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(The Atlantic)   "My daughter cannot write an essay to save her life; every time she's assigned a simple essay she has a meltdown and nothing seems to help her. What can I do to help her get over this inexplicable hump?"   (theatlantic.com) divider line
    More: Awkward, Essay, Writing, The Conclusion, 2005 albums, Roman Empire, Conclusion, topic sentence, Pilcrow  
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346 clicks; posted to Discussion » on 21 Apr 2021 at 1:53 AM (2 weeks ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



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2021-04-20 9:55:58 PM  
aaaand what's the date today?
 
2021-04-20 10:18:35 PM  
Do they not have teachers?
 
2021-04-20 10:23:43 PM  
Cue basement dwelling Fark parents who will tell you what to do with your noncompliant teenage daughter.

That short of a description sounds like anything from a learning disability to some kind of autism spectrum disorder, to just a lack of confidence.

I'm no parent, but I'd go through the motions a few times with them and work on teaching them the fine art of bullshiating a paper.

Make a game of it; see how high of a grade you can get without ever reading the proper material. See if you can sneak in some bald-faced lies without being noticed. Did you know Mark Anthony had a raging foot fetish?
 
2021-04-20 10:25:47 PM  
Pills.
 
2021-04-20 10:39:17 PM  
She's in ninth grade and this is the first time she's had to write an essay?
 
2021-04-20 11:25:56 PM  

bingethinker: She's in ninth grade and this is the first time she's had to write an essay?


I teach first year college writing and I have to teach essay fundamentals because a lot of my students haven't had the basics. I've had students in my office melting down because they've never written an essay because essay writing wasn't on the standardized tests they took. In fact, this summer I'm going to make a series of lectures about things like understanding sentence structure because we've had so many students who have no idea about any of that. I can put them online for them to view so those who are behind can catch up to where I have to start teaching.
 
2021-04-21 12:56:27 AM  
life is hard
 
2021-04-21 2:06:35 AM  
if more parents took interest in the public school curriculum we wouldn't have the academic shiat show this nation has evolved in to.

break down the writing assignment. shot for a sentence, then go for a paragraph. break it down into digestible chunks. get past the hugeness of the assignment.
 
2021-04-21 2:09:28 AM  
Method I taught to LD and ABI students: Have her look into her monitor  and imagine she is going to tell a story to a friend she likes, who is reading her words on another monitor. Her friend is just going to read what she says, without commenting. It works most of the time, because it becomes story telling, rather than an assignment. Spell check and print the result.
 
2021-04-21 2:13:49 AM  
Start early.  Make an outline.  Organize important ideas and quotes in a bibliography.

If I were helping someone get started on an essay, I would have them tell me the story of the essay in plain English.  Then I would write it down, and ask them for a couple of points they think are important.  SO: here's the prompt, what do you think about that?  OK cool.  Was there anything in the reading material that you think of when you respond to the prompt?  Sweet, let's write down the pages where you found important stuff.

I was raised by people who didn't know sh*t about how to do school, and they didn't help me because they 1) didn't know how and B) sometimes actively sabotaged my education.  Even though I'm smart, it took me a long time to learn some seemingly basic things.

I'm going to assume the parent in this situation doesn't know how writing is taught.  So they need help.
 
2021-04-21 3:05:13 AM  
Talk to an imaginary friend, record on phone, transcribe.
 
2021-04-21 4:40:28 AM  

Clearly Canadian: Cue basement dwelling Fark parents who will tell you what to do with your noncompliant teenage daughter.

That short of a description sounds like anything from a learning disability to some kind of autism spectrum disorder, to just a lack of confidence.

I'm no parent, but I'd go through the motions a few times with them and work on teaching them the fine art of bullshiating a paper.

Make a game of it; see how high of a grade you can get without ever reading the proper material. See if you can sneak in some bald-faced lies without being noticed. Did you know Mark Anthony had a raging foot fetish?


My kid (9th grade) has ASD and dyslexia and is profoundly gifted. Essays are the devil for her and tantrums, shutting down, or giving up is always the result. It is always a topic of negotiations at her IEP meetings.
 
