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Freshman Year with a Reluctant Writer, Part 4

I’m about to walk you guys through the rest of freshman year and reveal that our 9th grade did not end in essay writing. Not even close. Paragraph writing at most. 

Does that feel cringe-y? Something ripe for judgment (negligent education!) that needs defending with lengthy explanation? Because, HIGH SCHOOL. 

“Anyone who imagines that all fruits ripen at the same time as the strawberries knows nothing about grapes.”


I know a little something about grapes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Should I bend over backwards with explanations and developmental research so a random internet stranger feels comfortable with my approach? That’s not my job. Do I blindly adhere to the status quo of education conventions and standards? Also not my job.

My job is to understand my learner, meet him where he is and support his growth.

Each learner has their own path. It’s not educational neglect to meet a teen where they are and help them grow from there, based on their developmental timeline. Full stop.

So. Third quarter.

What I Carried Over

Essay & article readings. 
Read how I approach this here and here. I did one or two the usual way this quarter. Then I switched up to using Breakfast on Mars in conjunction with They Say/I Say exercises. 

Weekly literature journal
A note on this: I picked a weekly literature journal because my son was particularly good at expressing insight into literature. Maybe your teen doesn’t like digging into lit yet. Maybe it’s sports or gaming or Studio Ghibli films instead. That’s perfectly fine. Use that. Whatever topic creates that spark and gets them responding to what others are saying on the same topic, go with it. 

Subscribe to a gaming magazine, read it and partner with them in a weekly written response to an article. Or watch a Studio Ghibli film each week and respond to it in writing. Ashley Tieman has written an excellent guide series on Studio Ghibli films.

What we’re after here is nurturing the skills of responding and contributing to a wider conversation. Lean into their natural interests first, build and strengthen skills, then work towards applying it on a broader, more formal academic scale.

What I added

Help for High School Modules Two & Three
These modules have both low- and middle-stakes writing assignments. See? Gradually increasing the stakes. 

They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing
I’ve blogged about this book. Two years later it’s still one of the best purchases I made. It’s borderline obnoxious how often I mention it. (Okay, maybe not borderline.)

We covered the introduction, chapters one and two this quarter. We read and annotated the chapter, discussed it, then did the exercises in the chapter. I pulled in essays from Breakfast on Mars and articles from Upfront for extra practice. 

There’s no limit from where to pull articles or essays for this; just be sure it’s at a reading level your teen can easily digest. Don’t select an esoteric or advanced essay while also trying to teach a new skill. Keep it one challenge at a time. Lower the challenge for one (reading) while upping the challenge for the other (writing).

I found pausing H4HS and jumping off into They Say/I Say beneficial because it gave us more time to practice middle-stakes writing where form and structure is introduced. But I kept it in bits and pieces – a paragraph response instead of a paper. It’s important to not skip middle-stakes writing practice. Spend time in the middle.

I scheduled writing lessons 3-5 days a week, three days in the beginning and upping it to five towards the end of 3rd quarter, which gradually increased writing stamina. 

Remember the word I said to tattoo somewhere? GRADUAL. I gradually upped the skill set and demands, introducing just enough tension to support growth without overwhelming my learner.

And finally, fourth quarter

What I carried over

Only the weekly literature journal.

What I added in

They Say/I Say chapters 3 & 4
We covered this the first two weeks of 4th quarter. And then…

Help for High School
We wrapped up fourth quarter by completing the rest of part one, which was modules 4-6. Annnnnd that finished off the school year. Hallelujah! (We saved part two for first semester sophomore year.)

Our freshman year was about gradual progress. I prioritized healing my teen’s writing struggles over producing essays, meaning I slowed things down and trusted we would get to that end-game of essay writing, only it would be on my teen’s timetable, not someone else’s. It paid off for us.

On April 25th, spring of his freshman year, my son told me he no longer hated writing. 

Grapes, my friends. Remember the grapes.


Freshman Year with a Reluctant Writer, Part 1
Freshman Year with a Reluctant Writer, Part 2
Freshman Year with a Reluctant Writer, Part 3