Archive for the ‘Tips for Teen Writers’ Category

Returning to the Brave Writer philosophy for high school

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

More than a language arts program

Brave Writer mom, Dona, writes (and emphasis is ours):

Dear Julie,

We started homeschooling in January of 2002. I remember feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders as I began the journey of educating our children at home. In some areas I felt competent; in others completely incompetent. Writing was one of those terribly incompetent areas. We tried many different curricula, as well as me just making up writing assignments (oh, my, that was disastrous!). With each attempt I felt like I was alienating my child from the world of writing. I wasn’t much of a writer in school at any level; my undergrad and grad degrees are in a scientific field and my writing was rather bland. I wanted my children to learn how to write and write well. None was working.

Finally when Kimberly, our oldest, was 10 years old, I found you. We signed up for Kidswrite Basic and my eyes were opened to writing like never before. I watched my daughter flourish and begin to like to write. The feedback that you and your teachers give these children is so valuable in drawing out the writer in each of them. You teach them the power of words and language through real literature, their own experiences and by teaching them to observe the world they live in. You are rigorous and hold these kids to high standards, but in such a supportive environment that the kids succeed.

One of the greatest aspects of your classroom is the fact that each student can read the work of all the other students and see the teacher’s feedback. My children have learned about what works and what doesn’t work by reading so many other pieces of writing with feedback. I remember always wanting to see my peer’s work to understand where I fell in the spectrum and to see if I could learn more from others. It was often very difficult to get this kind of information unless my close friends were willing to share. Brave Writer is so much more than a language arts program; it is a philosophy that can be applied across the board…

The high school thing scares me, I’ll admit! Why? I don’t know for sure… I was in a foreign country in a foreign school during my HS years, don’t have a HS diploma, but managed just fine in college and grad school. I’m looking for a much more relaxed atmosphere here in our home. This year, everybody has been glued to the computer all day, tied to strict deadlines in everything. Kimberly thrives on this environment. I’m comfortable with her finishing here next year; she had 2 years of HS at home with a different atmosphere.

Nicole on the other hand, has lost any zeal for learning and is just checking off boxes. Part of online school she likes… interacting with the other kids. But the schedule is killing her. Her passion is her goats. We are just barely into building a real show herd. She has learned so much about the goats and is the best midwife ever! She knows how to go in and find legs that are coming out and arrange them to come out and pull. For her, studying out of a book doesn’t cut it. She needs hands on, an apprenticeship would be so good for her. Why don’t we have apprenticeships for HS aged kids? Why do we have to sit in a classroom or at the kitchen table to learn everything? I am not sure how to fashion a learning environment for her that could lead her to where she wants to be; possibly an American Dairy Goat Association judge, maybe an animal science degree, maybe vet tech or vet school. She isn’t motivated enough yet to do all the tedious study required to be accepted at vet school. I want to restore her love her learning. At the same time I’m afraid I won’t prepare her for college if that’s where she intends to go. I personally don’t think college is the end all be all and it may not be for her. Her father thinks otherwise, though. Mind you, he is very supportive of homeschooling, but believes all paths must lead to college.

I’ve been reading your posts and been feeling nudged to make changes; return to the Brave Writer philosophy I love so much. I’m trying to think out of the box, but that is hard for me! It would sure be nice to toss ideas around with you and those who really know how to do it. I want to bring back Tuesday Teatime, more reading together and still be able to prepare my kids for college if that’s where they are headed. I’m having a difficult time wrapping my brain around how to accomplish this. Is the ACT really the only factor for most schools if you don’t have a HS diploma? We can teach to the test, study for it and probably do well on it. Kimberly has done very well on the ACT. Do we have to have a transcript?

Sallie just finished Kidswrite Intermediate with you. She absolutely loved the class! She is sold on Brave Writer. I need to figure out what my “out of the box” is so I can be prepared for her and the 2 boys who follow her! Sallie loves to write and I don’t want to intimidate her or squash that love at all. She loves reading your daily writing tips. I’d like her to take Expository Essay next fall or winter. Do you think she is ready for that? Would that be your recommendation for her next course?

Julie, thank you so much for all you do. I’ve told you before, but I’ll tell you again… you are a presence in our home in a way that no other homeschooling influence has ever been. I feel like you are our friend and I so appreciate you! Thanks for listening!

Sincerely,
Dona

Thank you so much for your wonderful kind words of feedback! They mean a lot.

A few things occurred to me:

1) The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewelyn is fabulous for helping you think about things like apprenticeships, preparing for college in a more unschooling natural learning format. So get that. Cafi Cohen’s What About College? is also excellent (affiliate links).

2) Colleges LOVE unique experiences. They see transcript after transcript of AP courses and GPAs. They are far more impressed by stuff a child pursues independently. Noah put Klingon on his transcript for college and they counted it! He spent years immersed in constructed languages and supplied his reading list. They waived his second year of foreign language and second year of science due to that (he attends University of Cincinnati). Remember: becoming a cool person is far more interesting to colleges than ticking off the boxes. You have to do a certain amount of that, but it’s not the only thing.

