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The Importance of Feedback in Teaching Children to Write

I want to encourage everyone to avoid underestimating the value of feedback in learning anything (especially writing).  It is so important that you can simply rest on the fact that without feedback there is no learning.  Imagine a golfer NEVER KNOWING where his shot lands, or never hearing a putt go in the hole.  Learning the sport becomes impossible.  Public speakers almost always improve if they have folks critiquing them (or can watch themselves on video).  A singer cannot possibly stay on key (or improve) if she NEVER HEARS her voice or the other instruments.  These are all FEEDBACK mechanisms.

Now, since writing is about the scariest thing anyone can do (it is permanent…written…can be passed along), we rarely seek feedback without some significant growing up!  Since we are educating our kids, we can just baste (cooking definition) them with it anyway! :) But, you must do it right (or, at least, right enough).

We have video training for giving feedback in the unique way we’ve designed (for grammar, punctuation, spelling, creativity, etc.), but let me tell you the essentials:

1. Use a RED PEN to mark things your student should improve (correct)
2. Use a GREEN PEN to mark things your student should do more of (encouragement)
3. When making suggestions use these exact words, “Does this sound better?”
4. Don’t overwhelm — Instead, please focus on one or two things at a time until mastered (example: Just work on capitalizing the first word in a sentence if that’s an issue).


Fred Lybrand

P.S.  Here’s where to learn more about us: www.advanced-writing-resources.com

How to Help Your Child Think Up What to Write

The following was my response to an inquiry about a child who doesn’t know what to write during the writing part of the homeschool day.

Even though we don’t yet know the exact details (always best to find them out because each situation is different), I will throw out some additional thoughts to the excellent stuff several of you have posted.

In The Writing Course we explain how we can always write because everything reminds us of something. When kids don’t write it is almost always an issue of fear or control…not an issue of writing. If a child knows that he is just trying to write OK, and he knows that he can’t really think up what he is going to write before he writes it (this is in the course too), then all that is left is to learn how to make use of his own mind’s ability to associate. I show them how to use their own name.

I’ll use my middle name RAY (yes, I am Fred Ray…hey…born in Alabama) and come up with three words:

R – rollercoaster

A – airplane

Y – yarn

So, all I’ll do is start writing something OK involving those things.

Petula was always scared of rollercoasters. Even when she flew over the County Fair in her uncle Ceadric’s airplane and the rollercoaster looked very small and safe, she just couldn’t remember that feeling when she got near the ticket booth. Today was different. She was going to conquer the rollercoaster! Maybe it was the way the kitten played with the yarn, she couldn’t really say. But, she did notice that the kitten fell off the counter three times. After each fall it just climbed up again to win the prize. “If Tinker can keep trying for a ball of yarn,” Petula said in a squinted whisper, “Then I can ride a silly rollercoaster.” With that she grabbed her uncle’s hand and walked toward the booth holding a paper dollar she had gotten from her Hannah Montana wallet.

Well, you get the point. At the very least (if a child doesn’t know what to write) have him:

1. Do copy work (that will eventually motivate him to make up something more fun)

2. Write a description of something outside the window or of a couple of items in the refrigerator.

3. Use some of the other ideas mentioned in this group

God bless,

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand


Typos: Lighten Up or Your Kids Will Never Write

I may be overstating my point, but I see people obsessing on Typos in their writing, reading, and editing…I mean, literally obsessing.  Honestly, it isn’t worth it and it really isn’t that important.  Worse yet obsessing on typos— it can really damage a young writer.  I hear how awful typos are a lot from educators, parents, and the occasional passerby.  I don’t hear the same complaint from real writers.

A few days ago, I got a note from someone who had visited my Writing Course site.  This person wrote these words:

If there weren’t so many typographical errors on your webpage, I might have been interested in this for our son.

Well, I could get defensive, but I’m actually glad to know about them.  You see, I believe that no one ever writes things perfectly to begin with…in fact, trying to write perfectly is the number one reason children don’t write much at all.  Imagine if you had to write a paper word-perfect from the very beginning!  Well, it is that attitude that subtly creeps into the lives of our children as we teach them anything.  They don’t realize that ‘you can’t start with perfect’ is not only a good saying, it is also a good motto.

We teach kids to write in 3 Stages: OK…GET HELP…MAKE IT GREAT.  If they just try to write something OK to begin with, they do the single thing they MUST DO to learn to write– they start to write!

Well, here was my response.  I hope it was gracious, but I haven’t heard back.  Of course, this person and I may just have a disagreement about this topic.

Thanks for your input. I appreciate the concern about typos.  I love to clean them up myself and almost never find a published book that doesn’t have a few.  Typos are really about editing rather than writing. And, while I am embarrassed, I do know that this is the very thing that often keeps people from learning how to write.  Many great writers where notorious as poor spellers, but again, that’s what editors are for.

If your son has a steady diet of having to get everything word-perfect, he will have a tough time getting on to the business of writing.  Typos are not grammar mistakes or style mistakes…they are the very things humans have a hard time seeing (that is why it takes many to eyes catch them all).

The first thing we teach is how to move from writing OK…to getting help…to writing Great.  Unless we learn to write this way, we never learn to write at all.

I’ll make sure the typos are cleaned up.

Bless you in you labors for your son,

Now, honestly there were a number of typos like ‘the’ before The Writing Course.  How was this missed?  I have no idea, jeepers!  And yet, if our kids learn to come to us and accept correction matter-of-factly, then they will be able to receive feedback for the rest of their lives.  On the other hand, if we are constantly badgering them about the ‘mistakes’ in their papers, then they’ll just learn to avoid writing like the plague.  Writing isn’t easy.  Writing must be learned.  And, even great writers have editors the count on to catch every mistake!

I beg you to practice lightening up about typos…especially in texts and on the web.  Do you get their point?  Do you make typos and don’t see them yourself?

I’m not saying we should not have standards and edit our papers well, but I’m just saying…



Fred Lybrand

P.S. Please comment with typos you see and I’ll fix them 🙂

P.P.S.  As a further thought, the New York Times just blogged this op-ed called The Price of Typos …here’s a quote:

Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing, they explained, most publishers employed battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.