As you move away from a lockstep instructional plan meant to get your teen writing essays, it can feel inefficient. Where is this rambling process going to get us?
To essay writing, I swear. But my approach meandered for a while.
My aim of this exploration period was to help my teen get in touch with his thoughts – to pay attention to his own thinking. Even when it’s messy and muddled since all budding ideas start off messy and muddled.
If my first quarter plans look disorganized and inefficient – like a mishmash of things thrown into a hat and pulled out at random – there is a method to the messiness, and it has a name: low-stakes writing.
No structured format, no proper paragraphs required. It wasn’t graded or evaluated for correctness. That’s because in the beginning I wanted to reduce any pressure and anxiety my reluctant writer felt around writing.
Engaging in low-stakes writing is how we create feelings of safety around writing, which is absolutely necessary before we ask them to take more risks through high-stakes writing.
What’s going to happen if my teen sticks his neck out in words right now? Nothing. Nothing bad will happen. That’s what we want them to find out. There is room for the stumbles of an unsteady writer’s voice toddling out for the first time. We must provide a protected space for that.
When we leave room for messiness in writing, teens get to discover who they are in relation to words and language – what speaks to them and what doesn’t, what they think and say in response. That’s what we’re building here.
So in that spirit, here is my 2nd quarter with my reluctant freshman writer…
What I carried over
Mystery Line Monday
Nothing changed except I moved into seasonal themes. After a decade of homeschooling, the years start to blend together, so I can’t remember which lines I did in which years. But here are some general examples: spooky lines for October (more on that), fall-ish quotes for November, holiday for December
More of the same, except I gradually reduced the Jot it Down approach. Early in the quarter, after I jotted down notes from our discussion, I handed them over and asked my teen to copy them into his lit journal. I’d captured the ideas but now he had to write them down.
I then began introducing guiding questions for him to respond to in writing. (Unless he had something he wanted to write about the novel, which would supersede my question for response.) This introduces middle-stakes writing – writing with a specific intellectual task. What we’re gradually building here is more ease between thinking the thought and moving it onto paper. Gradual. Key word here.
Essay & Article readings & discussion
More of the same. I did not have a set frequency for this, like I do the weekly lit journal. Just when things need to change up or I discover a juicy article to discuss. I specifically included a literary analysis example so we could look at how students respond formally to novels. Looking at this as a model had a positive impact on my teen’s literature journal, so it helped.
I upped the ante a bit this quarter. Instead of just a sentence or two as informal thesis practice, I asked for a freewrite response to a current event article. On October 9th I noted in my Scatterbook that my son still didn’t like freewriting.
Still no magical turn around, you guys. This is not a quick-fix process. You’ll have more patience if you don’t expect one. Gradual. Tattoo that word somewhere to remind you.
What I added in
Help for High School
I gently introduced Help for High School. This quarter we covered Writing at a Glance, Preparation for Essay Writing, and Module 1 (the first twenty-five pages of the program). So a very gentle introduction. All of the writing in those sections is low-stakes. We dig into H4HS more the next quarter.
Annotated Music Lyrics
We looked at Genius.com’s annotated notes for Jack Johnson’s Ones and Zeros. It was fun as an example of interpreting meaning from figurative language. Since many teens are into music, in hindsight I would’ve made more use of this.
Freewrite response to a history topic
Nothing fancy or complicated. I simply added in a different subject to respond to. I didn’t set this as a regular thing like the lit journal but based frequency on how hooked my teen was by a particular topic we covered in history. If he had a lot to say about it in discussion, we did a freewrite.
Thank You Notes
This is sort of new. I’ve always had my kids write thank you notes for gifts from people they could not thank in person. Since 2nd quarter falls within the holidays (and a birthday in our family), this was a good use of a writing day. It’s also slipping in another middle-stakes writing experience. This one has an audience (family members) but an informal one. We want to “get it right” but no end of the world if there’s an oops in it.
Short Story Summary
As part of our Spooky Month (more in just a sec), my son wrote a summary of the short story, The Call of Cthulhu. Remember, low stakes, so I didn’t give any feedback on how he summarized it or correct any grammar mechanics. This was simply beginning the art of summarizing, which is challenging to learn. He stuck his neck out by trying and that was enough for this exercise.
I started this thing in our homeschool where October is declared Spooky Month. We drop generic literature and focus on the spooky, the scary, the supernatural. We dive into Poe and read H.P. Lovecraft. We learn about the elements of suspense in writing. We look for it in Lovecraft (it’s absolutely there). I pick more sinister mystery lines. We play around with Poe. We host a Poe Poetry Party night with friends where we listen to his poems and short stories aloud and eat skull dip.
I should write a blog post on Spooky Month because it’s such a highlight to our school year. One of the depressing thoughts about this upcoming school year is we might not be able to host our party, depending on the pandemic.
I thought I might cover all three remaining quarters in part three, but second quarter is enough. Third and fourth quarter should fit into one blog post because I start tightening up some writing processes, getting a bit more structured. Stay tuned!