December 28, 2020

Essays and Teen Writers: How to Nurture an Academically Prepared Writing Voice

academic writing is daunting I hear from parents all the time telling me that they find the early years challenging some parents find it very challenging but usually once I’ve given you some ideas about what you can do to encourage writing your kids start to pick up the ball and run with it and then all of a sudden you hit highschool years and it’s like yeah fall off a cliff all that work you did with your kid when they were young you wonder how that translates into teen writing so you go from a child who is happy to tell you about swimming in a pool in the summer or the taste of a strawberry or a new ending to Star Wars and they’re writing writing writing furiously and then suddenly they hit high school and you expect them to write the expository essay and they’re supposed to compare you know notes about gun rights whether or not the First Amendment is valid anymore all these big topics and you don’t know how to help them make that transition well fortunately for you I thought a ton about it and we actually work on that in our brave writer classes and also in our products all of us have this shared story around writing right we’ve been in school or we were homeschooled and we were in a co-op but most people have learned how to write in the context of instruction and that instruction has had one of two effects either you got an instructor who fanned the writer in you into flame you discovered some tools some principals some ideas for how to take this big thought like you have and funnel it into some kind of a container write some kind of a writing container an academic writing container and then you were able to produce something that colleges would recognize and that instructor would affirm but for many of you that’s not what happened you had these big ideas these experiences you wrote fiction and then suddenly you are asked to write an essay and you didn’t know what to do and when you got it back there were teacher comments like passive voice or that cryptic squiggly line under a word what does that mean does it mean that you liked it it should be a different word it’s misspelled hard to know or maybe a marginal note that just says something like more detail or explained here now here’s what’s even funnier about all those notes on these papers that you’ve been writing in high school there has been research done longitudinal studies of students who’ve received red marks on their papers over the course of a lifetime and guess what they’ve shown red mark comments notes from teachers have absolutely no correlation to improved writing in the next essay how shocking is that so here you know you’ve seen school teachers my kids dad was a high school teacher at one point he would spend six hours on a Saturday making those cryptic notes on essays handing them back on Monday and yet the research shows that there is no correlation between those notes that he painstakingly gave and growth in writing so why did teachers keep doing it because that is all they’ve come to know as their way of teaching writing if you have 20 students in each class and you have five classes that’s a hundred kids when you get a hundred essays and you have to go grade them do you have time to give thorough devoted attention you don’t guess what you have you have just enough energy to read the paper to make a few cryptic notes to compare it to the whole class and to give it a letter and so as this one teacher in our training recently said she shared that she had been a competent writer in high school and when she worked on her essays she was so into writing she wanted it to be like a masterpiece where every word was in place where every aspect of that paper was perfect and then the teacher would hand it back and she usually got an A or an A+ and you know what’s weird she felt disappointed now some of you are thinking gosh if I gotten an A I would have been happy but not if you only ever get A’s because we don’t write writers don’t write to get grades they write in order to be read and being read means somebody engaged the ideas they didn’t just evaluate them so imagine you’ve written this piece you’ve devoted all your energy to it and all the teacher says is well it’s better than anyone in the class pretty soon you actually will find yourself starting to test how little effort you have to put in to get an A because if the grade is the thing why would you bother making a masterpiece right I remember in college I was a very good writer and I loved writing essays it’s why I majored in history so I could just write papers and I remember that sort of diminishing returns experience where I would put my heart into a paper and just get back a letter grade and I was getting A’s consistently you know the occasional plus four a half effort and one day I got a c-plus on a paper and I was furious I had done exactly the same thing I had done in my other papers I didn’t see why I was getting a C so I went to the office hours of the teaching assistant it was an essay test and I got to his office hours and literally there was a line wrapped all the way down the hall and around the corner in the building at UCLA I got in line everyone was there to find out why they got C’s all these people who had rested on their lawyer lawyer can’t speak laurels as good writers suddenly felt like they had somehow been tricked had been miss graded so I got into the room with the TA when it was finally my turn after waiting more than an hour and he looked at my essay and he said you say nothing new here this essay is just you cranking out what you’re good at of course you’re a good writer you say nothing new here not going to give that an A that was a wake-up call now even though he didn’t give me a lot of feedback on the paper itself the essay itself because he was grading hello 800 of them while we sat in his office he went through and pointed out in each place where I had really not shored up my argument or where I was just stuffing it with data but not analyzing it it changed my writing this was someone who actually engaged my essay at the college level giving me detailed feedback I share this story with you for one reason when we are trying to teach the essay the goal cannot be grading if we want writing growth I’m going to say it