2021-04-21 4:45:36 AM  

Uranus: Talk to an imaginary friend, record on phone, transcribe.


Very much this. I work with professors writing asynchronous content for graduate courses, and some of them have serious issues facing an empty word processor screen. For a lot of them the answer is to record themselves lecturing at a whiteboard while Zoom records it and makes a transcript for a skeleton. Then build on it.

/If there's one thing I have to thank my folks for sending me to prep school for, it's that we were required to write different kinds of essays and research papers every week starting in 5th grade. By the time I got to college, I could crank out research papers at a rate of about a page an hour, including doing the research and the reading.
//Then you graduate and learn that nobody cares about this skill.
///So you become a professor.
 
2021-04-21 5:09:04 AM  
I once helped a 16 year old neighbor girl who was having a panic attack over an essay she was supposed to write about an early 20th century political figure.  I started by asking "What can you tell me about him?"  I'd draw more information about him out of her, then say, "Now write that down."  And then I'd ask things like, "Why do you think he did (or said) this, or that?"  And so on.  Soon her thought processes kicked in.  After a couple of hours, she had a well-written essay.  A little polishing, and it was beautiful.  Her teacher read portions of it to the class, he was so impressed.  And she did it all herself.
 
2021-04-21 5:19:53 AM  

Uranus: Talk to an imaginary friend, record on phone, transcribe.


I use an imaginary space alien so I can get myself to elaborate on certain points.
It really helps.

I avoided college for so long because of my inability to write at length. Imaginary conversations helped a lot.
 
2021-04-21 5:20:28 AM  
Essay writing usually came pretty easily to me. Citations were a pain, though.
 
2021-04-21 5:25:13 AM  

Miss Stein: I once helped a 16 year old neighbor girl who was having a panic attack over an essay she was supposed to write about an early 20th century political figure.  I started by asking "What can you tell me about him?"  I'd draw more information about him out of her, then say, "Now write that down."  And then I'd ask things like, "Why do you think he did (or said) this, or that?"  And so on.  Soon her thought processes kicked in.  After a couple of hours, she had a well-written essay.  A little polishing, and it was beautiful.  Her teacher read portions of it to the class, he was so impressed.  And she did it all herself.


One thing students can do in the day of the word processor is to write their three supporting paragraphs first then based on what they write they can create their opening paragraph with thesis statement and closing paragraph.  Back in the olden days we had to pretty much have the whole essay thought out before we started chiseling it into our slate slab.
 
2021-04-21 5:39:31 AM  
There's only one way.
Pump Your Blood by Anson Williams (Potsie) - Happy Days
Youtube o-4L0xoa-sg
 
2021-04-21 6:00:54 AM  

Clearly Canadian: Cue basement dwelling Fark parents who will tell you what to do with your noncompliant teenage daughter.

I'm no parent, but...


Now that's how you troll.  Insult parents, then speak definitively as a non-parent about what a parent should do.
 
2021-04-21 6:13:09 AM  
"The world needs ditch diggers too..."
 
2021-04-21 6:14:06 AM  

thisispete: Essay writing usually came pretty easily to me. Citations were a pain, though.


With modern software, it's painless.
 
2021-04-21 6:22:21 AM  

slepygryhnd: bingethinker: She's in ninth grade and this is the first time she's had to write an essay?

I teach first year college writing and I have to teach essay fundamentals because a lot of my students haven't had the basics. I've had students in my office melting down because they've never written an essay because essay writing wasn't on the standardized tests they took. In fact, this summer I'm going to make a series of lectures about things like understanding sentence structure because we've had so many students who have no idea about any of that. I can put them online for them to view so those who are behind can catch up to where I have to start teaching.


In high school I loathed English and any writing assignments. They I went to college in my mid-30's and I was a bit hesitant when one of my first courses was Writing.

And then we peer reviewed our first few assignments.

You have my sympathy and a hearty toast for your teaching efforts.
 
2021-04-21 7:08:14 AM  

gopher321: aaaand what's the date today?


Butt stuff day?
 