3) The Expository Essay class would be great for Sallie. She can take it now or in the fall. Either.

4) College is important but it’s also expensive. I made the mistake of paying for Noah when he wasn’t ready. He quit for 3 years and is back now paying for it himself. Liam is not yet decided about college (18, done with high school) so he’s going to Europe for a month just to get out of the tedium of work and life here. He needs to have a new experience so he’s getting one. I told him I won’t pay for college until he knows he’s ready and wants to go.

This is an okay way to live. There’s no rule here that says they have to be ready at 18. Your daughter could be looking at places to work with goats. Why not? Is there a way to become a goat midwife? Or could she be a goat midwife blogger who photographs and records difficult births, regular births etc.?

Caitrin (16) kept a fashion blog for an entire year (13-14). She shopped at thrift stores and wore a completely new outfit every day. We took photographs each day and she wrote a description of the pieces, where they came from, and witty remarks. She subscribed to Vogue, Elle, W and other fashion magazines all year.

It’s good to fulfill basic high school requirements and to be “prepared” for the option of college, but you don’t want to shortchange the chance to do amazing things! This is the time for it.

My oldest two kids were in a Shakespeare Acting company in high school, btw, as one of their “big things.”

I hope that helps a little. You’ve been a wonderful family to work with over the years!

Julie

Image by Pat Pilon (cc cropped, text added)

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Writing with Teens: Don’t miss these 5 blog posts

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Time Capsule_Writing with Teens

2015 marks the 10th anniversary for the Brave Writer blog, and to celebrate we’re revisiting helpful posts from the past.

These five address writing with teens:

Writing Starts Off the Page: Saturation and Incubation

You don’t want to ask for writing before your kids are good and ready to spill over onto the page. All of those writing books that give your kids topics are a waste of time (unless you happen to be one of the lucky ones with a child who loves to write and just needs a gentle nudge and away she goes!). Topics don’t generate writing. Having something to say does…

Writing with Teens: How to Begin

Without an essay guide, you might feel you can’t even begin to teach your students to write them. Hogwash. Let’s look at some ways that you can start essay training right now…

Essays: Not Just a Gateway to College

The word essay means “to try.” It comes from the Latin root. (In French, the word “essayer” is the verb “to try, to attempt.”) I think it helps to remember that an essay is an attempt, it’s your “best shot” at looking at the materials and giving a reaction (sometimes a strong opinion, sometimes an exploration of the issues, sometimes how that material relates to your life and background, your experiences and beliefs)…

Brave Writer’s Guide to Writing for Exams

I remind students to make a plan, follow the plan and stick to the plan because initially it is tempting to run off after some mental flurry of activity and think that is the same as good writing. It usually isn’t. Clarity and organization trump flights of fancy in timed assessment essay writing…

Why Academic Writing Doesn’t Come Naturally

Essay writing is like learning a brand new sport while playing the game. There are steps to take that make the process less daunting and that will prepare your kids to be successful with less stress. The actual format itself is not difficult to teach or understand. Learning how to bend the essay to the writer’s purpose, to make the essay form work for the writer instead of against him is something all together different…

Enjoy!

Also, check out Brave Writer’s Help for High School. It’s a self-directed writing program for teens that both teaches rhetorical thinking in writing, as well as the academic essay formats for high school and college.

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Two ways to grow teens

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Rolling thunder!

Teens present a challenge to parents who are used to the cozy snuggly younger years of wide-eyed curiosity about lady bugs. Teens can become bored by the wonder of the world around them as they navigate the far-more-interesting-to-them inner world of their thoughts, emotions, and yearnings.

That first teen—how I pity her or him! Parents don’t want to be awakened from the dreamland of their perfect, precious child. They want to prolong innocence and enchantment.

Teens want risk and adventure. They want to prove to themselves that one day, they will in fact be competent adults who live in the world outside the living room walls. They can’t know that they will be successful in that world until they get their hands on it—until they are out in it!

How do we—the anxious parents of these gawky, voice-changing, hair-growing, newly curvy bodies—give them what they need without panic and anxiety?

There are two critical pathways to the expansion of self:

1. Witness
2. Encounter

Witness

One way to grow is to increase your exposure to a world that is different from your familiar one. We adults do that every day by reading the news, or watching television, or listening to radio. We “witness” the events from around the globe via film or satellite, we read interesting discussions about those events, we listen to interviews with people who live in the midst of those events, and we receive stories through movies, memoirs, and novels of people who live very differently from us. This “witness” to the experiences of others expands our worldview and rearranges what we understand as normative or important. We discover our values differently when they are held up next to the values of others (whether those others live down the street or across an ocean).

