Friday, March 27, 2015

Searching for Salamanders

The kids have been excited about salamanders lately. Our property has shady woods and teensy creeks, which are great places to find salamanders, pop them in a Mason jar habitat, name them, keep them for a bit, and then return them from whence they came.

All of the salamanders have S names, of course. Steve. Speed. Sally. Stuart. Sunshine.

The Hoosier Herpetological Society had an entire salamander-themed day at a local state park last weekend, and since it was also happily one of the Spring Break weekends that the children had off from extracurriculars, we all spent the entire day there, watching a presentation on amphibians and their identification, creating salamander crafts (the docent taught the children beading using Pony beads and flat cord; it was VERY intriguing...), eating a buffet dinner at the inn that mostly consisted of pie (oh, the pie!!!), and in between all that, going on hikes to search for salamanders and get lots of wet:

The children were lent deli containers to catch and examine the salamanders. One mustn't touch salamanders, because their skin is very porous and very sensitive to toxins, even ones that don't bother people and thus that we might accidentally have on our hands:
Salamander! The kids found lots of northern two-lined salamanders.

This kid and her animals...
and THIS kid! They're pretty great.
Although I do not know how this one eats. That's FOUR bottom teeth that she's missing, my little rabbit girl.
Our area was formerly under the sea, don't you know, so one must also always be on the lookout for interesting fossils--

 --and, of COURSE, heart-shaped rocks:

I haven't turned the salamander into a study beyond this, but I have checked out many salamander-related resources from the library to strew temptingly for pleasure reading and, if that doesn't take, then for future Books of the Day:

Don't tell the children, but I secretly counted this day as a school day in my planner. Salamanders are science!!!

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Latest: Science and Grammar (and Spring!)

Unsurprisingly, we did not complete our schoolwork last week. There were salamanders to find, hide-and-seek games to play in the woods, neighborhood cats to befriend (the kids give them their own names, and I'm pretty sure tempt them over to our house for an extra meal daily--we seem to be feeding a LOT of extra cats these days...), mudpies to bake, we kept going to the library for various programs and then staying all day, and in this, our first spring in our home, there is much yard work to be done, and my two are quite the branch-hauling, gravel-spreading, rock-moving helpers!

No worries. Little schoolwork is time-sensitive, as long as the learning continues (and when you're outdoors, with the mud and the salamanders and your toy ponies, then yes, I count you as learning), and so what wasn't completed last week has simply been moved to this week, where we'll give it another shot in between the woods exploring and the fossil collecting and the salamander spotting.

Dailies this week include Chinese language practice (which I need to monitor more closely this week, as they've got class again on Saturday after the Spring Break hiatus); typing practice (I have a couple of software programs from the library to install for them to try, now that they're bored with Dance Mat Typing); keyboard practice; cursive practice (definitely improving!); and the Book of the Day, which this week includes a couple of movies as a bit of a treat--a video on Chinese cuisine, and a documentary on Tchaikovsky--as well as books on the oviraptor, periodic table, and Lippizaner horse.

MONDAY: Hopefully, our gig at the food pantry will be less chaotic, now that Spring Break is over! For grammar, we have another First Language Lessons unit, and for math, Syd is continuing with measurement in Math Mammoth, and Will has a review of multi-digit multiplication before continuing in her current calculations unit.

The kids worked hard on interesting Girl Scouts projects last week--Syd, thanks to the Computer Expert badge, learned that she really likes to create digital art, and Will framed a dried rose from Syd's Nutcracker bouquet as a keepsake for her as part of her Flowers badge, to name just a couple of the activities that I happened to notice--so they'll continue that practice this week. They haven't, however, been working nearly as hard on their Science Fair projects as they need to, which means that they'll need to work on them every school day this week, and I'll need to monitor and guide their work more carefully.

TUESDAY: Brainpop Jr., it turns out, has short videos for exactly the capitalization and paragraph writing topics that I want to teach this week--yay! They also have printable activities that go with the Brainpop videos; the kids will be doing that activity on Friday as part of their capitalization lesson, but for this paragraph lesson, I'm giving them the movie review prompt from this Paragraph of the Week freebie. It it goes well, I might add paragraph writing as a regular component of our school week, at least for a while.

