By Rebecca Kavanagh
Students who write well almost always do better in school than those who don't, says Dr. Raymond J. Huntington of the Huntington Learning Center, which specializes in writing instruction and standardized test preparation.
"In life, writing skills have a tremendous impact on the way we present ourselves," he says. "From letters to possible employers to office correspondence to communications with friends and family, the ability to use written language has a remarkable impact on our professional and personal success."
Children go through several language development stages: Kids start learning to write in kindergarten, when they're often given a series of story cards to arrange in order. In early elementary, the focus is on teaching mechanics and the writing process. By middle school, kids are expected to know how to write, and write well. If they don't have these tools, their schoolwork suffers. For instance, middle school classroom work and student homework in subjects such as science and history require students to first interpret what they read. Then they often are asked to write on-the-spot essays. This skill is also required for many standardized tests including the ACT and SAT, they'll also need the skills to know how to write a college essay.
If you're worried that your child may be falling behind, now is the best time to help him improve writing skills. But how do you know whether your child is on the right track? Here are some suggestions:
Remember the teacher's expectations, and make sure those elements are in your child's work. Easier said than done? Here's how to help:
Mary Leyman, who's been teaching Language Arts at Warner Middle School in Farmington Hills, Mich., for 14 years, says one of the best ways kids can improve their writing is by reading.
"They should spend less time on the computer and with video games and more time with a book," she says. Reading good books expands a student's vocabulary and shows him how much can be done with the written word. In addition to novels, encourage your child to read newspapers and magazines.
Much of what it takes to turn a mediocre writer into a magnificent one is pretty simple. The rewards will show in ways beyond the report card. Above all, Leyman says, talking with your children instead of to them will do wonders for their writing skills.
"Conversation is an excellent way to build good writing skills," she says. Children need more adults to spend more time giving them attention in a positive way. It makes a huge difference.
Rebecca Kavanagh is contributing editor to EduGuide.