by Kay Chance
Teaching Writing Part 1:
A Paradigm Shift
I’ve often wondered why teaching writing seems so hard. Daunting even.

Maybe it’s because we bring our own insecurities about writing, and teaching it, along with us. There are so many rules to follow while writing, and yet it is strangely subjective at the same time. Just look at the reviews of books on Amazon and you know—what one person loves to read, another hates.

What’s a mother to do?

Our kids need a safe place to write. Writing has become a subject where perfection is required, red marks abound, and mistakes are highlighted. That just doesn’t sound conducive to thinking and creating, does it? It’s no wonder our children feel anxious and whine about doing it. It’s no wonder we do too!

We need a paradigm shift.

What if instead, we cultivate an atmosphere in our homes where ideas are encouraged, conversations are abundant, mistakes are opportunities, failure is expected… where all of it is simply a part of the process? What if we took a higher view of the purpose of writing, seeing it as a window into the thoughts and minds and feelings of our children?

a green, leafy vine
Paradigm Shift:
for Teaching Writing
Let’s begin by defining what a paradigm shift is:
A paradigm is a standard, perspective, or set of ideas. A paradigm is a way of looking at something. When you change paradigms, you’re changing how you think about something.
Paradigm shift: a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions

We have an opportunity as homeschoolers to change how we view teaching writing. There are some assumptions we’ve made based on our own experiences, as well as how our curriculum is structured. We’ve trusted the conventional wisdom for so long that we haven’t really stopped to think about the beliefs behind how we approach it.

Let’s be bold enough to rethink these assumptions.

ASSUMPTION: Teaching writing is about teaching the rules of grammar, mechanics, sentence structure, and spelling. If students master each of these areas, they will learn to write well.

PARADIGM SHIFT: It’s not about writing, it’s about the writer.

Writing is not primarily about following rules. The study of grammar, mechanics, sentence structure, and spelling all have their place, but the real purpose of writing is communication. It’s about sharing ideas, presenting information, entertaining, teaching, making connections, and thinking.

Because of this, our kids need to have something to think about before they are expected to write. How can we do this?

  • Feed them a steady diet of books.
  • Discuss literature you are reading aloud together.
  • Have lots of conversations about books, current events, what’s on the news, what you all are learning about, the different opinions you’ve encountered, and the questions you hear people asking.
  • Encourage your students to talk with you about a subject before writing about it.
  • Ask them to write about what they are already learning. (And remember, this can be done in different subject areas!) Watch videos, do research, go to the library, be curious, ask questions together.

Let’s honor our kids as people. What time is best for them when it comes to writing. How can we partner with them in the process? What are other ways you can develop writing skills without the physical act of writing? How can we make it more fun?

Remember that writing is incredibly personal. Writing shows others what we do know and what we don’t know—whether it’s a spelling word, specific knowledge on a subject, or if we understand something. It reveals how we are processing the world around us and how we think about life. That takes courage and vulnerability. If we, as parents, want to be invited into that place, we have to be safe. It’s time to put the red pen away, which leads us to our next belief.

ASSUMPTION: We have to let kids know all of their writing mistakes if we want them to improve. If we let a mistake go, they’ll keep making it!

PARADIGM SHIFT: Writing well is a skill that develops over a lifetime. We don’t need to rush the process.

Through writing, our kids make connections, share ideas, and figure out meaning. Grammar, mechanics, sentence structure, and spelling help clarify what they want to say, making it easier for others to understand. That is important when it comes to communication, but those skills serve the writer, not the other way around.

When we overemphasize skills, we train kids to see writing in a way that is counterproductive to the purpose of it. Writing becomes a lot of parts they have to fit together as a whole. A heavy hand with a red pen doesn’t have the effect we want. As Dr. Ruth Beechick observed:

“The schooling system of red penciling ‘errors’ is counterproductive. With that system, children try to write something simple and use only words they know how to spell. They do not stretch their writing ability but aim only to avoid errors.”
—Dr. Ruth Beechick

So how can we teach these language arts skills without elevating them to the point that our kids are paralyzed?

  • Teach naturally through copywork, dictation, and narration.
  • Focus on one, or at most, a few skills at a time. (Trust me! You don’t have to point out every one of their mistakes in everything they write. Instead, correct based on the skill they are working on.)
  • When you need to mark errors, ask them what color they want you to use. Help them see it simply as feedback…even professional writers have editors! The purpose is to help them make what they want to say clear.
  • Select spelling words and vocabulary from books that are currently being read or the subjects they are studying. No need to study endless lists of words they may not encounter or use for a long time.

In addition to skills being emphasized, often the teaching of formats drives the assignments for writing.

ASSUMPTION: Kids need to learn to write a variety of formats: letters, poems, stories, how-to’s, persuasive essays, and more.

PARADIGM SHIFT: Meaning should determine the format.

Most writing curriculum focuses on teaching different writing forms from the time kids can write on their own. They may begin with short informative paragraphs, then move on to different types of essays such as the persuasive essay or the compare and contrast paper. Academically, that seems to make sense. Don’t we want our kids to be able to write proficiently using a variety of formats?

That’s a bit backward, though, especially for beginning writers. The meaning should actually determine the form, not the other way around. What if we were more concerned with what kids had to say in the early years before teaching them how to say it? What if we allowed what they had to say to determine the way in which they would say it?

For example, do your children want to tell you all about how they built something with their Legos? Then let them write a “how-to” paper. Do our kids have a story behind each of their Lego creations? Then let them write the story.

Do your children like to recite every fact they have learned about castles and knights? Or maybe a game they are playing? Then let them write an informative essay about it.

Do your kids try to convince you that they should be able to stay up later than their siblings? Then let them write a persuasive paper about it.

Is your family considering getting a pet? Which one should you get? Let them write a paper comparing and contrasting the different choices.

I think you get the idea. The format is easy to teach when it is based on what kids already have to say.

Making the Shift

When we make these shifts, writing is less about the results and more about the journey. It’s about growth. We have the opportunity to walk alongside our children as they learn to communicate well in a world that desperately needs thinking people who are able to express themselves in a way that is kind, thoughtful, and creative.

Let’s create a safe place for them to write by thinking about writing in a whole new way. Then watch them flourish.
Tips for Growing a Confident Writer guide sheet
To download the printable Tips for Growing Confident Writers that includes two more paradigm shifts that we’ll be talking about in our next issue, go here.
In our next issue, we’re going to talk about the role creative writing plays in the development of writing skills.
Kay Chance headshot

ay Chance homeschooled her children for fifteen years. While teaching them, she discovered a passion for writing and developing curriculum resources. She loves sharing natural learning methods and creative lesson ideas with other homeschooling parents. Kay is the co-executive editor of Homeschooling Today magazine and the author of the older extensions for the Trail Guide to Learning series. She makes her home in Texas with her husband Brian.