More email: How to help someone else’s child

Hi Julie,

I know you are super busy but I have a question if you have time.  I have a 7th grade girl who is now in her third year of taking my writing class at our co op using the Brave Writer philosophy.

I feel she is not growing as a writer.  The following is a freewrite that she just turned in this week (they were given three words to include in the freewrite: baby, gym, and computer):

Once thair was a Baby wose big sister loved gymnasticks. So The baby alwase stayed to wach her sister pre form. So one day she desided to Let her baby sister on the balance beam so she puts her sistr on the balance bean a stands her up her sister gose so fast to the other side of the balans beam that she flys all the way to the gymnasticks in struckeders arms and the gymnastics instructer sayed wow you are good at beams so then he talked to the babys mother abought letting the baby on the team. The babys mom sayed yes but on one condition thay don’t make her do anything she dose not wont to do. So the gymnastics in struckder rote her name in the computer and she was afishaly in the team.

Do you have any thoughts?  Am I wrong to expect more by this time?  How do I go about getting more from her?

Thank you for your time,

Hi Kellie!

Great to know you’re using the Brave Writer philosophy to teach writing in a co-op. Let’s take a look at this freewrite and walk through the steps in Brave Writer to see what can be done with it.

First of all, freewriting means that you’ll see all the ugly spelling, punctuation and grammar. It’s free. That means a kid is focusing exclusively on content. (Right now, there are legions of mothers exhaling as they discover that someone else’s child makes all those mistakes too.) These are fairly gnarly spelling errors, but if you can shift your focus for a moment, you can see that the content isn’t so weak. It’s a little story that has a beginning, middle and end, uses two out of the three words you assigned (I don’t see computer in the piece) and her idea could be developed further for more detail. As her teacher, I’d suggest affirming all of the good things you see.

The next step (since you are probably most disturbed by her mechanics) is to ask her to make as many spelling/punctuation corrections as she can on her first pass. Often, kids can identify their spelling errors even if they can’t correct them. See if she sees what’s wrong before marking up the paper. If she can identify the error, then ask if she can correct it. If she can’t, those words go on a spelling list and can be targeted in copywork and dictation passages that include those words.

She also can benefit from copywork and dictation that target capitalization and apostrophes, for instance. But these are to be taken one at a time. Don’t overwhelm her with too many things to correct.

Finally, as far as getting more from her—the key in Brave Writer is to focus on exactly that: more. Ask her for more. You can ask for more detail about the baby (name, gender, pigtails or short hair, leotard of what color, how many months old?). You can ask for more detail related to the move the baby made on the beam. What was it? Can she describe it so I can see it? Can we paint a word picture for how the instructor caught the baby when the baby flew off the beam? These are the kinds of follow-up comments to make in writing or orally. You might want to chat with this student’s mother about it to see if she can follow through on these kinds of issues/questions.

The goal is to always start right where a child is, not to compare her too much to her peers. This freewrite is creative enough for revision and has the possibility of really growing. Don’t let the punctuation and spelling distract you. Keep those issues separate. If you have to, retype it error free and then read it to see how you could help her grow the content. The goal you need to have is to help her access more vocabulary, detail and insight that she can add to the original.

Hope that helps!


2 Responses to “More email: How to help someone else’s child”

  1. Lindsay says:

    Hi Julie — Being totally compulsive, I have to point out that she did get the word “computer” in, right in the last line of the paragraph.

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    Hey thanks for pointing it out! Gosh I looked three times! Lol. Good to know she got them all in. 🙂