For teens—they “witness” a larger world in much the same ways, if they are given the chance! They have the Internet—which offers them Twitter, Facebook, bulletin boards for affinity-related discussion, news organizations, blogs like Tumblr, and more. It’s easy to want to limit the use of the Internet, but it’s almost impossible to do so successfully (teens can work around just about any limit you set). It’s even better to create conversation around what they learn there and to be a willing conversation partner for the cognitive growth that is happening at breakneck speed in that space.

They also witness the larger world through novels and films. These two vehicles help teens to absorb the motivations and complexities of being human in unfamiliar (or very familiar!) contexts. They can read, take time off, read more, and process it all safely at home with you.

Witness provides teens with a chance to explore unfamiliar territory at arm’s length. The experience is under their control. They can shut down the computer, they can turn off the television, they can close the book. They are free to sample or deep dive, to agree or disagree without consequence to their life’s situation.

Encounter

Encounter is the more challenging, more impacting way to grow. Encounter is not at arm’s length. Encounter means being overwhelmed (all five senses) with the experience so that you can’t escape it nor package and manage it. For instance, you might “witness” what life is like in Iran by reading a book like Reading Lolita in Tehran. But to encounter life in Tehran, one would have to go and stay there! Travel is one level of encounter (visiting a place for a short stay). An extended stay working in a foreign country is another level of encounter. Moving to live in a foreign country is the most intense form of encounter.

In terms of raising teens, encounter can look a few ways. It is meeting someone who embodies whatever life experience and values are his or hers (that differ from your own). It is befriending someone who comes from a different background. It is visiting the sites where other views take place (for instance, going to a temple for a visit when you are studying about that religion, especially when it is not your religion; another example—visiting a plantation in the South when you grew up in the North hating plantations as representations of slavery).

Encounter is eating the food, hearing/speaking the language, wearing the clothing, adopting the customs.

Encounter is deliberately putting yourself in the uncomfortable position of being with someone different from yourself and allowing that experience to impact you.

We help our teens grow when we give them both opportunities. They love risk and adventure! When you allow them to develop affinities, to explore their curiosities, and to meet/know people who are different from them, you help their brains! They will experience the kind of cognitive growth critical to being critical thinkers and healthy adults!

Cater to their natural inclination to take “thought-risks” and put them in contact with material and people who challenge their assumptions. Celebrate the results (whatever they may be!). Remember: no teen retains the values developed at 14 and 17. Are you today the same person you were at 15? I doubt it.

Everyone adopts positions to try on like shoes when they are teens. So let them adopt away! If you create space for a teen to imagine herself into a viewpoint, she will also have space to move through and out of it too, if she gets more and new information from witnessing or encountering!

It’s an exciting time to parent, if not a little nerve-wracking at times. Try not to grip too tightly, and enjoy the ride.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Lin Pernille Photography LLC (cc text added)

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Your teen has interesting thoughts

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

38 / 365 - Life on Azeroth

…even if they are thoughts you have never thought to think!

Sometimes a parent will tell me that their child doesn’t have any interests or passions and that that is the problem. The parents can’t detect the interests of their children to support them in growing those interests.

Let’s back up. Ask yourself first: what thoughts is my child having? What does my child think about?

Do you even know?

At least 12 hours of the day, all of us spend energy thinking—about stuff. These thoughts range from regular, “quotidienne” (daily) stuff like, “I’m starved. I wonder when I can eat lunch” to our aspirations, “Gawd, I hope she texts me back.”

These thoughts take energy and some of them dominate our minds for hours/days at a time.

Your teen “without the interests” is thinking during all those hours of the day, just like your teen “with a passion” is. However, the thoughts of the “teen who seems not to have an interest” are invisible to you. That’s because you don’t know to ask about them. You are looking for evidence of thoughts that you understand, care about, and admire.

If you saw your child playing chess every day, even if you weren’t a chess player, your bearing would show pride and approval. You value chess. You think chess proves intelligence.

Kids pick this up. They know which of their thoughts are “permitted” to be shared, and which must remain “privately” thought.

For instance, if you have a child who is thinking a lot about how to beat the next level of Halo (video game), that pattern of thought is taking up the hours in the day. Halo is the interest. Halo may even be the passion.

For me, a grown woman who never played a video game in her life as a child, Halo is invisible to me. The thoughts about it, the vocabulary that goes with it, the anxieties that attend it, the enthusiasms and achievements that spring from it—I have no way to appreciate, care about, or express curiosity for that world. I mostly ignore it. I literally don’t hear the words the child says when he is talking about it. My mind drifts and eventually it never comes up any more.

As a result, this precious child of mine exists in a privately created world. When asked about his passions, he’s already picked up that the family culture doesn’t see “Halo” as a valid interest or passion so he says he doesn’t have any. But it’s not true, right? He has an “illegal” interest.

Let me interject a little story.

When Liam was in high school, he was a huge Warcraft fan. He played many hours a day. One day I was working on my computer when he called out to me, “Mom I just got to this really high level. In fact, my team is so good gamers in Korea are watching us online.”

