Good Writers and Kumon
Have you ever had a long discussion on a topic with a friend or associate and then attempted to put your thoughts into writing? As we all know, it is far easier to talk about a topic intelligently than it is to write about it! Why is it that sharing the thoughts and ideas that come to us so naturally when speaking requires so much more effort when placing pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?
Standard Written English, which we use for writing letters, essays, books, etc., is a very different form of discourse than conversation or even lecture. With face-to-face communication, the recipient has the opportunity to ask questions for clarification and the speaker can use her tone of voice, hands, facial expressions, and body language to reinforce her message. Additionally, spoken discourse can often stray from the strict grammatical rules of Standard Written English. Anyone who has transcribed a speech or conversation can tell you that the use of complete sentences and proper pronouns often falls by the wayside.
So, how do we develop our ability to communicate in Standard Written English? Exposure to well written and thoughtful literature, on a wide range of topics, is the first and most important means of developing one's writing ability. By reading books, articles, and essays, readers develop an eye for what constitutes good writing. Through their readings, they begin to internalize the common traits of Standard Written English and excellent literature; varied sentence structure, proper use of grammar, compelling and effective arguments, vivid description, and literary devices such as metaphor and simile are just a few of the traits of effective writing that readers begin to recognize through exposure to excellent literature.
Comprehension plays a key role in the development of good writers. A person who reads with strong comprehension is more likely to read for enjoyment and to read a wider range of books and printed media. Children who are active and enthusiastic readers quickly develop a wealth of background knowledge that they would not otherwise encounter or study in their daily activities. To craft a well executed piece of writing, good writers use their background knowledge to make meaningful inferences and to present their readers with the examples and situations that best illustrate their purpose.
A good writer must also be well versed in the mechanics of English. Even an excellent writer or poet who discards some of the rules of Standard Written English must know these rules well before breaking them. Students who are able to write with proper grammar and syntax will find the writing process easier because they will not need to spend extensive time and energy ensuring that each sentence is properly constructed. Instead, they can focus on the message they are attempting to convey. Knowledge of more complex sentence structure is also important for effective writing. Students who are able to comprehend and create compound and complex sentences are more likely to use these structures in their own writing.
The Kumon Reading Program helps students develop the traits above. The primary goal of the Reading Program is Reading Comprehension. The exercises in the Kumon Worksheets are specifically designed to help students develop their ability to read with comprehension and confidence. As their confidence and comprehension grows, students are more apt to turn to books for both learning and enjoyment. In the earlier levels of the Kumon program, students study the basic mechanics of Standard Written English. From exercises with subject-verb agreement to the composition of complex sentences, students learn how to construct well written sentences independently. Thus, when it comes time to express their own ideas, students will have the fundamentals in place and can concentrate on the process of writing, rather than the mechanics.
Students are exposed to a wide range of excellent literature through the fictional and non-fictional excerpts in the Kumon Worksheets. From essays on medicine by Dr. Oliver Sachs to excerpts from plays by William Shakespeare, students experience a wealth of compelling literature, opening their minds and expanding their understanding of the world. Open-ended questions require students to think logically and critically about what they have read, and to express their ideas in their own words. By doing so, students are applying the background knowledge they are developing within the writing process. Lastly, the Kumon Recommended Reading List is an invaluable tool for developing students' appreciation of literature. When used in conjunction with the Book Tracker, students have the opportunity to respond to what they have read, reinforcing the knowledge they have gained.
In conjunction with studying the Kumon Reading Worksheets and the Recommended Reading List, there are numerous activities your child can do to help develop his or her writing skills:
Read essays, short stories, and editorials: Reading well written essays, short stories, and editorials broadens children's knowledge of the world and exposes them to excellent, concise writing, similar to that required on standardized writing tests. The New York Times editorial page is a great resource. When selecting essays or short stories, students should choose works that interest them. Consulting with your child's teacher or the librarian at your local library will help you and your child narrow the search.
Keep a journal: Writing requires practice. By writing daily, or even weekly, in a journal or log, children become more comfortable with putting their thoughts down on paper. Often, this is the hardest place for writers to begin.
Enter a contest: There are literally thousands of children's writing contests held each year. Children's magazines often sponsor such events. Talk with your child's teacher to see if there are any school or local contests for young writers in your area.
Take part in a writing / debate club: This is an excellent way for children to hone their writing skills in a supportive environment. Great writers know how to construct an effective and influential argument backed by supportive evidence. By participating in a debate club, children learn how to construct arguments, how to support claims with evidence, and how to deliver a pointed message succinctly. Writing clubs often provide students with a creative outlet that enables them to write on subjects they might be unable to explore in the confines of the classroom. In both cases, children have the opportunity to let their own voices come through in their writing.
By Steve Kemp, Instruction Department
© 2008 Kumon North America, Inc.