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Improving Children's Writing - How to Comment on their Story and Still Be Friends

Mar 5, 2008
'Mum/Dad, will you read my story...?'

Such simple words - and such a simple trap...

When a child asks you to read their story, they mean only one thing. They have worked hard on it, they are proud of it and they want praise. Lots of praise.

But what do we give them? Criticism. 'That's good dear, but you've spelt 'pineapple' wrong. You'll need to fix that.'

Exit, stage right, a kid in a huff and bits of paper flying everywhere.

Now if someone really wanted help with their story, they would ask a totally different question.

'Mum/Dad I've got to do a 300 word story on elephants, what am I going to write?' This request does not come accompanied by sheets of paper and a fully written story. It comes at the very beginning of the writing process.

I learnt this the hard way when our daughter was in Year 7. She came to me with her story. She's a great writer, but I thought she wanted editing help and techniques to improve. Er...wrong. It was two years before she showed me a story again. 'Never have an author as a mother,' she's been know to mutter repeatedly ever since.

The urge to correct, to 'make perfect' is strong in us all. We want our kids to get good marks. However, we also need to understand where they are in the creation process. Would you like to spend all Saturday afternoon laying a patio, only to have someone come along and point out the one brick you laid crookedly?

So tell your kids what they are doing right instead of focusing on the mistakes that leap out at you. (Sounds like Michael Grose's parenting advice, right? The same principle is at work.)

Praise should also be specific. (I bet Michael says that too!) Not vague generalizations like 'that's great,' or 'lovely dear' or even 'terrific stuff.' Genuine praise looks at real reasons. When kids know their strengths - they will keep using those techniques you praise. They also learn to trust you, not as a fault finder, but as a mentor.

Now fast forward a couple of years. By then you or your child's teachers have got kids used to the idea that there is actually a first draft AND a second draft. (For most professional authors there is also a first draft, a second, a third, a fourth, then an editor's suggestions, a rewrite and joy-oh-joy, a proof reading draft.)

So enter your child, clutching their story in between the first draft and the second draft. This is actually a Work-in-Progress and they are probably still open to suggestions on how to improve. Perhaps I should make that 'suggestion' in the singular because you still have to give the praise. In a ratio of at least 1:3

Finally, always finish on a positive note. That's right, more praise!

Exit, stage right, a child glowing with a feeling of success. And a much better writer.

(C) Jen McVeity, National Literacy Champion.
About the Author
The fun Seven Steps to Writing Success program, by successful author, Jen McVeity, is in 900+ schools. Suited to the home school curriculum & gifted children, it has rapidly increased students' writing skills and enjoyment. Visit http://www.sevenstepswriting.com for top writing tips and activities - more in the free Parent Newsletters. Click on 'Sample' tab for a free Story Starters Worksheet.
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