We had a wonderful breakthrough this week. Or maybe I should say that I had a breakthrough. The kids don’t quite realize how happy I am; I’m keeping my sense of joy a secret so I don’t make too big a deal out of this.
Okay, so what am I talking about? Well, as I have mentioned before, I am a teacher by trade. I work at several community colleges as an English instructor, specializing in Freshman Composition and Literature Studies. So, when my wife and I decided to homeschool our children, we agreed that I would be an ideal candidate to bestow the virtues of the English language upon my soon-to-be-genius children.
Things didn’t turn out well. Although my kids love to write (spelling is an entirely different issue) they aren’t too keen about taking instruction. My eldest daughter enjoys writing in her journal and writing stories. My younger girl loves to write poetry and she’s been working on a novel (as she calls it) about Adventure Guy. However, their drive to write ebbs and flows. Sometimes they’ll go weeks without picking up a pencil. On the one hand, I don’t mind this. However, I do believe that being able to write an essay — not just creative writing — is a valuable skill. I want them to be able to write arguments and persuasive writing essays. But every time I sit them down and “officially instruct,” I drain all of the fun-filled energy out of the room.
Until now. Now we’ve got a new system. It’s called “take turns” writing. Here’s how it started. I asked the girls to spend some time writing with me. We were all sitting on the couch, and my 10-year old daughter was in a glum mood. “How much do we have to write?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But since I’m in the mood to write instead of teach, let’s work together.” So, I wrote out the first sentence to a story:
“I know my Dad said to stay on the trail, but then I heard a puppy barking in the forest.”
I wrote it on each of their journals. When I handed the pages back to them I said, “Okay, for every sentence you write — I’ll write a sentence. If you write two sentences, I’ll write two. If you write eight, I’ll write eight.” Well, they immediately fell in love with the story. And as each girl wrote a different sentence, I began collaborating with them on two entirely different stories. We spent almost three hours working together. In fact, I was the one who wanted to take a break, but they wouldn’t let me!
Of course, this was a creative writing activity. Something they already enjoy. Fortunately, this “take turns” writing activity has since helped them write more formal essay paragraphs. By taking turns, they get to see my writing process. They watch me think of an idea, write a few words down, erase them, and laugh at myself if I make a mistake or come up with something brilliant. Instead of me preaching to them about topic sentences, they want to write a topic sentence so they can see how I’ll follow-up their original idea.
Of course, collaborative writing can only take students so far. Eventually, they’ll have to write entire essays all by themselves. I have a feeling that if their enthusiasm keeps up, my daughters will soon be ready to stop “taking turns” writing with dear old dad. (But I hope it doesn’t end too soon. I’ve been having a blast!)