Teachers Helping Teachers

Writing is a powerful, necessary skill. Both teaching and learning to write well takes practice – like memorizing times tables. The words start to flow, only after eons of repetition. Wake up; write. Read as much as you can. Think. Write it down. In the words of Anne Lamott, “Put your butt in a chair and write some more.” Keep writing.

Teaching ‘Writing’ to a reluctant teenager can be like teaching a cat to ride a bicycle. That cat has got to WANT to ride. So when my kids lack motivation, I have moments of feeling doom. This is a homeschooling dilemma that can be difficult to figure out.

Like most teachers, I like to stay positive, so it doesn’t serve a real purpose to whinge about the the hard days. However, lately I felt like my writing class has been lacking in creativity; boring lessons by not-fun teacher-mom.

Connecting with other teachers, helps. Volunteering this winter at a local primary school in the Bahamas enabled me to connect with some amazing people. The small school here was founded in 1893 and has a family of students from grades K-6.

Before homeschool twice a week, I was fortunate to be able to teach math to bright and loving Bahamian and Haitian schoolchildren. I loved every minute there.

When Sydney (visiting us over the holidays) decided to join me, I was thrilled. She taught literacy and reading comprehension to some students, a subject in great need at the school. We would take a water-shuttle together to the main island, and walk to the school to meet our students.

After a few weeks, a question arose on how best to teach writing.  It helped me to hear this was a common struggle. I was inspired to pause and give thought to my own writing program. I had done much research, had gads of workbooks and supplies on board, yet wasn’t implementing effectively what I knew to work. I had lost confidence trying to teach my reluctant writers. Re-evaluating and reflecting on my homeschool writing strategies, helped me to re-focus.

It’s with clarity of intent, that vision becomes a reality.   – James R. Doty

Fun School! When we started homeschooling in 2014, I wanted to have fun reading with my kids. So I started a daily reading group. I purchased three copies of the same book, which we read together; each taking turns reading paragraphs out-loud.  The combination of hearing their own voices and listening while reading along helped their literacy, comprehension and self-confidence. We have repeated this process over the years with many great titles, creating our own little “Book Group” of sorts. We still read, discuss and opine, just like they do in the big leagues.

“To write well, it is entirely necessary to read widely and deeply.”   – Mary Oliver

In addition to regular coursework, I believe in an over-arching view of Language Arts.  I think learning to write well comes from a variety of sources and takes time to develop.  My strategies include:

  • writing often using writing prompts
  • keeping gratitude journals
  • study spelling and vocabulary
  • allow time for personal reading and set a good example with my own reading
  • let students write on any topic they are passionate about
  • incorporate literature into history, science and math
  • mix-up the monotony with online language arts
  • make time for cursive writing, word searches, and typography
  • encourage thoughts, ideas and opinions to be shared at family dinners
  • not all writing needs to be edited beyond clarity of message
  • implement copy-work and dictation, have student edit their own work
  • teach poetry and the power of descriptive words, write original poetry, read poetry out-loud
  • emphasize the importance of reading and its impact on writing
  • remember, good readers become good writers

Boat school in session.

Patience is a virtue.  At this point, my 7th and 9th graders are excellent readers, innovative thinkers and emerging bonafide writers. I have renewed confidence that they are on their path.

What matters most is that you have an open heart. An open heart connects with others, and that changes everything– James R. Doty

The power of connection. I am always amazed at what happens when I volunteer. I approached the school, thinking I would do my best to help some of the students in math. I thought I would help them. In the end, they helped me by bringing joy to my already full days. They helped me, by asking questions which empowered my teaching strategies.  I felt completely loved, needed, and validated there.  I deeply cared for my students and looked forward to seeing their beautiful faces.  I accomplished what I set out to do – to help children with their foundational math – and it was a pleasure to do the work.

Connecting with kind, creative and passionate fellow teachers was also a gift.  We shared a brief, common goal of helping kids to be their best selves. Comparing ideas benefits everyone and we all win when we can give kids tools that will help them succeed.

I have the very best job.

Below is a list of writing programs I have used in the past and/or continue to use in part or whole.

Brave Writer (I highly recommend) 

IEW:  Institute for Excellence in Writing

Write Shop I and II

Write Shop Copying and Dictation Exercises

The Power in Your Hands by Sharon Watson

Write Shop: Imagery poems

IXL.com (Language Arts)

Calvert School (Homeschool Spelling, Language Arts, Writing)

Word Smart Spelling and Vocabulary by Princeton Review

PreScripts Cursive Passages and Illuminations

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus

Grammar of Poetry by Matt Whitling

 It was an honor to work with the outrageously awesome teachers in the Bahamas.  Mrs. Rolle rocks.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Carol Cronin says:

    Thanks for this. Maybe we could do a guest author class the next time our paths cross?


    1. Lynne Rey says:

      Yes! Great idea!!


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