I nodded a vague, “Uh huh. Good Liam”—never raising my eyes.

Then he said more loudly, “MOM! Come over here. You don’t understand this but I want to show you. This is a really big deal and I need you to get it.”

Wow! He was right. I didn’t get that I didn’t get it until that moment. I went to his computer and for the next hour he explained to me how difficult it was to rise to this level. He showed me his wins and losses, his teammates, and how the game was played and watched halfway around the world.

It was a moment.

It was so easy to approve of kids who were writing college applications and earning scholarships. It was easy to root for kids who were playing lacrosse or soccer. I could applaud wildly when my older kids performed in Shakespeare plays.

Yet here was Liam, brilliant of course, living in a privately-nourished world of skill and community invisible to all of us, unvalued by most of us in the family, but in particular, his mother—me.

Our job as parents isn’t to determine in advance what we want our kids to care about. Our job is to care about our kids—in all their varied complexity. Your kids can learn everything they need to learn about learning through the stuff that fills their minds right now. We have to choose not to filter their lives through our own value set (rendering what they care about invisible to us).

You want your child to care about spelling? Why not be curious about how the gaming community sees spelling? Is it important? What does it say about a gamer when he is typing his thoughts and they are misspelled? Are there games that are known for being crummy games because the writing about the game is poorly edited? Or does it even matter?

You want your child to be a good thinker? Find out how he uses his mind for his interests. Ask: What is your strategy when you play solo versus when you play on a team? How do you decide who the leader of the team is? Are you ever? Do you want to be? Why or why not? Are you ever troubled by the shooting? Why or why not? How do you decide one game is well made and another isn’t?

The goal of education isn’t to get your kids to like subjects you consider worthy of attention.

The goal of education is to help kids discover how their brains work—so that they can use that brain for anything they choose for their lives.

Subject area information is important insofar as it advances a child’s ability to function successfully in adult life. We can get there by many means, and the chief one ought to be engaging the active mind life that is already busy and curious no matter what is happening between the ears.

Go forth and be curious about your amazing kids!

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Kelly Hunter (cc)

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Announcing: College Admissions Essay Class

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Caitrin 2aNow you can get help with your student’s college admissions essay using Brave Writer practices and instructor support!

Introducing the College Admissions Essay Class which will start right at the end of August, finished in September, in time for all those critical fall deadlines. Make it easier on yourself—get help! I’ve been helping students with college admissions essays for a decade and have trained Nancy Graham, one of our high school instructors, to lead your kids into a thoughtful review of their years of homeschooling as they head off to college. Make that essay “pop”! Especially important for homeschooled kids whose essays are usually of great interest to admissions staff.

Class dates: August 25 – September 19, 2014

Fall Registration Opens Monday August 4, 2014 Noon EDT

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Make progress: One-thing tips for teens

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Image by Andrea D

You feel better when you get stuff done follow-up tips for high school.

Here’s a list of “one things” your teen can do to turn the day around:

Read (anything, everything—websites, books, articles, instructions for how to play…, song lyrics, discussion boards, comic books).

Contribute online to a discussion.

Have a conversation with a sibling.

Solve a problem (math, plumbing, gaming, the wobbly table, the broken blind, detangling a younger sister’s hair, mediate an argument).

Write one poem.

Study one lyric.

Watch one film.

Plan one outing.

Make a plan for next week that gets the teen out of the house.

Go for a run.

Make one date with a friend for coffee and a movie.

Explain one historical event and the persons involved.

Discuss one social issue (both sides).

Identify a theme in one author’s work and talk about it.

Investigate the answer to one question. Report back.

Play one challenging board game.

Study foreign language vocabulary for one hour.

Learn one new scientific principle.

Find one country on the globe that you have never heard of: identify its language, location, political system, and significance on the world stage.

Look up the requirements for one college of the teen’s choice.

Look up the requirements for one career field of interest.

Apply for one job.

Redecorate the teen bedroom.

Work at the most challenging subject matter for one hour.

Learn one new skill—painting walls, quilting, gardening, programming, writing java, cooking or baking…

Start a business. Sell cookies to neighbors, mow lawns, do light housekeeping, tutor math or reading or writing, restring tennis rackets…

Prepare for one section of the SAT/ACT.

Surf, ski, longboard, throw a frisbee, golf, swim, cartwheel, bounce on a trampoline, throw a baseball, hike.

Play one game of chess.

Start a blog or tumblr.

Tweet.

Take one picture and post to Instagram.

Make one to do list… then “to do” it.

You may need to post this list so that the teen has something to look at when boredom inevitably sets in.

Good luck!

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Brave Writer mom, Andrea (cc)

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Delay grades as long as you can

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Report_card

Unless you are making a transcript for college applications, homeschool is no place for grades.

That’s a strong absolute statement—the sort I refrain from making on this page. If you are using a grading system for a reason that makes sense in your family, please don’t take this post as an indictment of that practice. You do you!