It's high time for the kids to start rehearsing for this year's Trashion/Refashion Show, so they can use some of their school day to measure and tape down a practice runway in our big family room.

Will is back at Robotics Club on this evening, so Syd and I will spend that time over at the grocery store that is hosting a field trip for my Girl Scout troop in a couple of weeks. Our topic is "Fair Trade," and as part of Syd's Game Making badge, I've asked her to put together a Fair Trade scavenger hunt that the children can complete after our lecture and tour.

WEDNESDAY: The kids really are doing well in their Hoffman Academy lessons! I know they're not receiving the constructive criticism in posture and technique that they'd get from a live teacher, but they're learning to play, and they're enjoying learning to play, and I have many, many, MANY opinions about outsider art, DIY, and the false archetype of "proper" technique that I can share with you whether you're interested or not.

The kids did read their Zoology for Kids chapter last week, but they did not do the butterfly life cycle activity that I wanted them to do, so they can do that as well as read the next chapter this week.

And there's a Girl Scout workshop on friendship bracelet making--fun with fine motor skills for the win!

THURSDAY: Free day!!! There's a park playgroup on this afternoon, and Syd has gymnastics on this evening. Otherwise, freedom!!!

FRIDAY: The kids have math class, and need to work more on their family tree project. I've been saving eggs again, too, and I know that they'll enjoy dyeing Easter eggs again with me. Maybe next week I'll teach them how to make egg salad!

As for me, I have an essay to write on crafting and fan art, and a book on knitted and crocheted hats for cats to review, and a World War II unit study to plan, so I'm pretty excited about the kids' extracurriculars and playgroups recommencing, since that's when I get a lot of my writing, and even some of my research (yay for extracurriculars with wi-fi access!!!) done. My main garden project this week is to plant spring bulbs, which will require the kids' help, of course, but won't be nearly as taxing as tearing out 30 feet of shrubbery and replacing it with a river rock bed.

At least I hope it won't. As I discovered on Sunday afternoon, swearing and sweating and hacking at a stump with a fucking AXE because the chainsaw doesn't actually work and the only part that will make it work can only be bought ONLINE and NOT at one of the FIVE hardware stores in this town, I am not great at predicting how long a specific gardening/landscaping project will take.

And yes, I eventually gave up and just guided the river rock bed around the stumps. It looks like crap, but whatever. It's done.

On to spring bulbs!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Latest: Cardboard, and also Spring

an essay on the environmental nightmare that is the Keurig K-Cup (with a great monster video!)

I'm going to surprise all the kids with these at our next meeting, so I'm pretty excited.

Coming up for next week, I've been working on decoupaging a lunch box and putting cardboard dividers into another box to use as candle storage--you can expect tutes for both of those projects on CAGW. I figured out an awesome way to embellish plain pencils with tissue paper, so when I finish that, I'll write the tute up here on this blog. 

My biggest project, however, has been the hours that I've spent this week sawing up the GIANT shrubs planted just thisclose to our house--gee, I wonder why our foundation is crap? Today, I'm going to finish with the chainsaw (yay!), then dig a trench two feet from the house for a border, then spread landscape cloth and river rocks across that two feet so that we can, you know, actually access the side of our house for maintenance and repair.

Later this spring, however, part of the remaining space between that border and the driveway will be the new home to the dwarf fruit cocktail tree that I'm almost positive that it was foolish of us to order (if it sounds too good to be true...) and to Will's long-planned, long-awaited butterfly garden

Because grass? That's just the stuff that holds your place until you figure out what you ACTUALLY want to grow in that spot!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review Multiplication and Division Facts Using Cuisenaire Rods

You know by now that Base Ten blocks and Cuisenaire Rods are my favorite math manipulatives. They're a hands-on way to model calculations in the Base Ten system, and you can combine them with centimeter-gridded graph paper or a centimeter ruler and some colored pencils even more hands-on enrichment.

