We often use that phrase when talking to parents about their high school students, particularly when the subject of writing is involved. High school brings about a whole new type of anxiety. The clock seems to tick faster and many times, the student seems to be much less concerned about getting an education than the parent. Let us reiterate…don’t panic! You are not in control, but that’s okay…God is!
Beth’s daughter was not a reluctant writer in high school. She was a major overachiever and while writing was not a love for her as it is for Beth, she wanted to please her parents and God. Academics came easily in most cases and when something was challenging, she had serious self motivation.
Little did she know that her son would be the opposite.
He has a wonderful imagination and sometimes even a good attitude, but he simply doesn’t like transferring ideas from his head to paper. It is time consuming. It is frustrating. It is not fun. It is, to put it simply, outright hard. So, what’s a parent or teacher to do?
9 Tips for Teaching Older Reluctant Writers
To begin with, read Part 2 of this Reluctant Writers series. There are many ideas in that article that apply to high schoolers as well, such as:
- limiting assignments
- using high interest topics
- communicating clearly and often
But high school writers are not middle school writers and they need to be treated differently in some ways.
1. Teach high school writers to edit their work.
This skill is vital for high school students to acquire, even reluctant writers. As with all difficult areas, begin small, especially if self-editing is a new concept to your high schooler. Have your student only edit for capitalization the first go around. With every assignment, add something new to look for including punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, etc. For Epi Kardia/Train up a Child Publishing Unit Program users, there is a self-editing tool that you can adapt and use. It is on the Tools CD or in our Parent’s Manual - tools section. Begin with self-editing smaller assignments and move on to longer ones as your student begins to build confidence.
2. Writing teachers (and spouses) need to model writing & editing.
Whether you realize it or not, your high school student is watching you closely. Beth didn’t realize this until her daughter was at college and they talked about it. Make sure that your high schooler sees you writing, even if it’s just email. Let him or her “catch” you reading your email aloud back to yourself so that you can edit it.
For boys, it is even more important for them to see Dad or male siblings doing this. Boys often develop an attitude that academics, and especially writing, are “girl” things. You probably self-edit without even thinking about it. We rarely send emails without reading them aloud. It is not uncommon for our children to walk in and find us talking to the computer. Okay…sometimes it’s in frustration! However, it’s often just reading our writing aloud.
3. Ask for your high school writer’s help.
I know this sounds odd, particularly for a reluctant writer. However, when a student perceives himself as needed, it builds confidence. You may ask your student to help out by reading a short assignment from a younger sibling or even something you have written yourself. Obviously, you don’t want to ask him to do something that is beyond his ability at the time, so be sure to work through basic self-editing skills prior to making such a request.
Why all of this focus on editing? Students who can edit their own work feel better about themselves and build confidence. Editing is a different skill than writing and it is not uncommon for a reluctant writer, at this level, to understand how writing should look without being excited about doing it himself. As well, the more editing practice that occurs the better the writing skills later.
4. Teach your high school writer the 5 basic essay types.
The basic essay styles (expository, narrative, persuasive, comparison/contrast and descriptive) are vital for high school students to master. Take your time and work on them over the period of a year; preferably your student’s ninth grade year.
- Work on the styles one by one moving from simplest in form (expository, narrative and descriptive) to more difficult (persuasive and comparison/contrast). Most students like certain styles over others which is natural. Be as encouraging as possible when your student finds a style that fits his personality and consider even adding an additional assignment to fit that style. It will build confidence. Allow more time for the styles that do not appeal to your student.
- Before beginning any essay writing, read through examples of essays in that style to help your student have a very clear understanding of the format. Reassure your student that there will be multiple draft opportunities to get it right.
- Outlining is essential for every student (different outline types are discussed in the our Parent’s Manual) and mastering this skill will provide structure and again, build confidence in a reluctant writer’s ability to get the assignment completed.
- Consider writing an essay together. While this may feel like pulling teeth, it is well worth the effort. It will also remind you of how challenging it can be to complete such assignment, insuring future compassion from you!
- Vary essay lengths. Many schools push the 5 paragraph essay and yet, most colleges prefer a student with a more varied writing style. Encourage your student to write shorter and longer essays. You may even want to start with a mini-essay of only three paragraphs. Descriptive essays are good candidates for this writing assignment. No matter what writing curriculum you use, feel free to modify as needed for your student.
