In a perfect world, your teen’s English teacher would give them all the help they need to become a competent, self- confident writer.
Interesting assignments. Specific instruction on how to approach those assignments. Time to create multiple drafts. Supportive, encouraging feedback along the way.
Unfortunately, those components of effective writing instruction are disappearing rapidly from high school English classrooms.
Huge numbers of students, diverse student needs, teacher burnout, and lack of training and professional development in how to teach writing have all helped to lead to a crisis in writing instruction. Students flounder to understand and complete assignments, and get more and more discouraged.
As a person who hears and sees your teen’s frustration with writing, and wants to alleviate it, you may have tried to help, only to have them turn aside your best attempts. Maybe you’ve wondered if it’s time to bring in some outside professional assistance.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a writing coach myself. The adults who’ve approached me to assist their teens improve their writing have identified five signs that it was time to hire a writing tutor or coach to give their teen a much-needed boost:
1. Their teen put off writing until the last minute – or didn’t do the assignment at all.
Procrastination is often a sign that your teen is fearful of the assignment- doesn’t know how to get started, doesn’t know how to address its requirements, is concerned about negative teacher feedback. They may decide to avoid handing anything in to escape potential feelings of failure.
2. Their teen wasn’t getting much practice with writing.
Several parents have noticed that teachers are expecting very few writing assignments to be completed. One grade 9 student I worked with only did three writing assignments between September and June. Without practice, student writing doesn’t get any better.
3. Their teen was getting very little helpful feedback from their teacher on their writing.
Perhaps in an effort to speed up their marking or possibly because they’re unsure how to give feedback that would progress a student’s writing, some teachers provide very few comments on a final assignment. Not many give help during the writing process. Worse still, some only comment on what a student does wrong, never offering praise for an insightful idea or well-written sentence. How discouraging.
4. Their teen was getting very little guidance on how to be successful with a writing assignment.
Some teachers are providing very little instruction on the basics of writing, much less helpful and specific how-tos. Recently, a grade 10 student I’m working with told me her teacher said her essay introduction wasn’t long enough. When the student asked what more she could say, the teacher said, ” Well, it just can’t be 2 sentences.” Another student noticed that she and her classmates are not being taught how to produce writing like the exemplary sample the teacher discussed in class. ” How are we supposed to write like that if we’re not being shown how?” she said. How indeed.
5. The writing required in high school has surpassed their ability to help their teen produce an effective written assignment.
Even if you write as a part of your job, you are unlikely unfamiliar with how to produce the writing expected in a high school English class. You might have the ability to correct your teen’s spelling and punctuation, but most teens need as much or more help with producing insightful ideas and organizing them into paragraphs. If you try to help, you may be headed for conflict with your teen.
Coming soon: How to find a writing coach or tutor for your teen