We have two reluctant writers in our house.
My older son has struggled with dysgraphia as long as he can remember. Writing (the physical act of forming letters and getting his ideas on paper) is a big challenge. Over the years he continues to find ways to make accommodations and to see improvement, but writing still frustrates him every single day.
My younger son loves to talk and share his ideas (oh, he has a LOT of ideas to share), but getting his ideas onto paper has been a struggle. As an extrovert, he thrives on face-to-face communication. Although he writes fairly well, he does not enjoy writing at all and avoids it whenever possible.
Over the years we have used a number of tools and resources to teach basic writing skills, but the time had come for us to address our reluctant writers’ concerns head-on and take their writing to the next level.
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Why the urgency to improve writing skills now?
My oldest will officially begin homeschooling high school this year and my younger is just a year behind. As we started to map out the courses they plan to take we realized how much writing would be expected as they move forward.
Writing is an important part of school, careers, and everyday life. It takes tools, skills, and practice to become a competent writer. The time had come to find a way to help our struggling writers!
I decided to use the summer to complete a writing course that would help my reluctant writers:
- Build confidence in their writing abilities
- Improve their writing skills and processes
The Writing Skills Course We Selected – Writing Rockstars
As we began to research writing skills course options we were introduced to an online writing course for middle and high school students called Writing Rockstars.
Because writing has been such a struggle for my son we knew we couldn’t jump into a course that didn’t meet our needs. We checked out the videos on the website. My kids enjoyed them (just as they aren’t fans of writing, they aren’t fans of reading a lot of information online either!). This is one of the videos they really liked because it explained how the course was personalized for each student:
I was warming up to the idea of having my children work directly with a veteran writing teacher for this effort. Wouldn’t it be great to have a writing professional help them find their own writing style/voice and give them tools to build strong writing skills!
Although I was open to finding some help to teach this subject I still had a few questions/concerns before we made a decision. I emailed Lily, the founder, and primary teacher to share a bit of information about my son’s dysgraphia and our goals for improving both children’s writing skills.
I was extremely impressed when Lily responded personally within a few hours! She was gracious, supportive and understanding. She made positive suggestions for managing the pace of the course and reassured us that she would maintain open lines of communication so we could monitor the kids’ progress and any concerns.
After such a warm and welcoming introduction to this online writing course, we decided to move forward. Both children selected the Essay Rock Star: The Expository Essay course. I was given access to one course for free and I loved it so much that I paid for the second course directly so my kids could keep working with this program.
How My Reluctant Writers Improved Their Writing Skills
Although we found many benefits of using the Essay Rock Star course, there are three key areas that really stood out for us: useful tools for starting the writing process, a comprehensive writing process, and building confidence as independent learners.
Tools for Getting Started
Both of my children dislike the writing process because they never know how to begin. They are intimidated by a blank piece of paper! My older son claims he can’t think of anything to write about and my younger usually has too many ideas and feels overwhelmed.
Each child found tools to help with this important first step. Lily offers everyone a free ebook: “End Blank Page Terror Forever!” filled with 24 pre-writing tools. Using the Mind Map and Description Wheel pages my younger son planned to write about the history and culture of Baltimore, my hometown.
My older son chose to use the online brainstorming tools recommended in Lesson 2. This brainstorming activity gave my son all of the structure he needed to comfortably come up with his chosen topic – Overpopulation. With the expository essay course, students can select their own topic to write about…I couldn’t believe the topics they selected, but they were happy!
A 5 Step Writing Process
All of the Essay Rock Star courses follow a consistent 5 step writing process:
- Organizing Ideas
- Free Writing
My older son loves structure and lists so understanding this process upfront helped him understand what was going to be expected throughout the course.
The first lesson explains the purpose of an expository essay and offers samples of other students’ work. Both of my children commented about how helpful it was to see a sample of a completed essay at the beginning of the course! They appreciated having a model of what they could accomplish by the end of the lessons.
The next 5 lessons offer text, audio, and video instruction for completing each step in the writing process. Students use the information in the lesson to add to/revise their essays. When each lesson is complete students submit the newest version of their essay to the teacher for feedback and guidance.
Working through each step was very helpful for my kids. It showed them that writing is a process. They had always put a lot of pressure on themselves thinking they had to produce quality work in one sitting. Now they understand that it’s not magic, but rather a series of steps and a fair amount of work to get their ideas on paper.
They also now understand they can use this same 5 step process to approach each new writing assignment.
Confident Independent Learners
The course is written directly to the students and each lesson is filled with useful information. Students are encouraged to review the information as many times as needed, set their own pace for completing the assignments, and ask questions of the instructor when they need help or clarification.
At first, this process concerned my older son – he would prefer a clear step-by-step list of what to do, and when to do it, so he could check the boxes in order to complete his lesson. It took him a few lessons to figure out how to manage the tasks and his time, but eventually, he figured out how to create his own “checklists” so he could be sure he completed all of the required tasks.
My younger son doesn’t like a lot of structure – he wants to know what is expected and he is happy to figure out his own steps to accomplishing the task. His big issue — he is a procrastinator! Eventually, I had to step in and give him dates for completing each lesson. He still needs a little help with keeping the “self-paced” portion of the course on track, but he is making improvements.
Both of my kids agree their favorite part of the Essay Rock Star course is the instructor feedback. When my children submitted an assignment they would wait a few hours and then begin checking their email to see if they have a return email from Lily! They really enjoy receiving help and feedback on their writing from someone other than mom for a change.
Lily’s feedback is always personal, constructive, and supportive; providing direction to help the student move forward. She highlighted things they did well but never hesitated to ask them to go back and “try again” to revise a sentence or paragraph before moving on to the next lesson. She clearly wants her students to build skills to will carry them through high school and beyond!
A Few Final Thoughts
- Timing – If students work diligently through the course they could probably complete the lessons in about 4-6 weeks. It took my kids about 3 months to work through the materials and that worked well with our schedules.
- Mission Accomplished – My children felt they accomplished a great deal through this program. Their “Rock Star” essays were the longest and most comprehensive they have ever written. And, there were NO tears, meltdowns, or bouts of frustration that normally accompany writing assignments in our house. They were so proud — you should have seen my oldest son’s face when he printed his certificate of completion.
- Confidence Boost – Last week I gave my children their first writing assignment for Book Club – a 500-word expository essay. My kids didn’t mind a bit. They started brainstorming ideas based on the prompt I provided. That has NEVER happened before; usually, those announcements are met with eye-rolling and heavy sighs.
My children’s writing practice is still a work in progress. We plan to include additional Essay Rock Star courses in our language arts curriculum this year to continue to build skills and confidence. But we are very happy to begin a new school year with improved writing skills and a positive attitude for moving forward.
More Writing Resources
- Brainstorming Tips and Tools for Teens
- Fun with Teen Writing – Online Product Reviews
- How I Teach Writing to My Child with Dysgraphia
- How I Teach Writing to My Teen with Dysgraphia