- Be patient. Yes, the clock is ticking, but four years of high school can include a wide variety of experiences. Also remember that your student will grow and mature more in those four years so every problem need not be tackled in the freshman year. Dana’s youngest grew exponentially in the quality of his writing from ninth to twelfth grade.
5. Encourage and incorporate plenty of practical writing.
Practical writing skills allow a high school student to practice writing without the pressure of a graded assignment. Thank you notes, emailing correspondence (yes, you can say that no emails will be sent to relatives without being edited first), writing a resume, even writing a description for selling an item on Ebay or in the newspaper can be valuable experience. Again, help your students see that writing is nothing to be afraid of, but is just a part of normal life.
6. Let your high school student write about his interests.
Tie writing into what your student loves. If your student has a strong interest in music, have her write song lyrics. If he loves to read, relate assignments to his free time reading rather than books from his literature class. Dana’s son’s first research paper was about the history of the electric guitar, making the idea of a eight page paper much less daunting. Enjoying the research allowed him to learn the process relatively painlessly.
Beth once discovered that a writing student of hers, who perceived himself as a non-writer, could write technical material explaining the complex workings of a paintball gun like a pro. He soon realized that he was definitely a writer and could continue on to other things, but his love for paint ball brought out skills he didn’t realize he had. Sometimes removing the focus from the writing itself and putting it on the highly interesting subject can be all it takes for a student to get the job done.
7. If possible, work in two research papers during high school.
Research papers are a fact of high school life. The great thing about a research paper is that it can be broken down into smaller components and worked on a little at a time. Most students take a semester to write a paper, but for a reluctant writer, consider taking up to one school year. There are no rules about how long it should take, but ideally a college bound high school student should have two research papers under his belt by graduation.
For reluctant writers, the topic will make all of the difference. With the first experience, most definitely allow the student to select the topic. You may want him to give you a list of possibilities and you narrow it down, but it should be topic of interest. Keep the first research paper shorter (6-10 pages) for a reluctant writer. Even a shorter paper will seem overwhelming. (See point number six!)
Communicate clearly about how there will be significant time and the work will be broken up with smaller deadlines throughout the year, then stick with those deadlines as much as possible. If there is an issue keeping the deadline, don’t let it be a result of your neglect (not having something graded on time, not getting your student to the library, etc.).
Nothing is more discouraging to a student than being told that his work is so important but perceiving by your actions or lack of action that the work is not. Grade each segment of the process because there is less pressure with multiple grades than one major grade.
8. Be novel – try “paired writing” with your high school writer
Considered writing projects or paired writing. Often high school students will contribute more and gain more confidence if they are not alone in their endeavors. Discuss this with your student prior to making any decisions. If your student is adamant about not wanting to write with another student or sibling, don’t push it. In Beth’s experience, however, most students feel less pressure when more than one person is involved.
9. Look into writing courses.
One year we taught writing classes for two different ages – and by design, we each taught the other’s son. It was a breeze and took the pressure off of both moms and sons that year.
Sending a reluctant writer to a writing class may seem odd for a student who is already insecure about his abilities, but again, Beth has found through teaching high school writing courses that sometimes male students, in particular, respond better in a structured, class setting. They often work harder because they do not want to appear incapable in front of their peers.
Whether you teach your student yourself or find another instructor, know that reluctant writers tend to achieve more with teachers who have a sense of humor and are encouraging, without allowing the student to deviate from the course. Grace and understanding when a student is struggling balanced with accountability is not always an easy combination of traits to master, but definitely worth the effort. If your relationship with your reluctant writer is strained over this subject, consider finding another writing teacher for a season, at least. Make sure to discuss the issues with the instructor ahead of time.
Teaching a high school student is truly a sacrificial act for many parents. When that student is a reluctant writer, the jewels on the crown increase exponentially! Just remember that this is only one aspect of your student and that you both will make it through with prayer, patience and time. Feel free to email at Train up a Child Publishing if you have any specific reluctant writer questions or situations that we could help you with or you would like to be addressed on our blog. God bless and know that the fruit of your labor will not go unnoticed!
Hang in there!
This is an updated article from our previously posted Reluctant Writer series. Beth Hempton is no longer part of Train up a Child Publishing, but can be found happily teaching writing classes (using Train up a Child curricula) and working on her own writing at Classes by Beth.