For the rest of us—for homeschoolers who ask me regularly about how to “grade” writing—I offer you the following thoughts.

Letter grades (scores) in years K-8 are irrelevant to your children. We parents are used to the hang-over of traditional school where our parents were able to determine if we were performing adequately by the report card at the end of the semester.

You live with your children as they learn. You know if they know how to read, how to spell, and how to calculate. You know where they get stuck on the times tables and when they surge ahead to mastery.

The goal isn’t to measure and label the achievements of your child with a value judgment (grade). Rather, your job is to identify the areas of growth and to establish a trajectory for continued skill acquisition. If you become concerned that your child is struggling specifically in an area (you see little change in the course of an entire year of consistent, kindly supported effort), you may want to ask your peers or an expert if they would “worry yet” about a learning disability or some other impediment to natural growth.

I still wouldn’t grade that child. Grades forge an “outside-in” identity—either “I’m not as good as others,” or “I’m way better than others.” Each of those identities is flawed and unhelpful to your child’s unique educational path. The child is not evaluating self based on his or her own curiosity and skill strength from within. Rather, grades drive the child to either feel discouraged (I can’t learn this) or sometimes to feel overly self-confident (I already know this; Why do I have to keep reading/growing/studying?).

Curiosity about a subject area is the best feature of a homeschool education. A child can go as far as he or she likes. There isn’t an arbitrary end when a grade has been assigned, as though the study of the subject is confined to a school term and is now complete. Rather, topics and skills blend together, weaving in and out of each other, informing one another, for the duration of the home education lifestyle.

This is why it is difficult to explain to other friends and family how homeschooling works. Your children don’t identify with “going up a grade level” or “finishing math” in the same way traditionally schooled children do. The end markers aren’t there in the same ways.

But this is all to the good! You really can let Ancient Rome take over your homeschool for 18 months because in it, you’ll discover math, science, literature, spelling, grammar, foreign language, mythology, art, religion, and (obviously) history! There’s no “discreet unit” about Ancient Rome that lasts 16 pre-planned weeks with objectives to cover and tests to prove you are finished. There is only learning and exploring as long as Ancient Rome fascinates and gets the job done (leading your children into a glorious “science of relations” between all subject areas).

As long as those connections are happening, you are in the homeschool zone where learning is experienced and validated by how engaged your children are in interesting subject matter.

High school is a time when you may assign grades. But let me throw out a word of caution here. Most colleges/universities have little regard for the grades of a homeschooling parent. They are focused much more on the standardized tests (ACT, SAT) that either validate or invalidate the homemade transcript.

THAT SHOULD REASSURE YOU.

You don’t have to suddenly become a scrupulous parent-teacher where you give unnecessarily harsh grades to your child to “prove” you weren’t biased.

Nor should you become the mom who overlooks a child’s performance in order to give all “As.”

What you want to do is give As for completion of work, and mastery of the material insofar as you can measure that. Don’t labor over it. Bs are fine too.

Then make a transcript that has both grades (GPA) and course descriptions. The transcript should match the SAT/ACT score. In other words, don’t pretend your child did Honor’s level work and is a 4.5 GPA student if the SAT and ACT score are average (in the 50-70%). (If you need help, check out The HomeScholar, and Lee Binz’s excellent transcript services.)

Your child has had an avant-garde education. Focus on that in the application. Don’t try to make your kids look like they went to public school. Major on the unique experiences, reading, and areas of expertise they have cultivated while home educated. THAT’S their ticket to college.

And the essay: make sure it’s a winner!

Bottom line: grades are school’s domain. Homeschool is built from different bricks. Focus on the strengths of homeschool and let go of the tools of traditional school. You’ll be glad you did.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image © Leslie Banks | Dreamstime.com

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Emerging Writers in the Rhetoric Phase

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

paper&penImage by David Merz

Brave Writer mom, Cindy, writes:

Hi Julie,

We’ve been using Brave Writer in our house for about a year now. My oldest (now entering 9th grade) took two of your courses last year, one working independently with Christine Gable, and I was floored by his maturity and growth in just a short time, and after having been so resistant to expressing himself through writing for so many years. We are attempting to switch to year round schooling this summer. Been a big shock for all of us! My son, was asked to read Around the World in 80 Days for social studies — like a geography lesson through fiction. Part of the suggested curriculum was a travel log, discussing what countries and cultures were visited and then looking up more information on those places. About halfway into the book, I received this unsolicited free write from Andrew:

Now, I know I should be doing travel logs for this book that I’m reading…

But it doesn’t give me time to think about the places I read about. It throws all this nonsense at me about how the gardens are lush with roses and papayas and whatever, and it doesn’t let me think about the place just described. The book could tell me that people living there have mushrooms growing out of their butts, but it would mash it together with some other information, so that I wouldn’t really notice, unless I dig into the book again to find that 1 fact. Let me put it this way, if your piece of gum runs out of flavor, you spit it out, right? This is a book where you shove ALL of the gum from that pack into your mouth at once, creating an enormous ball of information that you can barely analyze. Chewing this wad of gum is nearly impossible, and digging back through that ball of gum in order to find the one piece that was a different flavor is extremely time consuming, and difficult. It’s not that I don’t want to do these logs, because I would do them for most other books. But trying to do this for “Around the World in 80 Days”, is a time dump, that is unnecessarily hard.

