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Improving writing skills at home and at school
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2014 10:39 AM

According to the Common Core State Standards, students should graduate high school with sound writing abilities. This entails the use of sophisticated syntax and vocabulary, the ability to organize and develop ideas, and familiarity with challenging content types, such as journals and nonfiction texts. Of course, students reach this point only after years of hard work and practice. In school they'll get the training they need to achieve this writing goal, though having extra help at home can make the journey easier. Here's a look at what Common Core schools are doing to improve writing skills, and what parents can do to support those efforts:

Writing in school

Elementary: The grade-by-grade writing Standards build upon one another to eventually reach the overarching writing goal. In kindergarten through grade two of the Common Core, students are learning to read and write at a very basic level, so the real writing work doesn't begin until grade three. At this point, students start getting a variety of texts to read (such as fiction and nonfiction), and they must write responses. Teachers still provide a lot of guidance as students write at this age, though students still have the opportunity to develop their skills by writing short research papers and stories. 

Junior high: In junior high (grades six-eight), students get to be more independent with their writing. They research with some guidance but have to put the facts they learned to use by forming well-organized papers. Junior high students have most of the writing basics down and can begin to develop a formal style and further increase their vocabulary. Assignments they complete may look something like this:

Read the given texts then write an explanatory essay comparing and contrasting the narrators' stories. Use evidence from the text (at least two examples) to support your claim. You will be expected to use precise language, maintain an objective tone, and have an introduction, conclusion and transitions.

High school: The prompts students see in high school are similar to the junior high ones (as they are able to write complete essays in both age groups), but with more challenging components. Instead of comparing and contrasting ideas that are blatant in the text, they may have to pick up more subtle hints, for instance:

After reading the texts, write a paper explaining where the Civil War soldiers from the story got their loyalty. You will need to use examples from the text to explain your reasoning.

This prompt asks students to be more intuitive as they read, picking up subtle hints the writer used. As you can see, writing begins with learning letters and sentences in kindergarten and develops into research writing that relies heavily on evidence. Teachers provide support, though they let their students work independently at the high school level. 

Writing at home

To achieve to a high writing level by high school graduation, students need practice. They'll certainly get it in school, but having support at home can help them improve the skills they learn during the day. Here are a few ways parents can promote writing development at home:

Edit: Students likely want their writing assignments to earn good grades, but it's easy to miss little grammar and spelling mistakes. Having a second pair of eyes look over the paper will ensure students don't turn it in with errors. When parents edit a paper, they should explain why they made the marks they did so students will learn correct spelling and grammar. 

Encourage creativity: While students may have opportunities to write creative pieces in school, the Common Core focuses on the technical aspect of the craft. Parents should encourage their kids to write creatively at home, whether that means keeping a journal or jotting down stories. This practices helps expand students' vocabulary and gives them a little freedom.