Will actually did this particular activity back when she was beginning to learn long division, but I need to give her some review work in multi-digit multiplication next week, so I was looking over my past projects and resources and discovered that I haven't yet shared this with you--and it's really great, so I want to!

To start, review this lesson on teaching long division using Base Ten blocks and Cuisenaire Rods. I found the vocabulary suggestions especially helpful for connecting the modeling to the calculation.

The premise, however, with or without the vocabulary, is simple: 16 divided by 4 means "16, put into 4 rows." Using the Cuisenaire Rods and skip counting, or the Base Ten units and counting on, the kid adds an equal number of units to all four rows until she finds out how many units would have to be in each row for the four rows to total 16:

Then, ask the kid what other math facts are modeled using this same set-up. Give her plenty of time to come up with repeated addition, repeated subtraction, multiplication of both rows by columns and columns by rows (don't start off with a square number, as I have in my example--this wasn't the first problem that Will did), and division of both rows by columns and columns by rows. If you totally have to, you can ask leading questions after a while, but I don't like to unless the kid is clearly over it but still hasn't found everything there is to find.

Once the kid has the hang of this, you can give her several problems to model and write down math facts for:

If I'm not sitting next to her, I like to have her color in what rods she used. You can see that you can also use the units to help you count on, if you're having trouble keeping track:

You can also do quite big numbers, as long as they fit onto the graph paper, although then you'll run into the problem that big numbers can be tricky to count on by hand, and you'll start to see some errors that result from simple miscounting, like this one:

Thirteen times 19 equals 247, not 244. If I'd encouraged Will to use Cuisenaire Rods to complete each row, instead of the columns after the ten bar, then she possibly wouldn't have made that error, but I don't like to correct her when she's in the middle of working something out. We talked about it afterwards as 10x19+3x19, using two different graphs, and it was simpler for her to work out that way.

Will doesn't have a lot of patience for manipulatives, but she does love puzzles and problem-solving, so this was a great review activity for her. This may be the one that I ask her to repeat next week--she made some errors during her multiplying decimals unit this week that lead me to believe that she's forgotten how multi-digit multiplication physically works. So multiplying the units, then multiplying the tens, then adding together the two separate functions--doing all that physically with the manipulatives and seeing it actually happen is crucial for understanding what you're doing in the pencil and paper calculations. If you remember that, then there's no way that you'll forget to put the tens calculation a column to the left when you add.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We Found a Treasure in our Attic

Like, real treasure. Seriously.

Here's the story:

We waited until the fall until really exploring our attic, because attics are hot in the summer. We knew that there was some stuff up there, because the former homeowner had told us so--"Mostly Christmas decorations," he'd said. "You keep them."

Well, I'm NOT the type to say no to the possibility of vintage Christmas decorations, or even the possibility of a junky attic with old stuff in it--there could be comic books up there! Or toys! Or treasure!--so we were totally fine with that arrangement, but when it was fall, and we were finally settled and unpacked-ish (we're still not fully unpacked, just so you know), we figured we might as well do some exploring and see what needed to be cleaned out.

You get into our attic like this:

This attic must have been accessible only from the outside before the house's expansion (you're looking from our front hallway into the kitchen, through it into the playroom, and through that to the old front door), so I'm guessing that anything in there was put in during the 1980s, after the remodel put this attic door inside the front hallway, and it mustn't have been used very often, because getting into it is a bitch. I didn't expect much, then. Tacky Christmas decorations. Dishes, maybe. Paperwork.

There were no dishes, but there were tacky Christmas decorations, all of which the children ADORED. To hear them tell, they'd always longed for their very own ceramic light-up Christmas village, and indeed, they did set that village up under our Christmas tree this winter, and fuss with it daily, so I suppose they're telling true.

