As the fart connected with the flame, ENGLISH HELP!
November 12, 2020 8:22 AM   Subscribe

My Grade 10 kid cannot write. He needs help, and I'm at a loss. I've reviewed his work, suggested edits, rewritten stuff for him, and then had him rewrite using my example in his words. He just isn't getting it. I've been doing this for years.


As food and liquid travel through the digestive system most nutrients and water is absorbed through the small and large intestine if any gasses are created or added that aren’t needed they travel ahead of the chyme and exit through either the anus or the mouth if coming out the mouth it's a burp, if it comes out of the anus its a fart. Most farts are made up of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia(which combine make farts smell bad). As the fart connected with the flame, the methane, hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide, to create a flame which is visible.

What resources are out there? We are in Canada. I'm not even sure what we need. I know self guided isn't going to work, he doesn't have the discipline to work through it. He does want to fix the issue. He needs regular feedback from someone who is not ME. As I apparently do not know anything. ARGH.
posted by Ftsqg to Education (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen the Hemingway browser app? It’ll simply highlight sentences and say “this one is too long” “this one is unclear,” etc. And then you fix them till it says it’s good enough.
posted by xo at 8:31 AM on November 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

Has he been assessed for dyslexia or dyspraxia? Someone in my family had both, always struggled with writing (and also particularly listening/transcribing). Once he got the support he needed from his school/college, he went from struggling at school to being a star pupil. It really did make all the difference.
posted by greenish at 8:32 AM on November 12, 2020 [18 favorites]

To start with, have him read it aloud back to you. It doesn't read like coherent spoken English, so he will either end up subtly correcting as he goes (in which case, point it out and have him enter those edits in the text), or notice on his own that some adjustments are needed.

Longer-term, how much does he read, especially in more complex prose with slightly longer sentences and/or more abstract ideas? Does he ever read other people's writing aloud? Do you ever read aloud to him? There are a gazillion artificial exercises you can try (and an editing extension like Grammarly would probably help if you're comfortable just fixing the writing rather than the underlying skills), but in the end, trying to teach a non-reader to write is like trying to teach them to speak a foreign language without ever hearing it spoken.
posted by Bardolph at 8:34 AM on November 12, 2020 [32 favorites]

If you can afford it, those pop-up tutoring centres like Kumon and Oxford Learning (we went to the latter as we knew the franchisee) can help. Ours is offering online tutoring right now. The advantages to the pay-to-play educational industry are:

1. They will evaluate your son and share results with you and him.
2. Ours, anyway, is plugged into the local schools' teachers' styles and curriculum, which does help both just practically but also helped raise credibility with my child. And most importantly for us -
3. My oldest child was a little dismissive of my husband's and my help, but once a 26-year-old tutor was telling him that he needed to work on punctuation, he did. Oxford's in-person model has a few kids around a table with one tutor and that kind of peer involvement also really worked for my child.

It really upsets me that public education wasn't able to address it but the tutoring improved my son's writing (and math) in about 6 months. Old school worksheet-style tutoring.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:34 AM on November 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

The most obvious thing here is that he hasn't identified discrete sentences, and subsequently punctuated them. He wrote sentences, he just hasn't identified that he's done that. So the solution to that would be to ask him to identify the smallest units he can. Then talk about how to separate those.

But this is only a single example, with a single solution.
posted by Dashy at 8:35 AM on November 12, 2020 [12 favorites]

A lot of this is perfectly clear when read out loud. The problems are punctuation and spelling.

The good news is that you can suck at punctuation and spelling when you're writing a language and still be absolutely 100% fluent when conversing and literate when reading. So none of what you've shown us necessarily means he has a language-related disability. (Though it's still well worth checking for dyslexia if you haven't.)

The bad news is that punctuation (in any language) and spelling (in English) are at least somewhat arbitrary. So he's going to have to study some boring arbitrary rules. Tutoring does seem like the way to go.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:41 AM on November 12, 2020 [8 favorites]

Also, if you can't do that (or have him evaluated), working through a grammar book can help too. There are books online.

For my work we also use Teachers Pay Teachers as a resource - they have a free run-on sentence download right now. :) I'm not sure whether it will meet your needs (I use it to source ideas for an elementary-aged after school program) but one thing I like about it is that it's resources developed by teachers who have a strong sense of what students actually engage with right now. But buyer beware, it's just activities individual teachers have uploaded.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:44 AM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Isn't this what Grammarly does? A tutor probably makes the most sense, but I think there are programs that do this too.
posted by Toddles at 8:46 AM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think your son may have a learning disability. He should at least be screened.

I'm not an expert in the least, but am close with someone who has dispraxia (a writing-related learning disability, sort of like the written-expression version of dyslexia). From what little I do know, your son's writing has a lot of dispraxia signposts; for example, the poor/confusing punctuation.
posted by rue72 at 8:50 AM on November 12, 2020

Best answer: OK, first of all, I expected way worse based on the tone of your post. I'm a professional editor, and I assure you I receive far worse prose from people every day. Some of those people have PhDs. Your son, if this example is representative, has no trouble clearly expressing his ideas in writing. I can follow the content of this paragraph easily. He merely seems to be lacking the mechanics: punctuation, verb tense, agreement.