another way brave writer is about growth not grades and say it another way we’re interested in your child growing as a writer not simply grading them as a writer I’m gonna say it another way we’re interested in growing your child’s writing skills not grading and evaluating them you’re starting to hear what I’m saying so when I designed the brave writer program all the classes we teach I designed it with growth in mind this is why our essay classes are six weeks and not a full semester do you know kids have a certain amount of energy they can bring to an essay and when they’re in a whole semester class where they’re cranking them out every two weeks they lower their commitment to a good product literally even if it’s just an internal decision that they’re not conscious of they say to themselves well I know I’m gonna have a lot of essays to write so I’m gonna brace myself and I’m going to just give enough energy to get through the semester because essay writing is taxing you have to read research evaluate what you read compare credible sources identify the most salient arguments compose them in emphatic order the most powerful being the last the least powerful being first you have to judge between ways of making your point is expert opinion or logic better for this point should I include this data or is that data misrepresented you have to make judgment calls all before you’ve even drafted the essay and then when you draft it you’ve got to use cogent language powerful writing it’s not enough to just stick it together with a bunch of you know lick and a prayer this is essay writing this is construction so how do we teach that how do we help a student do that research evaluate sources decide which points to make understand which particulars to include and then weave it all together in the format well we do it by shortening the length of the commitment by taking graduated steps to getting there and we give a ton of feedback one of the instructors we’re training right now said that we often believe that teenagers should learn to write in a cut because college is around the corner that somehow if we treat the essay like it’s this challenging deadline oriented format driven experience our teens will get this early introduction to the academic and environment of college but that’s actually a myth let me tell you a little bit about college not only if I gone to college and grad school and I went first to a massive university UCLA go Bruins and then I went to a small university Xavier University go muskies here in Cincinnati for grad school and then I taught at Xavier University and here are the things that I learned by hanging out with faculty first of all all the professor’s wish their students wrote with writing voice they get so tired of just seeing students come in and crank out an essay stick it together weave it with the tape that they’ve been taught you know like sort of this formula where you dump in the ingredients and then it arranges itself and you turn it in that’s not what these college professors are looking for they’re looking for some depth and here’s what’s crazy I’ve taught some of these kids have gone to prep schools and private schools and where ap students at the public schools and you know what’s crazy when they break through to writing voice it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you are currently thinking is academic writing I can’t tell you how many times I get this stuffy persona in the first two pages of a paper and then all of the sudden out of the blue that students original writing voice will pop through and it’ll actually sound like someone is 18 and that’s the writing I’m excited about that’s the writing professors are excited about because now they’ve know they’ve engaged a real person this person isn’t just trying to get graded they’re not just trying to check off all the boxes on the criteria they’ve actually suddenly discovered a relationship to the information they suddenly are like oh and actually this is what I thought when I read that when that moment occurs in a paper I am cheering I don’t even care if there’s a misspelled word in fact I was in a class like a classroom with a bunch of professors we were all discussing that discipline we were teaching it’s not writing by the way we teach outside of writing and one of the professor’s said I feel like what we need to do is just rip the writing to shreds put it on a overhead projector you know kind of situation and just show students what they’re doing wrong and I said back you know what works in my classes finding everything they’re doing right starting with what they offer showing them that that fledgling insight is the one we want to grow because that’s how people grow as writers they don’t grow when you show them everything wrong with their writing they grow when you help them identify their voice that they have something to say that what they had to say held your attention that it made you curious to know more so guess how we teach are you starting to catch on one of the things that we know about our si classes is this our students discover that they have something to say and they learn to say it well with hand-holding with lots of feedback in fact one of the things that we do so well in our si classes is we give tons of conversation so instead of it just being a squiggle line a check mark a red mark a comment it is actually dialogue we say things like I see where you’re going this is a very interesting thesis you’ve challenged me to reconsider my ideas about this I’m wondering if you’ve taken into consideration this other point of view link we say things like you know what your argument is powerful I’m wondering what would happen if we resequenced your points how does this sound to you if we took your second point and made it the final point and moved your first point in the second place to me that seems like an emphatic order that seems to build to a climax how do you see it it’s a dialogue it’s a dialogue and we’re also commenting on structure we’re saying things like you can’t use a celebrity opinion here because the celebrity isn’t an expert she lends credibility only because she is a celebrity but in academic writing that doesn’t actually carry the weight you want it to carry so just because this celebrity is a vegan doesn’t necessarily validate veganism