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2004-06-30 - 12:02 p.m.

It Took My Breath Away

Shortly after school got out for summer vacation, I got a call from my 12-year-old grandson Max, “Grandma, I was wondering if you would work with me on my writing this summer.” It took my breath away to have him ask to be tutored this summer. It is a joy to have a student acknowledge he needs help and be as eager as Max seems to be to improve his writing in preparation for what he knows is going to come next year. He’s a voracious reader with a good vocabulary, so it should not take long for him to become a proficient writer, as well – especially since he seems so willing, even eager, to learn. I’m not certain whether this was his idea or that of his parents, but he did arrive at the first lesson with a list of what he considers his shortcomings – uses run-on sentences and is uncertain about the distinction between a clause and a phrase.

This morning we had our second lesson, using Write Shop, an incremental writing program for junior high students that emphasizes clarity, conciseness, colorful vocabulary and interesting sentence types. I especially like the program as it offers a wide variety of writing activities, while developing strong paragraphs, but most importantly helps students know exactly what to look for when refining their own work. Each lesson contains a set of skill builders necessary for the lesson, as well as a checklist for the specific requirements for the final product of the assignment.

Today Max brought in his “sloppy copy” of the first assignment – a description of an object of his choice. We went over the checklist and much to his dismay, he had forgotten a few details of the assignment. In fact, Max soon discovered that following directions is key to success in this program. The checklist included such basics as:

  • Do all my sentences support my topic sentence?
  • Did I choose a strong topic sentence that introduces the paragraph?
  • Did I use concrete words (specific, vivid and sensory)?
  • Did I avoid the use of repeated words?
  • And that was just in the style part of the checklist. When he got to the mechanics part, Did you skip every other line?he quickly asked, “Grandma, maybe I should come three times a week? How about Friday at 9?”

    Remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

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