This is 100% better than the reverse, by the way. There's no spellcheck for an inability to express coherent thought.

My guess would be that his school offers approximately zero actual grammar instruction. Screen for learning/reading disabilities, sure, but most likely he just needs actual grammar teaching from an actual English Language Arts teacher.

But if this is the level of panic and frustration you're bringing to the situation, he may have begun to freeze up around the entire subject. When you start contacting tutors or programs, take it down a notch. I'm sure it is frustrating to feel like you're not getting traction, but this kid isn't even well outside the norm, much less a crisis case.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:00 AM on November 12, 2020 [110 favorites]

I have a lot of friends who have worked at places that offer tutoring and I highly suggest finding a tutor and paying them directly. You'll pay less for more, some offer individual one hour tutoring at $40, instead of sitting at a table with 3-5 kids for $60 an hour for instance.

I have a learning disability and my parents had the same over the top emotional reaction to my struggles and I've spent thousands of dollars in therapy trying to overcome the issues it gave me. Dial yourself waaayyyyy back, your kid is fine. Just needs a helping hand. Definitely pay someone to help them, a tutor is used to seeing these problems and won't express anxious emotions about it to your child.
posted by Dynex at 9:09 AM on November 12, 2020 [8 favorites]

A couple of years ago I saw a talk by someone who served as Undersecretary of Education in the U.S. under George W Bush. This man grew up with severe dyslexia and said he got through high school and college only with the help of his friends. Then word processors and spell checkers arrived and he was able to be more independent.

The President called him personally to offer him the cabinet position. After he got off the phone he called his mother to tell her the news. The first words out of his mother's mouth were, "Does the President know you can't spell?"

Your son has a fixable problem, and it's okay to let him get help from technology.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:39 AM on November 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Tell him there are some formal things about writing. If he will learn the APA style, using handy templates, he will learn how papers just about write themselves. It will help him collect his thoughts, and time will give him a sense of propriety; I know Youtube won't.
posted by Oyéah at 9:58 AM on November 12, 2020

Is he writing this content out himself or transcribing/copying it from elsewhere and not doing much editing? I agree that you pushing this is probably not going to do anything to help at this point and might mean he resists it even more. But in my brief stint as a teacher of writing, I found asking students to write about their own experiences to be better than having them write essays on topics where they aren’t experts. I also found some of my students thought they were “bad” at writing when they had great ideas well expressed but simply lacked knowledge of formal grammar conventions. I’m concerned you all might have a similar dynamic, where he thinks he’s bad at this and can’t be better so he doesn’t try. He’s probably not going to improve a lot until he wants to. So now I’m going to give a tiny bit of parenting advice and say maybe it’s okay to take a break from this issue or let teachers manage it.

As a compromise: offer to completely end your reviews/teaching of writing to him in exchange for him writing a private journal by hand for, say, ten minutes a day. The important part is private. He can choose the topic and you won’t ever look at it. It might help him cultivate a different approach.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:07 AM on November 12, 2020

Best answer: I teach adults who are working on getting their reading and writing skills up to college level--some of them, despite having gone through high school, read and write much the same way as your son. They are intelligent, capable human beings; they just don't have adequate writing skills.

The ones I really worry about can't form coherent ideas and put them in a logical order. Your son's writing, fortunately, is not actually that bad. He has expressed coherent thoughts and structured his paragraph in a logical order; it's just that he is not dividing up his sentences into discrete units with correct punctuation. The ideas are there, but it's hard to understand at first glance, because as readers we rely on punctuation signposts to tell us "this thought ends here; new thought coming up."

Yes, I see some issues with agreement and there are a couple of sentences where he's missed a word, which confuses meaning. But I agree 100% with Blast Hardcheese: this is not panic-level. I frequently work with students whose writing is like this, and after a semester in my class (often, after a few weeks) where they receive explicit grammar and writing instruction, they are writing just fine and are ready to move on.

I do suspect that the very act of writing has become fraught for your son, and you are absolutely right that he needs someone other than you to work with him on it (for both your sakes!). An experienced writing tutor will work wonders.

In my (Canadian) community, the public library offers free homework help sessions. This is exactly the kind of thing they'd help with. Because of the pandemic, you can access them over Zoom now. I recommend you check your local libraries to see if they've got similar programs.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:51 AM on November 12, 2020 [9 favorites]

Until your guy has a chance to get a tutor, one exercise to learn grammar he can work on at home is to write out what someone else has written with all the punctuation. He may never have observed exactly where punctuation goes, so if he simply copies someone else's writing and proof reads it to get their punctuation in the right place - oops, I missed both commas! - that could help him start figuring out how many commas and clauses other people use and how long a sentence is reasonable.

