The Little Essay that Could: A Post Parent-Teacher Conference Action Plan

Parent/Teacher Conference Week is fast approaching here in Hastings as in so many other schools across America. If you are one of the parents who usually comes home from that meeting with some frustration and uncertainty, perhaps I can help. Does your child struggle with writing? Are you up to the challenge of helping?

Now many parents at this point explain, “I haven’t taken an English class in over 10 years. I’m not sure how to help.” If you are one of those parents who struggled with English class or need a refresher course, with a bit of time management, a few suggestions from me, and an encouraging word to your child, you can be a positive influence in your child’s writing experience.

First, encourage your child to complete the assigned pre-writing activities and first draft as soon as possible. This will give her the opportunity to utilize “shelf time.” Shelf time means that if there is enough time, students should take a day off between revising and editing drafts. This allows the paper to be fresh in the student’s mind, making it easier to notice areas needing improvement. However, in order to take advantage of this, the assignment must be started as quickly as possible.

In most cases, it is acceptable for the parents to help type their children’s work (check with the teacher). Completing the assignment on a computer can be helpful because of programs like spell check. Students will also be willing to complete more drafts because the corrections are much faster on a computer. (On a side note, I encourage your students type their own work. I started my children in 4th grade. I would type 75% of their assignment at first, and they would complete the last 25%. With each new paper, I gave them a larger chunk to type. By 6th grade, they were comfortable typing their entire assignment.)

Once the assignment is typed, make sure it is double spaced, creating more areas on the assignment for marking corrections, and then print two copies. Ask your child to read her work to you. Hearing the words can help in recognizing errors. If you have your own copy, follow along and mark any areas that need attention.

Here are some ideas for revising the draft (These steps are best addressed through multiple drafts. Look for a few items on this list, have your student apply those changes on the computer, and print a new copy and look for a few more):

Ask your child to underline the Thesis Statement. This is the most important sentence in the entire assignment. (NOTE: MUCH more can be said about the thesis statement, but as a starting point, the thesis statement is the most important sentence in the entire assignment because it defines the essay’s focus. Every sentence in the essay must relate in some way to the thesis statement. Your child should be able to identify this statement in her own work.)

Underline any sentences that do not make sense. Ask your child to clarify.

Make sure every body paragraph has a transition (a word in the first sentence of each body paragraph that signals the beginning of a new point in the essay). Common transitions are also, another, first, finally, in addition, etc.

Circle any vague words, “good, bad, nice, great.” Students should be able to write a more descriptive choice.

Check if the assignment should be written in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person.
First person-I, me, my
Second person-You, your
Third person-People, students, they, etc.
Note: Students are rarely assigned a second person project, yet it is a common error for “you’s” to end up in the finished work. If you notice any, point them out to your student.

Circle any sentences that begin with “it” or “there.” Usually students can create stronger sentences. For example, “There are two cats in the back yard,” can be changed to, “Two cats walked in the back yard.”

Check for repetition. Is your student using the same words over and over? Circle them, so she can change a few.

Paragraphs must have a minimum of three sentences (4-5 sentences are even better).

Will following all these steps guarantee your student an A? Probably not. However, utilizing the above steps should improve your student’s writing skills, which in turn, should improve her grades. More important, your student will develop vital writing habits by learning to manage her time and write more drafts. Most important, your student will benefit from your interest in her education.

Good luck!

Feel free to share this with any parents/students/educators who would benefit from this information.

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