Sorry if this sounds like another one of my famous rants to you, but it’s just my opinion on the matter. The book is confusing me with a pestilence of information, that I can’t really swat in order to put into my brain. It’s just all buzzing around my head annoying me.

For the first time, I got a glimpse of the writer he could one day be, of the one he is becoming, as his mind starts to work in abstractions. Just for that gum metaphor alone, I told him, just read the book, forget the log! I wanted to share because I think these subtle changes are coming from his experiences with free writing and your classes. I can’t wait to see what he can accomplish this year!

Cindy

Cindy, what a delightful sample of the emerging rhetorical thinker your son is becoming! The early to mid-teens are when the brain takes a big leap forward in cognitive power. By 25, the prefrontal cortex will have completed its development, but in the interim, the brain is slowly developing new wiring. The complexity of that neurological growth leads to a variety of brand new thinking skills! One of those is the capacity for imagining multiple perspectives simultaneously, as well as the enhanced ability to articulate one’s own posture (while challenging someone else’s).

Remember when your child was younger and he would simply assume if assigned a lesson, the lesson must be completed. When a child read a book, the author was considered to be an authority, an expert. Children may have personal preferences that they articulate prior to the teen years, but they are not as likely to question the fundamental authority with which adults express their opinions. They may not like what the authority intends, but they don’t question its right to assert power.

By the teen years, then, emerging adults begin to question the source of authority of any given speaker or writer. They wonder on what basis that point of view is valid. They recognize that even their much loved parents are not always operating from dispassionate clarity, but from personal bias or inadequate experience.

Andrew is challenging two authorities in this scenario. First, he is questioning the lesson (lesson-maker). He is not just saying, “I don’t want to do this assignment” like a child might. He’s analyzing the reasonableness of the assignment. He is using his own analysis of the contents of the book to bolster his reaction to the way the lesson-maker wrote the assignment. He even goes further to say that he’d happily complete logs for any number of books (proving that it is not childish will or lethargy that drives him), but this one novel, this specific book is not conducive to that assignment as constructed.

Second, Andrew is challenging you—your authority to require him to do an assignment he finds unreasonable. He is asking you to hear the reasonableness of his argument and to overturn your good judgment by honoring his! What’s wonderful is that you see all this amazing mind-growth, and are in awe of him, rather than put off by his unwillingness to complete the logs.

Too often we get side-tracked by content and miss the amazing development happening in front of our eyes. If I could say one thing to parents of teens (and to a younger version of myself), it’s this: “Notice what the argumentativeness or inquisitiveness means about teen brain growth in your child. Ignore your reaction to the content.”

So when your teen tells you that it’s reasonable to stay up all night for the third night running playing video games, listen to the construction of the argument. Listen to the way he appeals to you. Is he providing reasons? Is he considering the possible reasons you might say ‘no’? Is he exploring the possible repercussions to his own health to reassure you? Is he finding his own sources of authority to back his argument (even if those sources at first glance seem unduly biased or insufficient from your point of view)?

If he’s doing these things, you can be thrilled for his brain development no matter how much you worry about his getting too little sleep. Start with the brain. Start with enthusiasm for this new burst of argumentative challenge—where what you say doesn’t automatically go. This is how you grow critical thinkers. Your kids’ thoughts may be revised 100 times in the next 5-10 years. But it’s the fact of that revising process that you want to celebrate and foster. And notice!

Well done Cindy! You’ve given us a great example of the teen brain in full flower!

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The “Now it All Counts” Moment

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Teen boy boredThe following note was sent to me after I posted about the ideal curriculum for a six year old:

Julie,

I loved the post today. How would you answer the same question (more or less), to the homeschooling parent of a 13 and 14 year old……the 14 year old with learning challenges and the 13 year old, bright in some areas, yet rather unmotivated if anything challenges him. When I say to my kids, “if you aren’t happy pursuing learning this way, we can look at schools” neither is particularly interested. However, it seems as if they know one is not “supposed” to like “school” and that has transferred to not liking most things that challenges them or looks like learning. On top of it all, I try to fit schooling between one’s major commitment to a sports team and the other’s need for physical therapy and a few classes — so it’s not like we are hanging out at home all day, whatsoever.

Anxious about preparing my kids for HS and College, but still having fun.

I call the crisis Melinda describes: The “now it all counts” moment.

Rather than continuing the joy of learning through experience, encounter, and exploration, most of us (me included!) suddenly panic and whip out the textbooks and quizzes, thinking there’s some better preparation for college than the one we’ve been creating all along!

