Inspired by a successful writing coach program in Montclair, New Jersey, the WriterCoach Connection puts lawyers, nurses, accountants, college students and retirees through a six-hour training program, then sends them to work with middle and high school students in Berkeley and Albany in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Each coach volunteers two hours a week, spending about 30 minutes at a time with a student - much more individual instruction than English teachers with 25 students or more can provide.
Coaches get continued mentoring by more experienced coaches. A total of 275 coaches worked with 1,435 students in two school districts throughout the 2006-2007 school year.
By GreatSchools Staff
Does your child struggle with writing assignments? You can help, and you don't have to be a great writer yourself.
That's the lesson from a writing program based in Berkeley, California, that has been training community volunteers to work with middle and high schools students for the last seven years. The WriterCoach Connection puts lawyers, nurses, accountants, college students and retirees through six hours of training. Each coach then works in one-on-one sessions with a student on a piece of writing assigned by the classroom English teacher.
Volunteers are trained to coach writers, not correct their papers. They learn strategies to help students think through what they want to say, organize ideas and revise their writing. Lynn Mueller, the program's associate director and the mother of a recent high school graduate, likens a writing coach to a "patient, friendly listener."
I went through the training and worked as a coach for a year, and I found it a powerful way to help students at all levels discover they had something to say and figure out how to say it. I also used these strategies to help my own teenagers.
The program isn't magic. It's not intended as a substitute for a strong writing program at your child's school. The best way to become a better writer is to keep writing, and if your student isn't writing every day in school, you should take your concerns to teachers and administrators.
How can you help if your child is stumped about how to even begin an assignment? Or "stuck" part way through? These tips, drawn from the experiences of the writing coaches, may help:
Ask your child to explain the assignment to you. If he can't, ask him if he has a written assignment sheet from the teacher. If he doesn't, have him get the assignment from a friend.
Some students struggle with the writing because they haven't done the thinking about what they want to say. Ask your child to tell you the main point she wants to make. If she can explain her ideas verbally first, the writing will be easier. Ask her to tell you examples or anecdotes that support that main point. That will help her think through how she'll support her main point, or thesis. If your child is reacting negatively to an assignment, ask her to tell you why. If you help her think her ideas through, she may be able to write an effective paper based on her objections to the assignment.
Do the examples or anecdotes support your child's main idea? Are they accurate? Are they lively? If your child is having trouble here, ask him to take a minute and tell you about the scene or event he's describing as if he were a reporter, using the 5 W's and H: who, what, when, where, why and how.
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