There was paperwork, mostly old drive-in stuff (the former homeowner is also the former owner of the drive-in next door, you may recall). I was sorry to see that there were record albums--Friends, do NOT store your record albums in the attic! You might as well just go ahead and toss them into the trash if you're planning on storing them in the attic. Around some of the Christmas decorations there were decades-old newspapers, the comics pages of which entertained the children to no end: 

And then I found a heavy cardboard box, and I peeped inside that cardboard box, and I found this:

I had found all of the letters that our former homeowner sent during the years of 1942-1945 to a woman addressed as "Ruth" in the earlier letters, "the Future Mrs. Stewart" in the middle letters, and "My Dear Wife" in the last letters. They were sent first from officer training here in Bloomington, then from San Francisco, and then from, depending on the date, either somewhere in Europe or somewhere in the Pacific.

Although I wouldn't have said no to a Captain American #1, I know you'll agree that this?

This is treasure. Treasure found right in our attic.

Because we have very nosy noses, the kids and I of course spent an afternoon "putting them in order"--this is my euphemism for nosiness, because of course the postmarks were often smudged, so one must look at the letter itself to determine its date, and if one is looking at the letter, one might as well read the letter, yes? I mean, it's already open right there in one's hands!

The experience was a fabulous crash course in World War II history for all of us. Our former homeowner did not write anything relevant about the course of the war or his specific actions in the war in his letters (this was also educational, explaining to the children why that was the case), but to see the types of things that he *was* interested in and allowed to write about were fascinating, as was learning to decipher his handwriting--

--as was discovering the other little souvenirs of the time. The children saw real telegrams for the first time. We found these enemy aircraft spotter flash cards:

We found an officer's training notebook, and some shells, and a straw handbag souvenir.

Here's everything all nicely organized:

We have to track down the contact info for our former homeowner, so that we can get these precious letters back into his hands. We're also going to super nicely ask if he'll let us record him telling some of his stories from the time, and maybe let us ask him some nosy questions.

And you know that my heart is joyfully singing the following song: was there ever such a wonderful impetus for a World War II unit study?!?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Work Plans for the Week of March 16: St. Patrick and the Bad Kitty

This week is Spring Break for our local public school system and university, and although we follow a year-round schedule and so will have our usual four days this week, the kids' weekend extracurriculars on both ends of the week are cancelled, and there are some fun public library programs during the day to attend, so I think it'll be a relaxing school week, overall.

Books of the day this week include Mandarin vocabulary, fictional books about the Lipizzaner (for Syd) and World War II (for Will), a book of horse stories for Will, and a couple of books on the periodic table, as they were in the same section as the books on crystals that I was pre-researching for Syd and they looked like something the kids would like.

MONDAY: I am SUPER excited about this Bad Kitty livestream that we'll be watching at 10:30! I re-checked out (because of course the kids have read them all before) all the Bad Kitty books from the library last week, and I was pleased to see that both kids read them all and are really into Bad Kitty again--they're going to be so excited!

Since it's Spring Break, our regular volunteer gig at the food pantry is probably going to be chaos. Just sayin'.

I'm not doing an extra math enrichment assignment for the kids this week, especially since we did so much celebration of Pi Day last week! In Math Mammoth, Will is reviewing decimals and then just practicing computation for ages, and Syd is in measurement, which thankfully has some hands-on suggestions included.

I downloaded a St. Patrick's Day unit study that looks cute--the kids make green flubber, and go on a green scavenger hunt, etc.--but I didn't think that the actual content was as cute as the cute stuff, so what we're actually going to do for this short study is listen to The Story of the World chapters on the coming of Christianity to Great Britain, read a biography of St. Patrick (Will tells me that the Wikipedia one is quite good), and, since our Pi(e) Feast was so much fun on Saturday, we might have a Green Feast on Tuesday before going to an Irish music concert that evening.

Syd finished her Pets badge last week by making a toy for a pet (she hand-sewed a stuffed fish and sewed it to a ribbon. The cats freakin' LOVE it), writing care notes for our cats (including the one that doesn't actually belong to us that we feed), researching how much food for each cat costs for a year, and watching a DVD on cat first aid. Will didn't do as much Girl Scouts-related last week, so I'm hoping that she'll be more inspired this week--it won't be long until they both bridge, after all, and then they'll have a whole new set of badges to earn!