as I help the option for nutrition that said if you go to her page where she’s all-in on veganism you might find doctors research and some links to things we can use in this location and we might even use her as your opening hook did you know this famous celebrity is all-in on veganism and she claims it’s healed her of adrenal fatigue so there are ways to use everything in the essay the things that kids have learned in their free time the stuff they’re passionate about their obsession this morning during our staff meeting Jen Holman one of our senior teachers one of our experts she trains a lot of our staff she said this morning one of the things that happens for teenagers as they get to high school and it’s like they have to leave behind the things they really care about and pretend to care about something else but that’s not how it is in brave writer we believe anything can teach everything so what that means is we actually invite kids to go deeper into their obsessions to actually explore the edges of those because guess what every single interest has a controversy that can be written about I remember when my son Noah was like 13 years old or 14 and we were starting to do the essay and the very first essay he wrote was on why first-person shooter point of view video games would not lead him into a life of violence because that’s what he cared about another essay we worked on was about rock climbing and I said to him rock climbing he was an indoor rock climber I said rock climbing doesn’t seem very controversial but you know we had the Google so we went into the internet and we typed in rock climbing controversy and the first thing that came up there’s this huge rock that people like to climb in Lake Tahoe California but apparently that rock was used in Native American nation rituals so there had erupted this huge controversy it should it be protected for the sacredness of this Native American nation or was it also okay for people to simply jump on and start climbing it is climbing okay well that is worth writing a paper about and it goes it plays into so many areas that could be used for history for political science it could be used for sports it could be used for a whole range of states versus federal issues so just because your child is into rock climbing doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a meaningful essay topic hiding inside of that do you see what I mean so when we’re talking about essay writing we include all of that in our classes we say to our students what are you into what do you care about during the exploratory essay we guide them a little bit they can pick animals or sports it’s always really interesting there’s always some kid who’s like I don’t like animals I don’t like sports and we still find a way to tweak the topic to something they care about because guess what that’s another trick that natural writers know that kids who are just learning to write the essay don’t know do you know I’ve never written an essay about a topic I don’t care about even when the essay topic assigned to me sounds boring I just excavate I keep looking okay I’m writing about ancient pottery in Greece what am I going to do right now I was a history major I read about all kinds of things that sound boring I always found the angle I was into themes relationships longevity you know so how pottery might have changed over time I wasn’t into battles war strategy political science thought as much I found my ways of engaging history through art through religion through the story of individual cultures and how they were morphed and changed based on things that happened to them there was always a way for me to engage a topic based on what interested me so we teach that in the essay class we have students who suddenly discover they can manipulate a topic to be more interesting to them and then we give them all these graduated steps so that by the time they’re writing the essay it’s not scary so I am interested then in helping you help your kids and the goal of all of us then is for us to teach your kids to grow as writers in the essay classes we don’t want you to come into that class just checking off a box we want them to actually have the experience of pleasure in writing at the academic level our expository essay classes are built from the models that are at freshmen level in college because I was married to someone who taught at that level I have more books on how to teach the essay at the college level than you have ever seen in your life and I drew from that material when we built our help for high school class the the manual and when we built the si class so you can be confident that the way we teach your kids is actually going to be beneficial to them when they get to the college level not only that we have a second level of s a class called so the first ones called Exploratorium persuasive and the second one is called rhetorical critique and analysis both of those come at the SA from four different points of view using similar strategies so if you want your child to build from the essay preparation classes right into college-level writing preparation those are the classes to take the expository essay there are two versions I want to make sure that you really understand just how unique our program is it is absolutely different than anything you’ve experienced or anything your kids would do if they went to a co-op or a school we treat the writer like they are a personal tutorial student and we develop a relationship with that student throughout the class here’s what’s beautiful you can read all the student writing and all the instructor feedback on every single person’s paper it creates a writing support group atmosphere it normalizes feedback and your kids will learn things by reading other comments that aren’t on their papers we’ve seen such growth and I get regular emails from kids who’ve gone off to college and write back and tell us I felt so prepared I knew exactly what to do college writing was not difficult for me it is our privilege and honor to teach your students we give them such loving care I want you to be confident that you can trust us to give them what they need to grow into great writers thanks for joining me today i’m julie Bogar from brave writer live honestly right briefly you

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