As a teacher* I’m frequently asked for advice on teaching, learning, studying, reading, and avoiding getting sick. While I don’t consider myself an expert on any of these things, I always try to give some helpful suggestions.
So… I’ve decided to start sharing those suggestions on my blog, hoping that my small pieces of advice might travel a little bit further.
* NOTE: I’ve decided to stop referring to myself as a “former” teacher. I am a teacher. I have a valid, current teaching certificate and over fifteen years of experience in the classroom. Regardless of the fact that my current job is not teaching, I am still a teacher.
Advice From a Teacher
Last week, a friend of mine sent me this question about his daughter:
“Any recommendations for helping a new 5th grader to write better? Any good grammar books for her to learn from? Any habits I should be forming with her for reading and writing? She did not do so hot on the STAAR test, but super enjoys school.”
Here’s my reply:
The short answer is that I don’t have a good short answer. But here are some thoughts:
Does she like to read? Find something she loves to read and get her to read a lot. Reading good writing is key to writing good writing. If she likes Star Wars, I’m currently loving the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger. Some people probably consider it more of a “boy book” (<– ugh, I hate those words) but I love it. I also love many other books and can compile a list if you want. (I did compile that list! See below.)
Rather than force a grammar book on her, which could easily kill her passion for writing and/or her soul, get her to practice writing about things she likes. Letters to people, a description of a favorite movie or book, a story she made up. If you’re really serious about getting her some help before school starts, you could hire a writing tutor, but I would try to find one that will make the experience fun and interesting and not just drill her with test prep. There might also be a camp or something she could attend. I know we have some in Austin. (I’ve compiled a list of those too.)
For essay writing, I do have a book I recommend. It’s called Reviving the Essay by Gretchen Bernabei, and it’s an awesome teaching tool. It comes with many useful exercises and great examples. But it probably wouldn’t be seen as a “fun summer activity” by most kids, so you’d still need someone to guide her through it. Also, the exercises teach kids how to write REAL essays, not 26-line timed standardized test crud. Which brings me to my last point…
Standardized tests are mostly crud. (See example of cruddy test materials below.) If she’s doing well otherwise in school, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. However, not worrying is easier said than done. If getting better at the test questions will make you and your daughter feel better, you can always access released tests online and practice with those.
Books I Love That I Recommend for Fifth Graders:
- The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
- Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
- The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin
- The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
- Greenglass House by Kate Milford
- A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
- The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud
Austin Summer Writing Camps for Kids:
The Awesomeness of Gretchen Bernabei:
If you’re a writing teacher, I highly recommend buying a copy of Reviving the Essay. You will definitely get your money’s worth. But if you’re a parent looking for some writing exercises for your child, check out Gretchen’s website. She offers a wide variety of downloadable writing advice, including strategies to help with the STAAR test.
Speaking of the STAAR Test…
THIS is what the STAAR Writing Test answer document looks like.
But don’t worry. Good teachers know it’s crud and they will teach your kids to write well in spite of it. :)
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