By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator
My fourth grader does not have enthusiasm when it comes to writing. How can I evaluate his current writing ability to know if he is on the right path? He has no desire to write and when he does it is very short. I try to get him to express himself and recently I purchased a journal for him to use while he stayed at his grandparents. It contained very short responses such as "Woke up at 9, ate breakfast, watched T.V. and played outside." I would like for him to elaborate but don't know how to motivate him to write.
The journal idea is a great one for a hesitant writer. Yet, sometimes children need a little more structure or a framework to write within. It can be overwhelming to look at a blank page and not know where to begin. If you want to pursue the journal, give your fourth-grader some guidelines. Establish some questions to be answered in each entry and a format to use - which can include complete sentences so that he can work on punctuation and sentence structure. For example, ask him to start each entry with the day and time and perhaps a word to describe his mood.
If he is more interested in free writing, allow him to create stories, but again provide a framework or structure. Help him with a pre-write exercise so he can sort out his thoughts either in list form or in a circle diagram or a web. Then he can include all of those ideas into the story. Sometimes enthusiastic students find their ideas come quicker than their ability to write. In this case, you be the assistant and do the writing of the ideas in the pre-write as he thinks of them. Then he can take the list and use it to write the story or paragraph. Again, if he has no idea where to begin or feels overwhelmed at the prospect, give him a story starter to think about. For example, "If I found $100, I would..." Sometimes just a place to begin is all that is needed.
In terms of evaluating his current level, you can check in with the classroom teacher to see her thoughts. Find out if his writing is a concern in school and ask for suggestions. If he is homeschooled, make writing a part of the daily lessons so you can evaluate progress. As I say in many of my responses, the key to improvement in most academic areas is practice. Encourage him to write daily, and as he gets into the habit, the length of his writing will increase.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
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