The Upside of Writing Standards
Imagine that you are a high school junior sitting down to write an essay that may or may not help you get into the college you’ve been dreaming about for months. You know the topic you want to write about. You even know which funny story you want to include. What you don’t know is exactly how to write in a way that will impress the admissions person who will be receiving your letter. Or do you?
Believe it or not, this is exactly where national education standards come in handy. A college admissions counselor will likely be looking for the essay to follow these standards.
For home educators in particular, though, standards are sometimes the very reason they choose to educate their child outside the traditional model. Parents often feel that so much attention is given to standards that the joy of learning gets lost in the bargain. For those parents, it’s probably best to focus on benchmarks as opposed to standards.
What’s the difference between standards and benchmarks?
Standards are an outline of what a student should know and when. Benchmarks, on the other hand, are a measurement tool. They help parents understand what skills their child has mastered and what areas they have not quite conquered.
How can homeschoolers use writing standards?
Instead of getting caught up in specific timelines, homeschool families can use state writing assessment rubrics, common core writing standards, and other standardized writing criteria as a simple reference aid. Knowing what other students are learning about writing at your child’s grade level doesn’t mean you have to panic if he or she isn’t proficient in all those skills yet.
The more natural approach is to browse the standards and brainstorm creative ways that your current homeschool style can complement and support the gradual integration of those skills. If you use a literature-based homeschool curriculum, for example, your sixth grader can learn figurative language by noticing when it’s used in books he is reading. Your 2nd grader, who loves learning apps, will happily master common punctuation and capitalization rules by playing the grammar app of your choice.
Where can you find grade-level writing standards?
Time4Writing’s grade level writing standards pages make it effortless for parents to discover what students in traditional classrooms are focusing on, year by year. Each grade level page covers:
- what writing-related skills are usually addressed at that grade level.
- typical benchmarks of writing proficiency.
- the goals of grade-specific writing.
- how to approach standardized writing assessments by grade.
Even if you aren’t concerned with grade-level standards, being aware of the benchmarks can guide you to increase or decrease the rigor of your student’s writing instruction. Individual students can and should work at their own pace. Knowing what is included in the writing standards simply serves as part of a homeschooling parent’s toolkit to determine whether or not there are gaps in their student’s instruction that should be addressed sooner rather than later.