TUESDAY: Neither kid did much work on their Science Fair project last week, so they're going to need to start buckling down this week. Syd is doing crystals, so she plans to research crystals, grow several types, and make 3D models of the various crystal shapes. Will is doing the Hexbug Nano, so she plans to figure out how it works, make a maze for it, and "hack" it in some way.

Syd has written several great short stories this year, so I'd like her to either write a new one or edit a recent one to submit to the PBS Kids Writer's Contest this week. I left Will's writing assignment open-ended, figuring that she will probably want to work on her blog.

WEDNESDAY: The kids have First Language Lessons today (one of these weeks I need to just start assigning it every single day until we finish it), and a Hoffman Academy keyboard lesson. They're still really enjoying Zoology for Kids, and although the Butterfly Life Cycle activity that I'm asking them to complete from the book is something that they've done before, it'll be a timely review for Spring!

There's a Minecraft program at the public library that afternoon, and so I imagine that the rest of our day will be spent there.

THURSDAY: I discovered last week, as the kids struggled with their Chinese class homework, that I need to encourage them to study the Chinese characters for their vocabulary words more. While they play on this BBC Languages site, hopefully I can scare up some flashcards online to print out for them.

The capitalization of "I" is a super-quick grammar lesson; I plan to explain that the pronoun "I" is always capitalized, no matter where in the sentence it is, and then ask each kid to write me five sentences in which "I" is not the first word. If I'm feeling extra mean, I'll make them write them in cursive!

Last week, the kids finished their family tree for their immediate family, including the cats and chickens, sigh. I want them to also include both sets of grandparents and their uncle, so they can do that this week.

Our Thursday afternoon homeschool playgroup has moved to the park, now that the weather's nice. If it's raining, though, there's another public library program that the kids can attend.

FRIDAY: I haven't figured out if the kids' math class will be held this week or not; if it is, I'll send the kids to it, since they missed last week, and then have our Free Day otherwise, but if it's cancelled for Spring Break, we'll probably spend the day at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and/or the Indianapolis Zoo. I'd like us to volunteer in the Paleo Prep Lab at the museum, but if the weather's great, the kids will also want to see the orangutans.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: No weekend extracurriculars mean no places that we have to be! Of course, I want to clean house and do yardwork, and Matt, I'm sure, wants to cook, but there's also some sort of salamander celebration at one of our state parks, so we'll probably do that instead.

Because salamanders beat yardwork. I mean, obviously.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

So Many Essays, and How to Write Them

For some reason, January and February are THE months in which, if you want to hold an essay contest for children, you hold that contest. The two essay contests that Will entered for Black History Month make sense, but she also participated in a Hoosier Heroines essay contest, and both kids participated in a human rights essay contest. For Will, that was FOUR big essays in two months!

If she wasn't comfortable belting out a research essay before (and she wasn't), she is comfortable belting out a research essay now! She's not happy about it, necessarily, but she does have the procedure down pat.

Here's how I break down these big essay assignments into manageable chunks:

DAY 1: Brainstorm your topic.

The child reads the essay prompt, highlighting the important information. We then review that prompt together, so that I can make sure that the child notices each requirement for the prompt, and what her essay should include.

If there is a choice of topics, the child will go online or to an encyclopedia and briefly research each topic. She should take into account her preferences, but also how well each topic could be made to meet the requirements of the prompt. She should make notes as she goes.

If the prompt requires creative writing rather than research, I might write a brainstorming sheet myself or pull one off of the internet to help the child organize her thoughts. I always require her, in this case, to brainstorm at least three ideas, so that she has some choice.

Many fits are thrown on this day, because kids see the entire process as overwhelming. It's very important, therefore, to not cave in; this step, like all the steps, does require focus, and it can be time-consuming, if the essay prompt offers lots of options, but it's not difficult, and kids absolutely must see that, which they only will if they complete this step. After this step, you can remind them during all the other steps that each step alone is not difficult, and the big result will come from adding each small step to the previous one.