2021-04-21 7:14:39 AM  

rosekolodny: Start early.  Make an outline.  Organize important ideas and quotes in a bibliography.

If I were helping someone get started on an essay, I would have them tell me the story of the essay in plain English.  Then I would write it down, and ask them for a couple of points they think are important.  SO: here's the prompt, what do you think about that?  OK cool.  Was there anything in the reading material that you think of when you respond to the prompt?  Sweet, let's write down the pages where you found important stuff.

I was raised by people who didn't know sh*t about how to do school, and they didn't help me because they 1) didn't know how and B) sometimes actively sabotaged my education.  Even though I'm smart, it took me a long time to learn some seemingly basic things.

I'm going to assume the parent in this situation doesn't know how writing is taught.  So they need help.


You lost me at "start early"
 
2021-04-21 7:16:06 AM  
If you have a bibliography why do you need 3x5 note cards. Never understood that. So glad at 50 I never have to write a term paper.
 
2021-04-21 7:16:32 AM  

sinko swimo: break down the writing assignment. shot for a sentence, then go for a paragraph. break it down into digestible chunks. get past the hugeness of the assignment.


I always found outlining essential to organizing my thoughts for anything more than a few paragraphs.
 
2021-04-21 7:39:11 AM  
Five sentence outline.
 
2021-04-21 7:46:01 AM  
As a horrid writer, I've come up with a few coping mechanisms.

Outlines - helps me organize and put similar topics together

Just write - sometimes getting started is the hardest, write a paragraph or two. just to get you going correct it later

Write like you're talking

Go to engineering school no one will expect much from you
 
2021-04-21 7:47:44 AM  

Uranus: Talk to an imaginary friend, record on phone, transcribe.


Exactly. With some people it helps for them to talk it out to organize their thoughts.

Also, have her evaluated for a learning disability. She can have a learning disability that is preventing her from being able to organize her thoughts and express them in written form. A lot of people do suffer from this, that is why you see people who refuse to give written directions and only will dictate directions. You should be able to request this at any decent public school, and if she is diagnosed with this, they will teach her the tools to over come it
 
2021-04-21 7:56:14 AM  

Muta: Miss Stein: I once helped a 16 year old neighbor girl who was having a panic attack over an essay she was supposed to write about an early 20th century political figure.  I started by asking "What can you tell me about him?"  I'd draw more information about him out of her, then say, "Now write that down."  And then I'd ask things like, "Why do you think he did (or said) this, or that?"  And so on.  Soon her thought processes kicked in.  After a couple of hours, she had a well-written essay.  A little polishing, and it was beautiful.  Her teacher read portions of it to the class, he was so impressed.  And she did it all herself.

One thing students can do in the day of the word processor is to write their three supporting paragraphs first then based on what they write they can create their opening paragraph with thesis statement and closing paragraph.  Back in the olden days we had to pretty much have the whole essay thought out before we started chiseling it into our slate slab.


The happiest day of my school life was when we transitioned from handwritten to word document essays.

Probably my teachers, too. Brains of an idiot, but handwriting of a doctor.
 
2021-04-21 8:04:01 AM  
Sounds like me before I got to college.
A blank piece of paper or Word document was really intimidating, and it was pointless, because my work was going to suck anyways.  One teacher taught outlining in middle school.  The rest would issue the assignment, then give me the "this is terrible, you can do better" without any guidance.
Fast forward past a 5 year enlistment (because I am a guy, "fark it, gonna be a stripper" wasn't an option)  and onto freshman year of college. It's amazing what clearly stated expectations and standards, and specific guidance on how to write will do for you.
 
2021-04-21 8:06:23 AM  

fataldragonfly: Clearly Canadian: Cue basement dwelling Fark parents who will tell you what to do with your noncompliant teenage daughter.

That short of a description sounds like anything from a learning disability to some kind of autism spectrum disorder, to just a lack of confidence.

I'm no parent, but I'd go through the motions a few times with them and work on teaching them the fine art of bullshiating a paper.

