Composition

composition_bookThe question, “Which writing program is best for my child?” is one we are often asked.

The question is straightforward: “I just want my child to learn to write and I want the best program available, so what do I use?” The answer, however, is not so easy.

The following comments should help you understand how to create a truly good writer.

First, if I asked you, “What kind of composition do you want your child to write,” would you know? Most parents would not. There are different kinds of writing and each has its own recommended resource. I will show you the different kinds of writing and you decide which one(s) you want your child to learn to write.

The Two Kinds of Writing

There are basically two different kinds of writing: Narrative Writing and Expository Writing.

Narrative Writing (also known as “Creative Writing”) simply means “to write a story.” We try to begin all children with this kind of writing because we want a child’s first writing experiences to be interesting; after all, what could be more interesting than a story about me? I know myself better than I know anyone or anything else and I have had some pretty interesting (or exciting or sad) experiences. Who wouldn’t want to read about me!

Expository Writing is pretty much all forms of writing that do not tell a story. It is a form of writing that explains something to the reader (“expository” means “to explain”). Examples of Expository Writing are: “How to train your dog;” “How to use a software program;” “Why I believe homeschooling is better than public schooling;” etc. There are three kinds of “Expository Writing” (Stay with me. This should help you).

  •   The Essay
  •   The Expository Report (sometimes called a Book Report)
  •   The Term (or Research) Paper

Which of the three forms of Expository Writing I choose depends upon…

  • What kind of information I am trying to get across to my reader.
  • Whether I need to quote experts, or if my personal opinion alone is acceptable.
  • Whether or not my paper must follow certain formatting rules.
  • How much research is going to be required before I can put my thoughts on paper.
  • Whether I am simply trying to teach you how to do something.

If I am writing about why I think the Middle East conflict has no solution, I would choose the Essay Format.

If I am writing a scholarly paper which requires a lot of research and footnotes to prove my conclusions, I would use the Research (Term) Paper Format. Can you guess which format I am using to write this article? (Perhaps a combination of Expository & Essay).

Let’s simplify what is meant by the term, “Expository Writing” by dividing it into its two, broad categories: Research Writing (Term Papers) and Non‑research Writing (Essays and Expository Reports).

Research Writing (also called Term Paper writing). In this form of writing the author is trying to prove a point, called a thesis (“thesis” means a position that is being advanced as an argument that the writer is attempting to prove). The author is normally allowed to include only factual material gathered from a variety of expert sources; he must list and credit his sources; and, he must follow specific guidelines in the presentation of the paper, even to the smallest details of margin size, footnote placement, etc. In a Research Paper, the reader is led to agree with the writer’s conclusions solely based of the weight of expert opinion which the author has gathered and footnoted. Normally, the writer does not put forth his own, personal opinion as part of his argument unless he, himself, is a recognized expert in the area covered by the paper.

Non‑Research Writing can be either an Essay or Expository Writing.

An Essay is like the Research Paper in that the author starts with a thesis (argument). If he does a good job, the reader will be end up agreeing with the author’s opinions. The paper may explain, describe, or provide information. The author may even quote people whose opinions would impress the reader. An Essay differs from the Research Paper in the following ways:

In an Essay, the reader is led to agree with the writer’s conclusions, not so much because the reader is overwhelmed by the opinion of experts, but because the Essay is so engagingly written the reader can’t help but agree with the writer’s conclusions. An Essay’s conclusions are normally based on the personal opinion of the writer and how he can bring the reader along to the same opinion. Editorials in magazines and newspapers are essays.

An Expository Report simply explains something to the reader (the word, “exposition” means “to expose,” or “to show”). “What did I think about this book I just read?” “Let me tell you how to bake chocolate chip cookies.” I am exposing this book to my reader or showing how to bake cookies.

Examples of the different types of writing

Let’s say that I have read an essay by someone who thinks it is better for a child to attend public school than for him to be homeschooled. I decide to write about what I have read in the essay. I have the following choices:

1 | I write a Narrative Story (ie. story with dialog, or “narrative”) in which I tell of my years in public school and how I eventually came to discover the blessings of homeschooling. I include dialog and emotional experiences. I  may lead my reader to conclusions, but mostly I am interested in telling a good story.

2 | I write an Essay in which I disagree with the essay I have just read. I use all my powers of persuasion to demonstrate how homeschooling is superior to public schooling. I will appeal to logic, other’s opinions and my own experiences. I am purposefully trying to lead my reader to agree with my point of view.

3 | I write a Research (or Term) Paper in which I turn to recognized experts in the field of education, including the field of homeschooling. I try not to let my personal bias affect the  paper’s conclusions. If I have done my research well, I might even end up with a different opinion than the one I had when I began my writing project. My paper has footnotes and page  formatting that is typically required of Research Papers.

