Writing has been the sore spot in my career as a homeschool teacher since day one. It’s hard to be objective about your little one’s poem about a flower; you know what I mean? And it only gets worse as they get older and the writing assignments become more in depth — and the writing itself becomes more personal. It’s like you’re reading a bit of their heart. How is it possible to take a red pen to that? And giving a grade that seems like it has any authority behind it? Forget it! I’m too busy giggling as my teen tries to persuade me via a five-paragraph essay that they should receive an ipod for Christmas. Or I’m battling tears as they describe a favorite event from their childhood. I’ve never felt like I could give them any meaningful feedback about their high school writing, because I was too closely connected to them and therefore to it.
We’ve come across a few gems of curriculum that have helped with this dilemma, however, and I’d like to share them with you today. I’d also like to share articles from fellow homeschool bloggers who have done better at this than I have. 🙂
But first let me say that after having both of our homeschool graduates who have taken college freshman writing successfully complete the course — despite my limitations — I have come to the conclusion that (no shocker here, if you know me at all) high school writing doesn’t have to be that hard. The big thing is just to get the student to write and to play with language. Help them to not be afraid of writing by giving them many opportunities to put their thoughts on paper. Also, make sure they have access to lots of great books, so they are exposed to great writing all. the. time. It does rub off, believe it or not.
I will also say for the record that I think thorough and fairly demanding grammar instruction — yes, into the high school years — is definitely in order. No one can be a great writer who cannot handle grammar and spelling. More on that a little further down the page.
And when it comes to grading the writing, it doesn’t have to get super specific. These days I just assign a number of total points for a given assignment and deduct as I see things that are not working — such as poor grammar/spelling, a flimsy introduction or conclusion, not supporting their opinion, poor transitions, etc. But mostly I am fairly generous; in fact, I have been known to add points for a particularly effective turn of phrase or creative spin.
So here are some of the homeschool high school writing curriculum we’ve used successfully:
Bravewriter — Help for High School — This course is specifically geared towards homeschool high school students and has been a big help for us. We found it after my eldest, who has a great vocabulary and grammar, received only a so-so score on her ACT writing. I realized it was because she didn’t use the format that they were expecting to see. Help for High School teaches the student how to write an expository essay. What’s so neat is the way it’s done. The first several chapters are called “Preparation for Essay Writing”, and they filled with ideas and exercises designed to get your child to just start writing. Topics are ones the kid is familiar with, such as his own life experiences, and these chapters guide the student in getting something on paper that has creative words and sentence structures. The student also learns to look at different sides of an argument. And one of the neatest things is that they learn to look at their own writing and communicate about it.
The second and larger section of the book gives them the tools they need to craft an expository essay. They learn how to choose a topic and analyze it, how to write a thesis statement, how to design and execute supporting paragraphs, and how to write an effective introduction and conclusion.
The entire course is written to the student, so it is suitable for independent learning — although the parent will need to give feedback on writing samples on a regular basis. And therein would be my one difficulty with the course: there is not a lot of information for how the parent is to evaluate the student’s efforts. There was a rubric about how to comment on your child’s work, but I confess that I was hoping for something a little more concrete. I did write the author about this at one point, and she was very helpful. She told me to not stress too much about the grades but to concentrate on looking at the overall quality of the given paper. The examples in the book were A papers, and I could compare my child’s to those, if that was helpful. That’s when I started looking at grading the way I’ve described above. I figured if an expert told me not to get wound up about it, then I would take her advice, lol!
Rod & Staff 9 & 10 (Communicating Effectively Books 1 & 2). These are primarily a grammar curriculum. As I said, I think grammar is über-important, even at this age. (We love this curriculum. See my mini-review here.) However, they do also include writing. There are several chapters (alternating with chapters that focus on grammar) that deal with different types of writing — persuasive, descriptive, etc. These contain thorough instructions about how to write each genre. What I really like is they provide a detailed grading scale for the teacher AND the student. So the teacher knows exactly what to look for, and the student knows what to work towards.
If you are new to Rod & Staff, though, it might be best to start at a lower level. The 9th and 10th grade books might be a bit overwhelming if you have not already been using their grammar curriculum. Their 7th and 8th grade books are both very high level grammar, also, and to my mind they would be sufficient for a solid grammar foundation. And we know that as homeschoolers we don’t have to be dependent on a number to tell us what level is best for our child. If it is challenging to your high schooler and they spend an appropriate amount of time on it, you can count it as high school credit. 🙂
Lightning Literature — any of these courses are a great way to include literature (which is often required by colleges) in your child’s high school curriculum. (I’ve written short reviews on two of their courses here.) They don’t focus on writing, but most of the assignments given require some type of writing. What I like is how creative they get with their assignments. They might ask the student to write a poem about a theme in the book, or describe the setting in their own words, or write a scene from a different character’s perspective. In this way the student is not bored, so they tend to write more creatively and spontaneously. Again, there’s not much help with the grading end of it; but I focused mostly on whether the child got their point across, used language in a colorful and effective way, and avoided grammatical errors.
Another thing we did was to just do a google search on “how to write an SAT [or you could substitute ACT] essay.” There are a gazillion articles out there that were very helpful with concrete, specific tips for how to conquer the beast. Then for the last several weeks of the Bravewriter course, I had my student take a sample SAT prompt and write an essay with a 25-minute timer at least twice a week.
I confess that when my eldest got that mediocre score on her ACT writing, I was somewhat surprised. I read her essay, and while it wasn’t fantasmagorical, it wasn’t super poor, either, like they seemed to think. Those scorers truly are looking for a very specific format, and for very specific literary devices; and if you don’t do it their way, they don’t like you. Which is ridiculous, really. But we must be practical and realize that these scores, however stupidly come by, are important to colleges, for whatever reason. So in this case we did “teach to the test” as far as writing was concerned. Number three got a much better score on her ACT and SAT writing due to our efforts.
Then there is homeschool high school writing curriculum that other people have used (I asked a couple blogging buddies):
Blog She Wrote — Ultimate Guide to Coaching Writers in Your Homeschool: This is a LONG list of resources for teaching writing. At the end is a section listing middle school and high school writing curriculum.
Blog She Wrote has MANY articles on homeschool high school writing; here are a couple of really helpful ones (clicking on “High School Help” under the “Content Instruction” tab on her blog will get you to the others):
A Homeschooler’s Guide to the Persuasive Essay — Heather really knows her writing stuff, y’all. Just sayin’.
Education Possible — Reluctant Writers: How We Improved Writing Skills in Three Months: This is a detailed review of online homeschool writing courses by a company called Fortuigence. I had never heard of it before reading this (actually Heather mentions it, too), but it sounds like just what a person would want in a writing course.
Here’s an article Susan wrote for another blog (Curriculum Choice — which is a GREAT resource for curriculum reviews, btw) that is a review for one of Fortuigence’s courses: Essay Rock Star: The Expository Essay — REVIEW.
Susan also has a great idea for a fun writing activity for high schoolers — Fun with Writing for Teens: Online Product Reviews.
Obviously there are many other options out there than those mentioned here. It’s always good to get personal recommendations, though; so hopefully these insights from me and my friends have helped in your as you tackle the homeschool high school writing beast!
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