DAY 2: Research your topic.

First, the kid should reread the essay prompt and any brainstorming notes that she wrote about her chosen topic.

Let's go to the library! I do some sneaky pre-research for this step, both so I can recall books if they're checked out, and so I can have some expectations of what the child will find. I also flip through the subscription websites that I have access to, places like Britannica for Kids or Discovery Education Streaming, so that I can point those sites out to the kid if there's anything useful that they could find there.

This day actually can be a little tricky--some of the essay topics for the contests that Will entered this year were really obscure; she couldn't simply check out a library book on Anthony "Kapel" Van Jones, for instance, and she had a hell of a time finding a "Hoosier" heroine. Also, nobody has written much kid-level information about Historically Black Colleges and Universities. For those, especially, my pre-research is essential--for Van Jones, I logged into our local university's Time Magazine subscription, and pointed Will to the Indiana Magazine of History archives for her Hoosier Heroines research, and to Britannica for Kids to start her HBCUs research.

I will let a child use Wikipedia for research--I mean, of course--but I will not let her only use Wikipedia for research.

Online articles should be printed, including the bibliographic information for the essay's Works Cited page, and relevant information highlighted. Printed materials can either be photocopied and highlighted, or the child can make notes on a separate page--Will loathes writing by hand, so she always photocopies and highlights:
This HBCUs essay was a bitch to write; Will had no choice but to slog through some difficult articles to get her information, because there's very little written for children on the topic.
This step can be split into two or even three days.

DAY 3: Write an outline.

Have the kid reread the essay prompt, and her brainstorming notes, and have her flip through or skim her research, rereading the highlighted passages and her notes.

The kid's outline should include headings for the introduction, each key point in the essay prompt, and the conclusion. Syd still really likes the visual nature of this sticky note outline, but for Will's longer essays, I usually let her dictate to me and watch as I type the information in outline-form in Microsoft Word--she's quick to point out any grammatical or punctuation errors!

I do not permit the children to simply quote their information from their source to the outline--everything, unless they want to literally quote it in their essay, must be rephrased. Otherwise, it's too easy to forget what hasn't been rephrased yet, and much too easy to plagiarize. Will also likes to change as little as possible when she rephrases, just putting the odd synonym into what's basically an unaltered quote, so I require her to completely cover the sentence that she's trying to rephrase, and then tell it to me--that always results in a more thoughtful construction.

This step is the hardest--I like to have the kid get all of the hard work of thinking what to say done in the outline, so that the actual writing, which can seem like the most intimidating step to a kid, becomes just a matter of putting the information into essay format. This means that the conclusion must also be tackled--here's how I teach how to write conclusions.

Here's Will's outline for her Van Jones essay:

And here's the one for her HBCUs essay:

DAY 4: Write the essay.

Have the kid reread the essay prompt, and her brainstorming notes, have her flip through or skim her research, rereading the highlighted passages and her notes, and have her read her outline. She may object to doing this every day, but it's crucial to stay familiar with the prompt, all the information, and the notes that she's made so far--she may need to add information or alter things in the editing stage.

You may disagree with me here, but I have my kids dictate their essays to me. They must sit or stand at my elbow, so that they can see what I'm typing, and they must tell me where to make paragraph breaks, but dictating does mean that I handle all the spelling and basic punctuation myself. The thing is, though, that rhetoric/composition is NOT the same thing as handwriting/typing; they are two different skills, and at the ages that the kids are, learning both as they are, when they focus on both tasks at the same time, both tasks suffer. A kid who is also concentrating on forming her letters correctly or  holding down the shift button for every capital letter is not able to give her full concentration to creating an effective sentence, or when to start a new paragraph. If I want a kid to practice the physical acts of writing or typing, as well, I give them copywork, or ask them to write a letter or a creative story or even a book report. But if I want the kid to be able to do her best work on a composition, I do not ask her to also physically write or type it as she creates it.