It appears to me that his writing is basically fine, except that he has only practiced writing clear notes and not practiced clear sentences.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2020

It reads like a transcription - sensible but needs editing. As someone who has made a living editing the work of people much smarter than me, I can tell you he is not alone - nor is it as important down the road as it is in school. Get him energized about the subjects that don't vex him, and he'll never lack for colleagues and collaborators and project teammates and assistants to take care of the presentation.
posted by headnsouth at 12:43 PM on November 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Former ELA tutor here! My personal feelings about the standardized-testing industrial complex aside, I have found this SAT prep book to be a game-changer for students who have never actually been formally taught grammar and who also need to work on their independent study skills. Each lesson focuses on one skill, and they progress from relatively simple to more complex points of grammar and written expression. The reading comprehension section can be helpful for learning to critically review writing, too.

Good luck!
posted by Schielisque at 1:07 PM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yup: taught community college English for 20 years and that fart description would've been a... well, a breath of fresh air. Thank you, favorite student, for writing something interesting about farts instead of the paper I have now read 23984578947594 times, namely the one about why we should legalize marijuana.

It has very typical usage problems that make him everystudent. He mixes up verb tense as do many people. I can't tell what he's trying to do with combine, but if he means combined, he possibly isn't hearing the "ed" and if so probably also leaves off the s on plurals that have a prominent s late in the word (like scientist: at first I thought this was an odd typo, but then I read student papers for a few more years and learned that there is only ever one scientist and one feminist). He doesn't know its from it's like more than half of people in community college. He leaves out a word now and then, and he doesn't know what is a sentence. None of this really harms the sense of this lively bit of writing about the fate of our food.

I quit taking off points for "mechanics" or whatever I was calling it and started grading papers solely on how interesting and engaging they were but then awarding extra credit for finding and fixing stuff we'd talked about in class. I'd put a little star in the margin and say "somewhere in this paragraph is a comma splice. That's a star error worth 5 points!" By the end of the semester we'd've talked about a lot of common errors, so error correction could actually have a real effect. If you made enough errors and corrected them, you'd potentially end up with a paper worth 150%. I didn't have fantastic success with this, but it did seem more sensible than docking someone's grade on an otherwise fine paper for things that didn't matter much for the student's success later in life (because Word's grammar checker is pretty okay, and there are editors and dissertation committees). It worked better, too. Students didn't get the learned helplessness they get if you say over and over, "too many comma splices; minus ten" on paper after paper. Making error correction a hunt for EXTRA points on a fine, healthy paper that your reader appreciated instead of a struggle to get back lost points on a maimed paper your teacher hated did galvanize them to try to find and fix things.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:25 PM on November 12, 2020 [26 favorites]

Try out Don and Jenny Killgallon's books, especially "Sentence Composing for High School."
posted by matkline at 7:41 PM on November 12, 2020

Best answer: Just want to say that as someone with a rumbly writing tummy who often needs a huge dose of simethicone to get anything out, I would feel extremely fortunate to have your son's ability to put down thoughts in a coherent order with good rhythm.

There is missing punctuation, but that's SO EASY to fix.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:47 PM on November 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

The templates in They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing are a good model and (I think) a psychological relief for a student who is befuddled by what exactly they are supposed to do. There's a blog too! This doesn't address the grammar questions directly, but does help with overall organization.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:48 AM on November 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I wanted to mention a longer term strategy: if your son doesn't do so already, he should make a point of reading a wide variety of interesting texts at his grade level and above that feature clear prose. Reading good writing should help him see what he's aiming for in terms of syntax and grammar.

Note that this should absolutely not be presented as a chore. It's best if he can search out and choose these texts himself. A librarian who specializes in teen reader advisory can help with this.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:42 PM on November 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes, ^, concur, and it won't do him any harm to read frivolous things, too, such as whatever they have in the reading racks at 7/11, if they still have reading racks at 7/11. If The Weekly World News were still around, that would be perfect. Lurid, trashy horror novels were my jam at his age. Or whatever magazine is dedicated to whatever he's actually interested in--a child his age is interested in all manner of things, and there's print somewhere devoted to those interests; it just needs to be sought out. Comic books are great; boyfriend learned English that way.

Kids have become adept at writing that effectively conveys their ideas because of texting. But texting has a whole different grammar and set of rules. Also, it has given them an unrealistic sense of how long prose takes. It actually takes forfrustratinglyever. I bet I'm fifteen minutes into this comment by now and have written and rewritten bits of it multiple times and switched shit around and changed the paragraph breaks. He's writing like someone who texts--one and done, getting the sense but not the sound. That is not how it is done.

He needs to develop an ear for prose, and tolerance for spending the enormous amount of time it takes. So he has to read all the time and write all the time. Could you introduce him to MetaFilter...?
posted by Don Pepino at 3:56 PM on November 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

« Older Periodicals for preschoolers   |   Should I stop taking Levaquin? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.