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Making Parents Partners in Developing Their Children’s Writing

Hello FLMS staff and families!

Below is an abbreviated article about some ways teachers can include parents in the writing process. I hope you enjoy it.

Dave Patota

Principal

Freetown-Lakeville Middle School

 

Making Parents Partners in Developing Their Children’s Writing

(Originally titled “Parents as Writing Partners”)

In this Educational Leadership article, Mary Ehrenworth (Columbia University Teachers College) says parents want to help their children become good writers, but many overdo it, flounder around, or do nothing. She believes schools can help in three ways:

Communicate the school’s vision. Here is Ehrenworth’s model of what a principal might communicate to parents:

We believe that your children can learn to write well – that writing is a craft. To get better at writing, it’s important that they write a lot. The more children write, the more fluent they are. So one thing you can do is be their cheerleader, helping them develop the stamina it takes to become a fast and fluent writer.

We will teach your children to be writers of narratives, arguments, informational texts, and poetry. We believe in narrative because for your children’s whole lives it will matter that they can tell their own stories well. Every job interview, every scholarship application, every college essay will be an opportunity for your children to tell their own stories with grace and power. We believe in argument because we want your children to be able to advocate for themselves and others, to defend positions with logic and evidence; to become ever more persuasive, compelling, and ethical. We believe in informational writing because your children will learn a lot that they can teach others, now and in the future. We believe there is poetry singing in your children’s souls, and you want to hear it.

We believe that writers of all ages benefit from having a writing partner who will help them rehearse their writing and give them knowledgeable feedback along the way. Therefore, you can make an immense difference by being a “first reader” for your child.

Of course it’s important that this vision meshes with the reality in classrooms.

Find out what’s happening already and what’s needed. Survey students and parents on what “homework help” looks like now. Ask teachers what kind of parent support would be most helpful to them. Ask students what would add value at home – many students will say they need someone to turn off the television, pull them away from distractions, and help them manage their jam-packed lives.

Give parents a toolkit of high-leverage strategies. These can be shared in workshops in which parents can practice ways to help their children with writing. Getting parents to attend requires  some serious strategizing with parent leaders on the timing, the food, and the title (for example, Help Your Children as Writers Now and They’re More Likely to Get into a Top-Notch College Later). For the workshops, here are Ehrenworth’s suggested tips for parents:

Help writers rehearse their structure. Kids typically have the most trouble planning their writing up front and getting started. Some good prompts: How will your story (or essay or article) start? What will come next? How will it end? What will be the most important moment in the piece? What will be the tricky part – where might it get confusing? Let me know when you’re at that part, and we can talk some more.

Help writers elaborate. Having rehearsed a piece of writing with their child, parents are in a better position to provide support as it’s written. Kids say more than they write, and Ehrenworth urges parents to remember what their child was planning and prompt effectively: “You need to be able to compare your child’s plan for the writing with what he or she actually writes,” she says. “You need to ask yourself: What parts did my child mention earlier that aren’t in here yet?”

Work with checklists and exemplars. “Often, kids and parents are working in a kind of void,” says Ehrenworth, “without any clear notion of how to raise the level of writing.” Teachers need to give parents examples of writing just above the child’s current level to help them see where they’re going. A list of the qualities of first-rate writing is also helpful.

Get students working with study partners. Actual writing usually requires solitude, but once there’s a draft, students should be encouraged to work with peers. “Kids have no trouble giving one another advice in their personal lives,” says Ehrenworth. “But they are often oddly reluctant to engage one another about their academic goals.” A teacher or parent might ask: “Did you try out your story on Amber?” “You might have Henry look over your essay with an eye to…” And parents can help by organizing times when friends write and discuss their writing together.

 

“Parents as  Writing Partners” by Mary Ehrenworth in Educational Leadership, April 2014 (Vol. 71, #7, p. 22-27),http://bit.ly/1iOOLRm; Ehrenworth can be reached at mary@readingandwritingproject.com.


Marshall Memo 532 April 14, 2014