Let me put it this way: The academic preparation for college can be as experience drenched and exploratory as the early years. It can include encounter with new instructors and new opportunities for involvement in the local community and abroad.

There’s just one primary difference.

Whereas the early years are marked by kinesthetic learning practices, the teen years are marked by risky thinking and a headlong dive into abstraction. Your job with an older child is to ensure that that teen is getting a thorough introduction to the wide world of ideas, particularly ideas they can encounter firsthand in other people, places, and writings.

What to do? Try this list

Read a diverse authorship: men, women, young, old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, western modern writers, western ancient writers, non-western writers – both modern and ancient, immigrants and natives, all religious points of view and non-religious, diverse political points of view, including the ones that frighten you.

Read a wide variety of writing genres: prose, poetry, political rhetoric, rants, speeches, novels, popular non-fiction, not-so-popular ancient non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, cartoons, scientific treatises, credible research, propaganda, biased reporting, “objective” reporting—which doesn’t exist, but there are at least some contexts with that aim.

Watch a wide variety of films and television: Get caught up in a big series like The West Wing or Mad Men. Watch Pride and Prejudice in all its versions. Work through the Criterion list of classic films, one at a time. Write movie reviews for Rotten Tomatoes as you do.

Be a patron of the arts: Go to musicals, art shows (local and national), specialize in one artist and learn all you can about him or her, expand your horizons with opera, the symphony, folk dance, ballet, serious drama, a rock concert. Listen to their CDs, ask them to tell you about the lyrics and music and why they love it. Be curious, not judgmental. Share back what you love, same way.

Get into nature: Hikes, trips to see the National Parks, camping, backpacking, outdoor rock climbing, bird watching in a new place with real birders, identifying all the flora and fauna of your part of the world, photographing it and cataloguing it. Go to the beach, go to the plains, go to the mountains.

Encounter real human beings: at your place of worship, at someone else’s place of worship, actors and actresses, engineers and musicians, lawyers and doctors, mechanics and plumbers, artists and athletes, coaches and tutors, the elderly, the physically challenged, the mentally disadvantaged, politicians, activists, your next door neighbors, people in foreign countries (go there).

Converse about all of these: over dinner, in the car, through email, in online discussion, in a youth group, at a discussion group hosted at your house, through an online class, in an in-person class at a local high school or JC.

Write about it: autobiographical narrative essay, expository essay, exploratory essay, journals, Facebook status updates, Twitter tweets, texts, letters to supporters or family when you travel abroad, essays for college admissions, timed essays for the college admissions tests, blogs, Tumblr, fan fiction sites, online gaming discussion groups, Reddit…

Advance in math and science: Yes, you must! Find someone who knows these subjects that can give them the life they deserve—co-ops where dissections are done in groups, junior college, high school, your house if you’re the science person! Tutors for math—go as far in math as you possibly can. Totally matters—take it seriously, pay for it if you have to.

Take Advanced Placement course and exams: These are tests for subject matter that will allow your kids to be in college with credits already stacked up. The AP courses can be done in small groups, or in schools, or independently with materials. Optional, but excellent for any kid wanting to be an honor’s student in college.

Have Big Juicy Experiences: That’s right! Send your kids abroad, send them to Habitat for Humanity so they can build houses for the disadvantaged, take them to Italy, visit the elderly (make a friend), put them on an elite sports team (ultimate frisbee, lacrosse, golf – not just soccer and baseball), enroll them in a theater or dance company, put them in a marching band, send them to culinary school, apply to a foreign exchange program like AFS, let them apprentice in graphic design or car mechanics, help them build sustainable domiciles in your backyard or cross-breed fish in your pond. Teach your teens everything you know about gardening or hanging drywall or painting sunsets or photography or your heart language of Latvian. This is the time for your kids to be all that they can be!

SPEND TIME with your teens! Most of all—talk to them, ask questions, get them talking. Don’t tell them what to think or believe, ask them what they think of believe. Ask them more, ask them why, ask them to show you how they got to that viewpoint (sources, conversations, readings). Be their mirror, not a sledge-hammer of fact.

Do all of this while you drink tea, read poetry, give bear hugs, check up on each other online, send silly texts, and hand them $20 bills as they head out the door…because you love them and you want them to have what they need to explore the big, wonderful world they are about to take over and shape.

If you need help with special needs—get it! That’s the key! Get them the help they need, ask for their feedback about what is and isn’t working.

Remember: they decide if they are going to have an education or not as teens. You can’t make it happen. All you can do is offer—”Have you read this?” “Did you think about this?” “What do you think about this?” “Want to go here, with me?” “I’d love to go there with you.”

Like that. Dialog, friendly, open, energetic!

Our teens: the future of our planet.

Be good to them. Enjoy them! They are so amazing. Truly. It’s going to be okay.

Teen boy happyImages © Willeecole | Dreamstime.com

Cross-posted on facebook.

