-check.

We can mention these certain exceptions to the middle school students, but it should be mentioned as a "by the way." Those students taking this course are remedial and you want to do as little as possible to confuse them, though the English language is confusing at best and ridiculous at worst! (That is an exclamation.) :-)

I am also speaking from experience with all of this as I taught this particular thing for many years over and over as it was a skill that students had to master in order to pass the Florida 8th Grade Assessment Test all through the 80's and into the 90's before the dreaded FCAT.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Teaching Writing

Many homeschool parents find that teaching writing is difficult. Their kids, with a bit too much ego involvement in their writing, don't tend to feedback in this area easily. Kids are proud of what they've written and giving feedback is tricky. At the end of the day, evaluating writing is subjective and requires strong writing skills.

So many homeschool parents look for help to teach writing. Time4Writing provides that help. It's a set of online eight week courses which gives weekly writing assignments followed by indepth personalized feedback on the writing. If a child is not ready to move on, the teacher can decide to repeat that week's unit for that student the next week. Because it's so personalized, classes start almost every Monday.

The course is $99 for the first course for a family. Additional courses, for additional children or for the same students for that family, are only $79.

In middle and high school, a methodology called Four Trait Writing is used.

Four-Trait Writing provides students a framework both to write successfully for today's high stakes test and to discover writing beyond the formal essay. Students have the chance to find their voice when writing for the internet, editorials, and even dialogue.

So, what are the Four Traits of successful writing? They are:

1. Content - Story and Logic

2. Style (Sentence Variety and Structure)

3. Mechanics (Spelling, Punctuation, Capitalization Rules)

4. Media & Voice (Persuasion; Objective Journalism; Internet Writing; Dialogue: Plays and Scripts)

  • Content - Story and Logic covers the flow of a narrative and the organization of an expository essay.
  • Style discusses sentence structure, variety, and fluency and the usage of colorful, descriptive words.
  • Mechanics are the writing basics of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Learning to use all of these properly and becoming adept at proofreading for errors in these areas, are an essential skill for the middle school writer.
  • The Media and Voice in the modern world are different from that of the past. Today's writer needs to have a separate voice for the different media available to them. In the same day, a single writer might have to shift between writing a blog article with paragraphs with bolded key works, to a formal structured essay for a school assignment, or to a chatty commentary article for a printed magazine with a headline.
  1. Voice for Media (Persuasion) – Students are introduced to and practice writing to persuade to buy, to vote, to think in a similar fashion.
  2. Voice for Objective Journalism – Students discover the five W's and the H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) of objective article writing for an online or hard copy publication.
  3. Voice for Internet Writing – In today's world, students can create web pages and blog on the internet. This is quite different from any other writing they may have learned in the past as much of it is created in a more conversational tone with subheads and bullet points.
  4. Voice for Plays and Scripts – Many students enjoy using their imaginations and creative voice. Here, they have that chance as they write dialogue and stage directions.

The first first course on Four Traiting Writing is available from Time4Writing, which provides online writing courses.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

A child is not a vessel to be filled . . .

"A child is not a vessel to be filled, but a lamp to be lit".

Hebrew Proverb