My daughter was sitting on my bed, frustrated and slowly progressing to beside herself. A draft of a report was due, and while she didn't mind doing the work, she couldn't understand her teacher's criticisms of her work, so she wasn't quite sure how to fix the issue so she could go back to getting her usual A's.
Me, being Mom, and trying to help without over-helping, and explaining at least some part of the writing process to her, so that she could become more comfortable with report writing, as the more she advances in school, the more report writing will become a huge part of her life. Left up to her, she would do math and science all day every day, and skip all of the writing stuff. But English, History, and Social Studies, with their associated long format, detailed answers, will begin to be a factor in a year when she begins middle school, so learning the basic, five paragraph essay format has been her quarterly project since the beginning of the 3rd grade. Having not really learned this format until later in my high school career (shame, I know), and seeing as her current teacher also knew that I was a blogger, I was determined to help her get through The Writing with as much grace and elegance as a 4th grader could muster. She loved the research portions of these reports, and printing pictures off of the internet or building models, but The Writing? The Writing was like pulling bad teeth from an angry alligator. Getting the work done without getting bit was perilous at best, and extremely hazardous to my (mental) health at worst.
I began by going over the outline the teacher had given the students, giving them the requirements for the report, as well as a rough idea of how to build it. I pointed out that she had taken mostly all of the appropriate notes, so that put her ahead of the game. All that really needed to happen was that she put the pertinent information together into clear paragraphs that supported her original point. The words needed to flow in such a way that they were easily understood without seeming stiff, as little kids tend to write write sentences that are stand alone, and don't really lend themselves to leading to the next sentence or idea. As I begin to explain narrative voice, her eyes glaze over, followed by a look of absolute panic.
" I am NEVER going to get finished, and even if I do, it's going to SUCK!"
I know I am going to need a way to keep her attention and still make sure she understands what I am telling her, so I grab a notepad and pen from the side of my bed, as well as an autobiography I had recently checked out from the library, but hadn't started reading yet. I thumb through the book until I find a safe, descriptive paragraph, speaking to, of all things, a musician's songwriting process. She read the paragraph, thought about it for a few seconds, then wailed that she would NEVER be able to write that well.
I was back at square one, and needed to save the situation before it got any worse.
"So. Tell me a story."
"Huh? What kind of story?"
"Tell me what happened after the sitter picked you up from school today. Tell me everything that happened between the time you got picked up, and the time you guys made it back to the daycare."
She gave me a weird look, but began to narrate what she thought were the mundane details of the daily pickup routine, punctuated by one kid messing around with the door handle, being told to stop, then doing it again anyway as soon as the van stopped, then nearly falling out of the van as soon as it got to the daycare.
I verified the details, then I sat and wrote for a few minutes. I then handed her a paragraph filled with an exciting (I think, anyway) tale of pickups, and dramatic exchanges about homework, and a mischievous little kid and a van door. She couldn't believe it was the same story.
This, I told her, was the essence of writing: stringing a series of facts and details together so that they were interesting and made sense to whoever was reading them. Write as if you are speaking to someone, just remembering to use your best grammar, and support everything you say with details. And practice really does make perfect. The more you write, the more comfortable you get with writing, hopefully the more you learn, and the better you get.
She didn't look completely convinced, but she slunk off to the living room to get back on the computer, and re-write her paragraphs. She did end up getting a better grade than the project prior to that one, if I recall correctly, so I think it worked, at least a little. Score one for Mom teaching.
So. Tell me a story.