“Write a book report.”
“Write an essay about the Battle of the Bulge.”
We’ve surely all seen directions like this – throughout our own childhoods, and also in the homeschool curricula we’ve purchased for our kids or in assignments sent home by our children’s teachers. Most of the time these directives come without further instruction. A child or teen is simply supposed to “know” how to write a paper appropriate to the task without actually having been explicitly taught how to do so. And their first attempts are graded (judged) as final products without an acknowledgement that the production of solid writing is actually a process involving multiple steps. The few who have a natural propensity toward written composition figure it out and are labeled “good writers.” Everyone else feels hopelessly lost, believing they “should” know what to do and beating themselves up because they don’t. Is it any wonder that most kids and adults say they “hate writing?”
The same is true for other learning tasks, academic or otherwise.
Do you tell your child to clean his room, only to be baffled an hour later when a few things have been shuffled around but it basically looks the same? Have you assigned your tween the chore of doing the dishes but found yourself frustrated later at spotty glasses and bits of food still stuck to the plates? Have you sent your teen off to “study for the test,” and then been dumbfounded when she gets a D on it anyway?
There are times, to be sure, when kids are simply lazy or disobedient. But before we accuse them of that, I think we owe it to them to consider whether or not we’ve actually taught them – step-by-step – how to appropriately complete a particular task. “Good writing” doesn’t just fall from the sky; we must invest the time necessary to carefully instruct young people in the writing process – and then let the process play out from beginning to final draft. We must clean a child’s room with him several times, modeling and talking through what we expect and why. We must demonstrate with grace – more than once – how to best load the dishwasher in order to achieve the desired results. We should devote time to helping a teen study, explaining, experimenting with, and practicing different methods of review that work for various subject areas or with her particular learning style.
If we can honestly say we have provided clear instruction – delivered calmly and methodically with an appropriate amount of practice and repetition – and a child still repeatedly messes up, there might be something else going on. Until then, though, it’s our job as parents to don the mantle of teacher/trainer, not disciplinarian or judge.
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