Make a game of it; see how high of a grade you can get without ever reading the proper material. See if you can sneak in some bald-faced lies without being noticed. Did you know Mark Anthony had a raging foot fetish?

My kid (9th grade) has ASD and dyslexia and is profoundly gifted. Essays are the devil for her and tantrums, shutting down, or giving up is always the result. It is always a topic of negotiations at her IEP meetings.


I have a PhD in chemistry, I've literally wrote a thesis and several papers and I still can't handle it. I hate it, I can't get started, I can't keep going, the whole ordeal is more stressful than anything else I do. It has held back my career advancement for sure, it is the reason I'm not a professor somewhere directing my own lab but it isn't something that can't be overcome to an extent.

Don't expect most people to understand that though.  I had all the teaching I could ask for, I took advanced writing classes in high school, took them in undergrad, it didn't matter. I can get through it now but just barely. It really isn't something I'm capable of. I'm capable of doing world class research that is well regarded and heavily cited but writing any of it almost kills me.

In the end I guess I would like an answer to the original question as well (one I haven't tried) but I don't expect one. My brain doesn't handle writing like some brains don't handle math but one of those is accepted and joked about and one isn't.
 
2021-04-21 8:18:43 AM  

45cal: If you have a bibliography why do you need 3x5 note cards. Never understood that. So glad at 50 I never have to write a term paper.


It's old-fashioned- the cards keep the quote and citation together, for you can physically put a series of quotes in order, and see how you want to string ideas, or if you like another way better. It was more useful before the copy-paste era. It also means that if you want to sum up a quote, you still have the original at-hand to refer back to- I haven't used it as a technique in years, but it had its place.
 
2021-04-21 8:22:40 AM  

AppleOptionEsc: Muta: Miss Stein: I once helped a 16 year old neighbor girl who was having a panic attack over an essay she was supposed to write about an early 20th century political figure.  I started by asking "What can you tell me about him?"  I'd draw more information about him out of her, then say, "Now write that down."  And then I'd ask things like, "Why do you think he did (or said) this, or that?"  And so on.  Soon her thought processes kicked in.  After a couple of hours, she had a well-written essay.  A little polishing, and it was beautiful.  Her teacher read portions of it to the class, he was so impressed.  And she did it all herself.

One thing students can do in the day of the word processor is to write their three supporting paragraphs first then based on what they write they can create their opening paragraph with thesis statement and closing paragraph.  Back in the olden days we had to pretty much have the whole essay thought out before we started chiseling it into our slate slab.

The happiest day of my school life was when we transitioned from handwritten to word document essays.

Probably my teachers, too. Brains of an idiot, but handwriting of a doctor.


Around the turn of the century (1997), my handwriting was so bad, I was issued an Alphasmart by the school. It was essentially a portable word processor with no other functions. My grades improved significantly since teachers could now read what I'd written.
 
2021-04-21 8:39:25 AM  

thisispete: Essay writing usually came pretty easily to me. Citations were a pain, though.


I never understood MLA format, like why didn't we just always do thinks like wikipedia? MLA sucks and whoever invented it deserves to get thrown in a locker
 
2021-04-21 8:52:01 AM  
Teach her how to use a shovel.  The world needs ditch-diggers too, you know.
 
2021-04-21 8:54:27 AM  

slepygryhnd: I can put them online for them to view so those who are behind can catch up to where I have to start teaching.


while my kid is only 5 and about to start kindergarten, these stories make me dread the next 12 years (eg things I learned in K-12 they no longer teach b/c teaching to the test, esp in FL).  I'd be very interested in any videos you make and post.
 
2021-04-21 9:02:56 AM  
A lot of the students I talk to who struggle with writing are thrown when I ask them how much they read.  Many students who look at reading books or articles as a painful chore tend to have difficulty writing more than a couple of paragraphs.
 