Brave Writer

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What is enough for high school?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

On a pink, green, and white cloud, two young women reading a book at Greenlake, with a daisy chain in a field of flowers, Seattle, Washington, USAImage by Wonderlane

Can you keep having tea parties and going to art museums when your kids hit the age where “it all counts”? Will your college-bound teen be prepared enough if you continue to use the Brave Writer Lifestyle as your guide for language arts and writing instruction?

Or as one parent asked me, “I’ve loved Brave Writer for my child’s younger years, but what writing program would you recommend now that my student needs to get ‘serious’ about writing?” Ouch!

The foundation you lay in your child’s younger years is critical to who your child writers will be in their teens and beyond. There’s no “un-bridgeable chasm” between limericks, lists, and letters, and the academic formats like the expository essay and research paper. Literally, the writing your kids do now (or when young) IS the training for the writing they do as teens and beyond.

Let’s look at speech again. You don’t expect a fluent five year old to lead a business sales meeting, to give a speech or to make a Power Point presentation. On the other hand, all that talking and expressing, the poems recited, the manners learned for introductions and the telephone, the oral reports done in a co-op class—these do all lead the child to eventually have the capacity to learn how to teach or present or speech-ify.

As you head into the white water rapids of high school, remind yourself that the strategies you’ve used up until then will be your best aids for growth in the college-prep years. What are those strategies? Let me remind you, so you can affirm them to yourself.

Reading quality writing. In high school, reading should include non-fiction titles, essays, editorials, reviews, poetry, short stories, both American and British lit, classic and popular novels, and the whole world of online options (discussion forums, chat rooms, blogs, news sites, etc.).

Freewriting. Use freewriting techniques to explore the developing rhetorical imagination of your student. Rather than writing about any old thing, introduce your kids to freewriting about ideas—how they form their ideas, what those ideas mean to them, what the “other side” thinks about those ideas, and how your students react to the opposing point of view.

Brave Writer Lifestyle Items. Keep art, music, novels, movies, nature, and poetry going. In their teens, though, students will find specialities (their favorites), and will be able to delve deeply into the ones they love. Your teens ought to become “obsessive fans” of LOTR or Korean pop music or Chihuly blown glass or spoken word poetry or Scott Orson novels or birding expert Pete Dunne or Shakespeare plays. Let them! This is how teenagers discover the other layer of the subject area – the critics, the fans, the influences from other artists/scientists in the field. This is how they discover the academic task: bringing their perspective to bear on the established field as they develop intimacy with the topic and its field of experts. This is what they will do in college, in fact! But they will apply this skill set to sociology, anthropology, mathematics, and political science.

What will you add to this mix in high school?

Some intentionality is necessary. Good news. Your kids are ready for it! They need two things from you in high school: Freedom to risk, opportunities for adventure.

Risk and adventure can be experienced in both activity (taking a trip to Mexico to work in an orphanage) and thought (examining theories of gaming). Both are necessary. Teens want to prove to themselves that they will be adults one day. They can’t *know it* on the inside until they have evidence on the outside. They don’t know it by staying in the same living room they’ve been in since birth, with the same people, reading parent-selected material, following a routine of workbooks and text books.

They discover that they are capable of leaving home and family when they have some experiences that test them—that require them to act independently, and that encourage them to think “new-to-them” thoughts.

In writing, that means that they will need preparation for academic writing. They will want to understand how the writing they’ve done in the previous years relates to this new standard in writing. (Some programs treat writing from the younger years as though it has no relevance to the next level of writing, which is tragic.)

In Brave Writer, we’ve designed Help for High School and all of our online writing classes for teens with this goal in mind—showing teens how what they’ve been doing relates to what they are being called on to do now. These classes help them to learn how to think rhetorically, how to examine argument, and how to select credible support for their thesis statements. They also learn the vocabulary of expository writing—terminology for analysis, how to form substantive opinions, and how to manage their biases and blind spots. They learn the formats so they have practice using them.

Teens can take classes in local high schools or community colleges, too. They should be encouraged to sign up for the local Shakespeare Company as actors (something my kids did), or to join a marching band, or to travel with a show choir, or to play high level sports. They need to get out into the community in their areas of interest so that they can find out that they have what it takes to stand on their own two feet, to prove to themselves that they are growing up.

Between specific instruction in academic writing and exploration of a variety of subjects (fashion, linguistics, music, role playing games, gun control, feminism, theology, nutrition, sexuality, animation, computer programming, sports, foreign language, organic gardening…whatever your kids find interesting), your teens will become prepared for college. College is a depth experience in specific liberal arts and sciences fields. Deep diving IS the right preparation for that world. That’s why homeschoolers do well in college! They already understand how to teach themselves, how to read critically, how to develop and form a legitimate opinion (as long as they have the chance to do those things as teens).

So keep doing what you’re doing, and add a little intentionality in high school, and your kids will be fine!

Questions? Feel free to post them here.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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