That being said, there are no big standards for a rough draft. Remember, the idea is to show the kid that this single step that seems so overwhelming and significant is really just one small step in the greater whole. I remind the kid that an essay is more than just an outline strung together, but if that's what they end up doing, then fine--we'll fix it in the editing step. If they have no paragraph breaks (although if nothing else, the outline makes these breaks obvious), then that's fine--that's fixable in the editing step. As long as the essay has some identifiable introduction, meets all the points of the writing prompt, and has some attempt at a conclusion, it 100% DOES NOT MATTER how good or bad the essay is. It's just a draft!

DAY 5: Revise the essay.

Have the kid reread the essay prompt, and her brainstorming notes, have her flip through or skim her research, rereading the highlighted passages and her notes, and have her read her outline.

Ask the kid to read her essay and make note of anything that needs to be corrected or changed. She may note some things and she may not--it's not a big deal, either way. The important thing is to make reading that essay for the purpose of revision part of the process.

Let the kid move onto something fun for a while, then you sit down with a pen and mark that essay up. Circle grammar or transition errors that you can verbally explain or she should be able to fix without comment. Write notes about things that she's done especially well--"What an interesting fact!" and "You've put this into context very well here" and "Great choice of adjective!" Also write notes about things that she should correct--"These are long paragraphs; could you break them up more?" and "What is the significance or relevance of this fact?" and "This doesn't seem to fit here; is there a better place to put it?"

If there are a LOT of things to correct, that's totally fine. Choose to only comment on the number of issues that it seems reasonable for the kid to handle, then have her complete the revision step with those comments, then evaluate it again and let her revise again.

Have the kid read your notes, and discuss each one with her--a DISCUSSION, not a lecture. Rules are rules, so grammar and punctuation errors must be corrected, but if she disagrees with you about stylistic things, and you've said your piece and she doesn't agree, then she gets her way. It's more important for her to understand that she is the boss of her own essay than for her to have a perfect essay in your eyes.

I also tend to take any attempt at revision as a successful attempt. One of the critiques that I most often make is something like, "Add context to support this/details to expand this." I need the children to not simply string facts together, but to begin to express their own thoughts about these facts. That's why, in the essays that I'll show you in a minute, you'll see lots of details and lots of context. You'll notice, though, that they aren't always totally relevant details or context. And that's okay. I suggested that the kid add context to what she said, she did her best to do what I wanted, and I'm sure as hell not going to browbeat her until she also does it exactly according to my own ideas--I might as well write my own damn essay on Maude Essig then, right? If I'm still constantly suggesting that they add details and context, then we're clearly still at the "add details and context" stage of composition instruction. When I no longer find myself having to make that suggestion for every fact, then we can start with the "is this detail relevant?" stage.

Have the kid dictate her revisions to you as you dutifully type them, then send her on her way. Even if you're doing some of these steps on the same day, like with an older kid, the next round of revisions or the next step should take place tomorrow at the earliest.

DAY 6: Make final revisions, and write the Works Cited.

For a change, the kid does NOT have to re-read all her preparatory materials first. She'll be thrilled!

The kid should re-read her essay and make any notes for revision after every round of revision. Even when you have no other corrections to make, you should nevertheless print out yet another clean copy and have her re-read it. When she looks up and tells you that she has nothing more to correct, then, you just look at her and say, "Great!"

I have my kids make parenthetical citations for facts in the bodies of their essays, so our final step is to help the kids compile all the sources that they used, alphabetize them by author, and write them down for our Works Cited page.

Taken as a whole, I know that this process seems really intense, but this really is how you write an essay--small step by small step, taking up plenty of time. The last thing that you want to do is hurry this process, because all that teaches kids is to hurry the process, and they'll end up among those college students miserably pulling all-nighters to tumble out sub-standard essays. They certainly don't learn anything that way, and they're not enjoying themselves, so what's the point?

Here are some of the essays that the kids have written in the past few months using this process. They're not perfect essays, of course, but the kids learned a ton doing them, and, even if they didn't have fun, per se, they were pleased and proud of the results, and that's the important thing:


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