2021-04-21 9:47:46 AM  
The daughter needs a "place to start," not obscure details on Robert Frost or the Roman Empire. At our worship home, the kids are taught our testimonies. Every week we discussed that day's story using the testimonies as a guide. Some of our kids mentioned that they struggled most with the "compare and contrast" writing assignments involving more than one story or book as well as the vague assignments like "write an essay about The Outsiders" with no further direction. So, two or three of us taught them to use the testimonies to get their writing assignments started by answering whether the literature in question contained any examples of the testimonies or the obverse. So, the kids could answer whether there were themes or examples of:

Simplicity? Gluttony? Hoarding? Greed?
Peace? Injustice? Conflict? Fighting? War?
Integrity? Dishonesty?
Community? Anti-social behavior? Divisiveness?
Equality? Inequality? Oppression?
Stewardship? Malfeasance? Mismanagement?

Once these questions were answered, they could then expand on the answer that seemed most relevant or (let's be realistic) easiest to write about.
 
2021-04-21 9:53:45 AM  

slepygryhnd: bingethinker: She's in ninth grade and this is the first time she's had to write an essay?

I teach first year college writing and I have to teach essay fundamentals because a lot of my students haven't had the basics. I've had students in my office melting down because they've never written an essay because essay writing wasn't on the standardized tests they took. In fact, this summer I'm going to make a series of lectures about things like understanding sentence structure because we've had so many students who have no idea about any of that. I can put them online for them to view so those who are behind can catch up to where I have to start teaching.


Your style makes my head hurt.
 
2021-04-21 9:58:06 AM  

Laobaojun: Sounds like me before I got to college.
A blank piece of paper or Word document was really intimidating, and it was pointless, because my work was going to suck anyways.  One teacher taught outlining in middle school.  The rest would issue the assignment, then give me the "this is terrible, you can do better" without any guidance.
Fast forward past a 5 year enlistment (because I am a guy, "fark it, gonna be a stripper" wasn't an option)  and onto freshman year of college. It's amazing what clearly stated expectations and standards, and specific guidance on how to write will do for you.


I still loathe an English teacher who would always say if you asked her the approximate length of a paper "like a girl's skirt, long enough to cover the subject, short enough to keep it interesting." And she gave little advice on writing any more specific than that.
 
2021-04-21 10:04:04 AM  

Taoist Jedi: 45cal: If you have a bibliography why do you need 3x5 note cards. Never understood that. So glad at 50 I never have to write a term paper.

It's old-fashioned- the cards keep the quote and citation together, for you can physically put a series of quotes in order, and see how you want to string ideas, or if you like another way better. It was more useful before the copy-paste era. It also means that if you want to sum up a quote, you still have the original at-hand to refer back to- I haven't used it as a technique in years, but it had its place.


My kids' teachers used the note card method only through 6th grade. From the seventh grade on, the note cards were optional though a teacher might sometimes refer to the use of note cards in earlier grades to remind the kids about citations or organizing their paragraphs. My kids dropped the notecards at that time in favor of keeping all their notes in a MS Word document instead.
 
2021-04-21 10:29:47 AM  
Teach her how to buy pre-written essays online and modify them to get past the AI plagiarism detection software. Or, you know, have her practice.
 
2021-04-21 10:52:11 AM  

bingethinker: She's in ninth grade and this is the first time she's had to write an essay?


I went through twelve years of school and never wrote an essay. Of course, I never did homework either so take what you will from that. Now I'm surrounded by PhDs that I have to teach how to open doors.

Fark user imageView Full Size
 
2021-04-21 11:00:31 AM  
Fark user imageView Full Size
 
2021-04-21 12:32:10 PM  
When I was in school I had the same issue with any math assignments beyond 2+2.
 
2021-04-21 12:32:50 PM  

Clearly Canadian: Cue basement dwelling Fark parents who will tell you what to do with your noncompliant teenage daughter.

That short of a description sounds like anything from a learning disability to some kind of autism spectrum disorder, to just a lack of confidence.

I'm no parent, but I'd go through the motions a few times with them and work on teaching them the fine art of bullshiating a paper.

Make a game of it; see how high of a grade you can get without ever reading the proper material. See if you can sneak in some bald-faced lies without being noticed. Did you know Mark Anthony had a raging foot fetish?


There's truth here. Sometimes I wish I had kids just so I could purposely fark with their teachers, in good humor of course.
 
