Common Problems in Middle School Writing

Writing has taken center stage in today’s K-12 schools. From first grade to senior year, students write daily and are tested in writing. Yet writing problems abound. According to the 2007 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 33% of eighth-graders are at or above the proficient level in writing and only 2% write at an advanced level. While these results are disappointing, the effect on student achievement is even greater; writing problems often lead to problems in other subjects and affect overall academic success. The good news is that with understanding, patience, and targeted help, middle school writing problems can be overcome.

What is Proficient Middle School Writing?
Middle school students write for all subjects across the curriculum. They write to express, discover, record, reflect on ideas, and to problem solve. At the proficient level or above, middle school students become skilled at integrating researched information with original ideas and their writing begins to surpass the level of their speech. Students learn to express a consistent point of view and develop their writer’s “voice” or personality on paper. By the end of eighth grade, students should be able to produce coherent and error-free multi-paragraph essays of at least 500 to 700 words. Eighth-graders revise their writing to achieve varied sentence structure, appropriate word choice, logical organization, and effective transitions between paragraphs and ideas. In addition, eighth-graders are expected to edit their writing for correct grammar and usage, spelling, punctuation, and other conventions of written language. As any parent can see, middle school writing expectations are challenging. If your middle school student is at the “below basic” or “basic” level in writing, you need to take action.

How to Spot Common Writing Problems
Parents can spot common writing problems simply by reviewing their children’s essays and other writing homework. Is your student not paying attention to the basics? Red flags include incorrect grammar and spelling, poor sentence structure, and lack of subject-verb agreement. Is your child not taking enough time to revise? Red flags include inappropriate word choice, a lack of focus and organization, and unsupported ideas. What kind of writing feedback is your child receiving in school? Does your child understand the teacher’s suggestions? As a parent of a middle school student, you should also pay attention to any complaints your child has about writing. Your child may not love writing—it’s hard work, after all—but excessive frustration and procrastination may indicate a bigger issue. Writing problems can be an indication of other learning problems, so consider consulting the appropriate professionals if that is your concern.

What Does Your Child’s Writing Look Like?
Sometimes the range of errors in children’s writing can surprise and bewilder parents. Here are some common errors found in middle school writing that will help you pinpoint your child’s writing problems:

Problem: Sentence Fragments
Example: Going to the grocery store for milk.
Solution: I am going to the grocery store for milk.

Problem: Run-on Sentences
Example: I enjoy going to the movies first I have to finish my homework.
Solution: I enjoy going to the movies, but first I have to finish my homework.

Problem: Lack of Subject-Verb Agreement
Example: She drive every day.
Solution: She drives every day.

Problem: Incorrect Noun Plurals
Example: The berrys are ripe.
Solution: The berries are ripe.

Problem: Incorrect Plural and Possessive Nouns
Example: The childrens’ toys were donated to a charity group.
Solution: The children’s toys were donated to a charity group.

Problem: Wrong End Punctuation
Example: Where are you.
Solution: Where are you?

Problem: Not Forming Compound Sentences
Example: It rained today. The weather report called for blue skies.
Solution: It rained today, yet the weather report called for blue skies.

Problem: Sentence Variety
Example: Susan runs to school every morning. Susan talks to her friends before class. They don’t get to class on time. Their teacher gets angry.
Solution: Susan runs to school every morning so she can talk to her friends before class begins. However, when they don’t get to class on time, their teacher gets angry.

Problem: Paragraph Focus
Example: I love computer games, model cars, and comic books. All are fun!
Solution: I enjoy many different types of leisure activities. My friends and I have a great time playing the latest computer games with the most excitement and challenge. When I want to create something on my own, I build model cars and take pride in getting every detail just right. Yet nothing beats my comic book collection if I want to kick back and relax! With all of these things to do, I’m never bored.

Overcoming Writing Problems: How Parents Can Help
Learning to write doesn’t happen overnight. On the contrary, writing demands the synthesis of multiple language skills acquired grade-by-grade. Writing requires the ability to process and organize information and understand the needs of the intended audience. Good writing also requires the ability to judge our own efforts and make appropriate revisions. While a good school and good teachers are paramount to writing mastery, there are many ways you can help your children enjoy and improve their writing.

  • Give positive feedback. When reviewing your child’s essays, give positive feedback along with talking about what needs improvement. Engage your child in the revision process by discussing the mechanics of writing without disapproval of their ideas. Students should understand that writing is a process and all writers revise their work. Remember, children need encouragement as much as correction. Also, speak in private to avoid possible embarrassment.
  • Incorporate writing into family activities. There are lots of ways to bring writing into daily family life. Encourage your middle school student to write thank you notes and letters, directions for an upcoming trip, or instructions for household equipment. Have your children write humorous poems or one-act plays for family events, or book and movie reviews to share at the dinner table. Journals and pen pals are also great writing outlets. Ask your children to write about what interests them—even if it’s just a paragraph.
  • Don’t rush writing. Make sure your child has a quiet place to write and help them gauge how long it will take to complete a writing assignment. Writing usually takes longer than we think. If the assignment is rushed, students may feel they can’t write, when they really just needed more time to revise.
  • Get extra help. Recognize when extra help is needed, either from the school or outside professionals. As a first step, make time to meet with your child’s English Language Arts teacher. Come prepared with your concerns and observations. Ask if your school has after school programs that target writing. Most importantly, don’t ignore writing problems—working with teachers and utilizing available resources can make a difference.

 

Time4Writing Tackles Middle School Writing Problems
Time4Writing middle school writing courses meet a variety of needs, from basic skills reinforcement to advanced coaching in essay writing. Taught by certified teachers on a one-on-one basis, our courses help students achieve meaningful improvement in their writing. At Time4Writing, the revision process becomes a highly productive and rewarding learning conversation between the student and teacher. Students revise and re-submit, and the teacher gives further feedback. Some students love the process so much, they must be asked to go on to the next assignment, or they’d never finish the course!

Time4Writing currently offers five online writing courses designed especially for middle school students:

  • Basic Writing Mechanics and Writing Enhancement is a two-part writing skills review in grammar, usage, and mechanics.
  • In the Powerful Paragraphs course, students work on developing clear and precisely written paragraphs on a variety of topics.
  • Essay writing is taught in Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay. Students receive personal tutoring in writing different types of essays and gain critical knowledge, from basic essay structure to understanding strategies for developing voice and style.

 

Courses can be taken individually or in succession to build skills from the ground up.

With over 1,000 students served, Time4Writing has ample proof that writing problems can be overcome. One parent of a Time4Writing middle school student wrote, “My son’s Time4Writing teacher does such a good job balancing correction with praise and encouragement. He is learning and growing more than ever!”

 

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