Aren’t we supposed to learn from our mistakes? If you are faced with proofreading your child’s homework assignments, it can be frustrating to see them make the same mistakes over and over. “How many times do I have to tell you? The comma goes inside the quotation marks.” or “‘Too’ means more than you need. ‘Two’ means the number.”
To help your child learn from their mistakes, have your child keep a writing handbook. Use a spiral notebook or journal with a sturdy cover. Your child should keep the handbook where they usually study or do homework. When you look over their work, if they are making a grammatical, style, punctuation, or spelling error, teach them the rule. Then, have them write the rule in their handbook. From here on out, tell them they are responsible for using the rule correctly. If your child makes a number of different mistakes, it’s better to focus on one or two rules rather than marking the paper up with corrections. The important thing is that the child learn the writing rule, not produce perfect papers.
If they make the same mistake again, don’t give them the rule again, but refer them to their handbook. For rules that are particularly troublesome for your child, have them write the rule on an index card and tape it to the wall where they study.
To be good learners, children need to know when to ask for help and where to get it. When they know the writing rules they are responsible for using are as handy as their spiral notebook, they will gain confidence in their growing ability to write well. They can relax and be creative without worrying about making lots of “red-ink” errors.
The writing handbook can be used for all subjects, not just writing class. If there is a research paper due in history or science, use the handbook for writing down and referring to rules. This shows your child how the different subjects they study are all related. Additionally, it helps them understand that written communication is a necessary skill in all subjects. Keeping a writing handbook shows the child how to be proactive learners, taking responsibility for improving their writing in a way that goes beyond the bounds of their work assignments at school.
If you are unsure about spelling or grammar rules, teach your child to use the dictionary or a style book. Show your child how to look up a word in the dictionary, or to use an onling dictionary. If you can’t get close enough to the correct spelling to locate the work in the dictionary, pick a similar word that you know how to spell and look it up in a Thesaurus. For grammar rules, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is a definitive source. Or, you can use a writing reference book like Write Source: A Book for Writing, Thinking, and Learning by Dave Kemper, Patrick Sebranek, and Verne Meyer from Great Source Education Group. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know something. You and your child can figure it out together. Don’t forget–you’re teaching your child to learn, and watching you learn is a great way to teach them.