2021-04-21 2:25:14 PM  

mcmnky: rosekolodny: Start early.  Make an outline.  Organize important ideas and quotes in a bibliography.

If I were helping someone get started on an essay, I would have them tell me the story of the essay in plain English.  Then I would write it down, and ask them for a couple of points they think are important.  SO: here's the prompt, what do you think about that?  OK cool.  Was there anything in the reading material that you think of when you respond to the prompt?  Sweet, let's write down the pages where you found important stuff.

I was raised by people who didn't know sh*t about how to do school, and they didn't help me because they 1) didn't know how and B) sometimes actively sabotaged my education.  Even though I'm smart, it took me a long time to learn some seemingly basic things.

I'm going to assume the parent in this situation doesn't know how writing is taught.  So they need help.

You lost me at "start early"


I know.  Me too.

It's one of the hardest things for me, but the most necessary.  I work well under pressure, but godDAMN if it doesn't take me forever to write a page.  I'm always agonizing over word choice and sentence structure.  Pisses me off that someone can sh*t out a B- paper in a few hours while I'm over here aiming for perfection.
 
2021-04-21 2:33:07 PM  

SicTransitGloria: fataldragonfly: Clearly Canadian: Cue basement dwelling Fark parents who will tell you what to do with your noncompliant teenage daughter.

That short of a description sounds like anything from a learning disability to some kind of autism spectrum disorder, to just a lack of confidence.

I'm no parent, but I'd go through the motions a few times with them and work on teaching them the fine art of bullshiating a paper.

Make a game of it; see how high of a grade you can get without ever reading the proper material. See if you can sneak in some bald-faced lies without being noticed. Did you know Mark Anthony had a raging foot fetish?

My kid (9th grade) has ASD and dyslexia and is profoundly gifted. Essays are the devil for her and tantrums, shutting down, or giving up is always the result. It is always a topic of negotiations at her IEP meetings.

I have a PhD in chemistry, I've literally wrote a thesis and several papers and I still can't handle it. I hate it, I can't get started, I can't keep going, the whole ordeal is more stressful than anything else I do. It has held back my career advancement for sure, it is the reason I'm not a professor somewhere directing my own lab but it isn't something that can't be overcome to an extent.

Don't expect most people to understand that though.  I had all the teaching I could ask for, I took advanced writing classes in high school, took them in undergrad, it didn't matter. I can get through it now but just barely. It really isn't something I'm capable of. I'm capable of doing world class research that is well regarded and heavily cited but writing any of it almost kills me.

In the end I guess I would like an answer to the original question as well (one I haven't tried) but I don't expect one. My brain doesn't handle writing like some brains don't handle math but one of those is accepted and joked about and one isn't.


One professor gave me great advice: use a voice-to-text thingie.  Sit there and talk, and let your computer do the typing.  It kind of relaxes you so that the writing isn't your focus.  At the very least, your ideas will be on the page.

If research is your superpower, that's fine.  No paper is written in a vacuum.  Your collaborators can help with the writing part.  Hell, you can give co-author status to someone who understands what you're doing and likes to write.
 
2021-04-21 2:43:35 PM  
I used to volunteer with GED instructors.  I did everything except actually tutor the students, so the instructors were really happy to have me around.

But one thing I could help them with was the written portion of the rest by demonstrating how to throw an essay together.  Intro paragraph is 4-6 sentences, that starts vague and ends with the last sentence containing 3 points.  Next three paragraphs are 8-10 sentences explaining one of each of the 3 points.  Conclusion paragraph starts with rewriting the last sentence of the intro, and then 3 more sentences becoming more general and vague.

The visual for this is a triangle balancing on its point, on top of three blocks, which are balancing on the point of the last triangle as it widens down to the base.  It adds up to 40 sentences and as long as it flows, it will pass muster.

Whatever the essay question is, come up with a three part answer and the rest will follow.  It can be utter garbage, but it got the students writing those 40 sentences in the time allowed.

Research papers are a whole other game and I don't play that, but essay is doable.
 
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