Today’s post is my response to a reader’s email. A disclaimer up front again – I am not a teacher. The insight I provide on helping kids with their homework, in this case creative writing stories, is based on my experience and the research I have undertaken.
I have read your book and you are big on getting kids to do things for themselves. How do you help your kids with their homework when they don’t know what to do? My son is is grade 5 and has no idea where to start with his story writing homework.
In a very early post on the blog 10 Homework Tips For Parents I noted:
Parents to assist with the process, not the content
What I have learnt to do, is to not focus on the content of the homework, but what is the logical process that he should follow to successfully complete this task and discuss this with him. For example, if he has to write a speech to present to the class, we talk about what is the logical structure of a speech on this topic – intro, arguments to fill time limit, conclusion etc. I make sure he writes this down – his mind can wander and by having something to refer back to he can continue on with his task.
I also took this approach when it came to my eldest son writing narratives. He reads widely and has a very good imagination, so for him the issue was not where to start, but how to actually put together a creative writing piece that made sense. Quite often he would have great ideas which involved complicated plot lines, but they weren’t always clear to the reader and they could end abruptly once he thought he had written enough.
My approach to help him work through this and an approach that could help your son get started with his writing, is to teach him to spend time planning his creative writing story first. Instead of telling him how his piece should flow etc, I spent time at the beginning talking through his ideas with him first. From resources around the wonderful world wide web, I put together a creative writing proforma that he could use then to transfer his ideas into a solid plan:
We used this Creative Writing Proforma for most of years five and six. When I was putting this post together I asked my son, now in year 7, what he thought about using the plan – “It was annoying, but it really worked.”
I found spending 15 – 20 minutes with my son working through the plan, meant he could then go on and write his story in a much more coherent way. He was then to use the tips at the end of the proforma, to self-edit before he handed it in at school.
I think my son was/is like the majority of boys his age who find it incredibly difficult to self-edit. To help him self-edit, what we do is have him read aloud his narratives to me. As he read aloud, he would self-correct along the way as he stumbled across grammatical and spelling errors. If he paused etc I would ask him what punctuation he had at that point. Often it was nothing so he would edit it to punctuate as well.
This did take some practice and after a while, I spent less time discussing his ideas with him and less time working with him to get them into a plan. So if you try this with your son, be prepared for it to take a number of times before he will be taking more of an active role in the planning.
How do you manage to help your kids with their homework, but not actually do it for them?