4 | I write an Expository Paper in which I explain what the author was trying to say in the essay I  read. I tell how the author’s argument was laid out and if I thought it was, or was not, well  written and why. I explain whether or not the author succeeded in persuading me to his point of view.

Which forms of writing end up being most important in one’s adult life. Did you say, “Well, that depends.” Yes, but on what does it depend? On what kind of work your child ends up doing? On whether or not your child goes to college? On whether or not your child would rather write stories about herself than eat?

The answer to all these questions is, “Yes!”

We think of writing as belonging to what we call, “Language Arts.” But, what is “Language Arts,” really? It is simply the art of using one’s language. Writing is one form of this art. Is it important for your children to be able to express themselves in written form? I will tell you this: Whether homeschooled or public schooled, writing is one area where children go into adulthood poorly equipped.

Writing: an important skill

A few years ago I attended a homeschooling conference in which a panel was answering questions posed by homeschooling parents. The panel members were all young people who had been homeschooled grades K‑12 and were now in college.

I remember one parent asking the panel, “In what academic area did you feel least prepared for college?”

“In the area of writing,” came the immediate reply from one of the students, at which point every other panel member nodded vigorously.

“OK,” continued the parent. “Then what happened that you were not prepared?”

The initial responder smiled and replied, “Because I gave my Mom such a hard time that she finally threw in the towel. In fact,” he continued, losing the smile, “let me tell you parents that you must not allow your children to give you such a hard time that you don’t teach them to write. In college, being able to write well is one of the most important gifts you can give your child.

Young people who enter college knowing how to express themselves on paper are way ahead of everyone else.”

Carved into one of the walls of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. is the following quote, “Reading makes a full man; conference a ready man; writing an exact man.”

What this quote means to me is that the more one writes, the more clearly one will learn to think.

Some children will grow up to become what we call “Authors.” When we use this word, we normally mean Narrative Writers. These are usually children who love to read, or love to read certain kinds of books and who spend a lot of time writing stories on their own. This child needs a great deal of encouragement in Narrative Writing. But, as your children mature (and especially for the child going to college) Expository, Essay and Research Writing become most important.

A Final Word About Spelling and Grammar

From the time she was a child, my wife could look at a word and never again spell it incorrectly. She has a photographic memory. This is not fair! For the rest of the human race, however, spelling and grammar have a place only as they help the writing process.

 If we can keep in mind that Language Arts is the art of communicating, we will never think of “grammar,” “spelling,” “penmanship,” etc. as separate subjects. Each one is a component part of a bigger picture: communicating. So, when do we teach our children to spell? When the child is writing. When do we teach our children grammar? When the child is writing. When is a child finished with penmanship? When you can read what he is writing (unless, of course, he wants to learn calligraphy). Each of these relates to communicating. They are not subjects disconnected from the larger picture of communicating.

 When a child is beginning to take those first, tentative steps into the fearful realm of self expression (ie. writing), never stunt his or her budding creativity by proofreading the written page. Only after the child is able to adequately express himself (and is beginning to enjoy doing so) should you edit his work for spelling and grammatical errors.

Resources for parents

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0195153162″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51fVtYn7y2L._SL110_.jpg” width=”71″]Any Child Can Write Harvey S. Wiener shows how parents can encourage their children to write with a home program that can be used from preschool through high school. Beginning with the building of attitudes, Wiener moves through simple, varied and practical experience with the written word. By setting up an atmosphere in the home that encourages creative written expression, coupled with a parent’s guidance in writing, children gain an outlook on writing that builds confidence in their abilities to use language. In addition, Wiener describes how to find the best educational online resources and how to supervise a child’s work on the Internet.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0880620269″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51XGDF%2B2-3L._SL110_.jpg” width=”82″]How to Write Clearly: The Meaning Approach. Ruth Beechick is one of our favorite, no-nonsense authors about how to best teach children reading, writing, and arithmetic and in this book she speaks clearly to writers from young teens to adults. Read and use the insights as you see fit in your own writing. There are no boring drills and assignments. *How to link sentences to keep the readers with you. *How following the story thread is better than “encyclopedia” fact writing. *How to solve most comma problems with grammar rules. *How to write with verbs instead of nouns to perk up your prose. *Numerous other techniques that make sense. This book contrasts with much of today’s teaching on how to write, which is ineffective and deadening to students. Here she explains the historical roots of that old system so you can confidently move to the meaning system. A bonus chapter gives a history of how English language came to us.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0865303177″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/6153F4DSD0L._SL110_.jpg” width=”110″]If You’re Trying to Teach Kids How to Write, You’ve Gotta Have This Book. The handbook at the top of every required resource list–a how-to book for understanding and working with the whole writing process, an at-your-fingertips source of ideas for starting specific activities, and a ready-when-you’re-in-need manual for solving writing problems.

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