Writing Practice and Proper Nouns

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In a recent post I mentioned that Em’s writing skills leave something to be desired. If you click on that link you will see a picture I took from her writing on a recent assignment – a hodgepodge of upper and lowercase letters, written at angles despite the presence of lines.

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First I put out a call for help on Facebook to my fellow homeschooling parents, and the first one to respond suggested just a quick writing practice, copying one or two sentences a day, would help clear things up quickly.

I had been reluctant to bring it up with Emily, mainly because she gets either defensive or discouraged, neither of which is particularly productive, and then she tries to avoid anything that involves her falling short of her own expectations of herself.

But later in the day, I said to her, “I noticed when you were writing that sometimes you use uppercase letters and sometimes you use lowercase letters. Did you know you are doing that?”

She squirmed uncomfortably, “Yeah, I’m not good at writing lowercase ‘a’ – I just can’t seem to do it right.”

“Hmmm…are you talking about the typed ‘a’ or the printed ‘a’?” I asked, remembering how difficult the typed ‘a’ could be. I wrote them both on the blackboard to illustrate.

“Both are hard,” she answered, looking troubled and sad.

“Okay. I can understand that. You haven’t had a lot of practice, and those letters can be difficult to shape at first.” I thought for a minute and then asked another question, “Hey, I just wondered something else…do you know WHEN to use an uppercase letter and when to use a lowercase letter?”

Emily shook her head again. This time it was with less sadness or embarrassment. It was something that hadn’t come up much in our learning, and so she didn’t feel lacking, she knew she didn’t know and readily admitted it.

And that spawned some sentences on the board. Me writing, first with some examples of how/when capitalization is important (the beginning of a sentence, a proper noun), and then giving her an all lowercase sentence to correct. I wrote, “i saw emily at the park near the water fountain” and asked her to correct it. She immediately pointed to the ‘I’ and her name as needing capitalization. Then I added ‘on the 4th of july.’ She didn’t catch it immediately, so I pointed to the word…

“This should be capitalized,” I said, and changed it to an uppercase ‘J’. “Why is that?”

Emily thought for a moment, “Because July is the NAME of the month.”

Capitalization UNDERSTOOD!

Then I tackled the touchy part of things. “So you don’t feel like you can write some of the letters well?”

She shook her head and looked glum. “No.”

“How do we get better at things?”

“By doing them.” She looked up at me with an expression of dread, knowing what was coming next.

“So, even if it isn’t your favorite thing, like reading wasn’t your favorite thing when you first started doing that, don’t you think that maybe practicing writing more would make you better?” I asked, “And then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, even kind of fun, like reading is now?”

Which was taking quite a leap since she still proclaims to hate reading.

Emily smiled reluctantly, “Yeah, you are right. I guess I’ll practice.”

“Just a little each day. Okay? Not a lot, maybe a sentence or two?”

She nodded and I felt a small sense of victory. I think that she is finally seeing me as her cheerleader and ally, not a tyrant. That I am trying to help her, not make her do busywork or confusing and boring work.

Together we came up with a sentence for her to practice tomorrow…it isn’t the best grammar, but it is a great start and tomorrow she will write, “One day Emily went crazy into the circus and went higher than the tent!”

Hey, whatever gets the kid writing…right?!

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