When I read Ruth Culham's 6 + 1 Traits of Writing this past weekend, I noticed something new. She claims that, although it's okay to end sentences with other parts of speech, ending them with a noun makes them more powerful (201). She illustrates her premise by revising a proverb:
A rolling stone gathers no moss. (noun)
If a stone rolls, hardly any moss will be gathered. (verb)
If you are concerned about moss gathering on a stone, roll it. (pronoun)
When trying to rid yourself of moss, roll the stone quickly. (adverb)
If you roll the stone, the moss will become smooth. (adjective)
Hmmm, interesting.  I'll try it here, ending my sentences with a noun to see if they are more powerful.

Here I go.

When I read Ruth Culham's 6 + 1 Traits of Writing this past weekend, I noticed a new tip. She claims it is more powerful to end a sentence with a noun rather than another part of speech. She illustrates her premise by revising a proverb.

A rolling stone gathers no moss. (noun)
If a stone rolls, hardly any moss will be gathered. (verb)
If you are concerned about moss gathering on a stone, roll it. (pronoun)
When trying to rid yourself of moss, roll the stone quickly. (adverb)
If you roll the stone, the moss will become smooth. (adjective)
Hmmm, interesting thought.  I'll try it here, revising my sentences to ensure I end each one with a noun. 

My experiment here is too short to confirm or deny her suggestion, but one thing I can say: this would be an interesting way to get a student to rethink/restructure (i.e. revise) her sentences. Ask her to end several sentences in a paragraph with nouns and see how it changes her paragraph.

Have you seen this advice before?  Do you think about it when you write?  What have you discovered?
 
 
Seventeen months ago, my oldest daughter had surgery to repair subluxated  tendons in her right ankle. Yesterday morning she had surgery to repair subluxated tendons in her right ankle. It's really not an activity she put on her bucket list twice, but the first doctor didn't do such a good job, leaving her with more pain and less mobility.

Wouldn't it be nice to rewind time, in this case returning to December 2011 and choosing a different path, a different doctor, a different outcome?   When I survey the situation from my little plastic throne, there's no doubt I would.  In a heartbeat, I would sanitize her story, removing any and all problems. But with the next heartbeat, I realize that I would be removing those parts of her story that give it suspense and color, those parts that require her to live beyond herself, by faith in her God who is for her--and faithful. By messing with her story, I would take away months of waiting upon Him, trusting Him when the answers weren't obvious.

When I'm thinking correctly, I slip from my flimsy throne to my knees, bowing before the One who is on His eternal, immovable throne, the Author of every word of her story. He has crafted its beginning, middle, and end, the timing of every plot twist, and the resolution to each cliffhanger.

I am thankful He keeps the pen out of my hands and writes the story He wants for her. He invites me to sit back to read and enjoy it, learning from chapter to chapter to trust Him who writes the very best stories.   

I pray that the next chapter includes running and dancing on a healthy ankle. I'll see what happens when I turn the page.                                                                                      
 
 
Over the weekend, I found 6 + 1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham at the thrift shop.  For $2.50, I couldn't let it stay on the shelf.  This paragraph from Culham rang true for me.

When I was in school, the papers that got the highest grades held the reader at a safe arm's length.  They tended to pontificate.  I remember being told never to express  a personal opinion unless asked. And never use 'I,' which was always tough to figure out: Who else did the reader think was writing the piece if not 'I,' after all?  My assigned readings, however, were passionate, opinionated, stylistic, and fascinating. But when it came to my own writing, on went the straitjacket, and I wound up pumping out stuff that was stilted, cold, and distant.  It was boring--but it always got high marks.  Unfortunately, this tradition is still alive in many of the classrooms I visit. And more than likely, something that's boring to read was boring to write.  It will be nearly impossible to get students engaged in writing if all the excitement's been drained out of it (103).


Why is it that students are so often shoehorned into five-paragraph, formal, voiceless writing?

It's easy to teach a formula.  It's easy to grade a formula. It's easy to keep control of the process when you have a classroom of kids.

The question: why?

The answer: easy.

The result: boring!

It happened to me as a student. The result was that I thought I had to use big words and sound like something I wasn't. Stilted, cold, and distant didn't describe me as a person, but they certainly described my writing. Sadly, the habit went deep; I still fight to get out of the ditch I thought was mine.

I want to give my students something far better. I want them to be free to experiment, to create, to be themselves. I don't want to jam them into a specific style, draining the excitement out of writing; I want them to discover that they have something to say, and they can say it well with their own voice. They can be the ones writing passionate, opinionated, stylistic, and fascinating pieces.

What can we do to make writing more exciting for our students?
  • Let them choose their own topics.
  • Don't lock them into one format (i.e. the five-paragraph essay). Allow them to experiment with different genres.
  • Give them a reason for writing that goes beyond the teacher and a grade, offering assignments and projects that captivate their attention.
  • Integrate writing into everything they do rather than relegating it to worksheets.
  • Remember that writing is a process. Editing is one part of the process; it's not the focus. It's important for published pieces to be correctly spelled, capitalized, and punctuated, but if mechanics are the primary focus during the process, a student can end up with a correct, but lifeless, paper. (That described my writing, too.)
  • Look at writing you enjoy. Do any of the pieces follow the five-paragraph format?  Does every paragraph have a topic sentence?  Does every sentence have a subject and a verb? Likely not. Invite your students to look at writing they enjoy, observing it closely and imitating it.

It is true that you invite risk when you walk away from formulaic writing assignments, but you also welcome creativity, thinking, and passion. Instead of reading a predictable piece that you will soon forget, you will likely read one that comes from the heart, leaving a mark on yours.


 
 
How do you teach your students about plagiarism and how to avoid it?

A friend sent me this article written by Mrs. Richman, a leader in homeschooling and a current teacher.

After teaching in both a private Christian school and a co-op myself, I can tell you that plagiarism cannot be overlooked.  It is a serious problem which deserves its time in the homeschool setting. We need to start by explaining to our kids what it is; Mrs. Richman does a fabulous job of showing it with excellent (and unfortunate) examples. Perhaps the discussion can begin by reading the article together. Then we need to teach strong research skills or put our kids in settings where they will learn them.

Should we wait until high school to introduce the word?  Absolutely not. As soon as students are drawing ideas from other sources, they need to know it's not okay to borrow (i.e. steal) someone else's words. Their note-taking and citations may not be as sophisticated as an older kid's, but if they learn young, they'll avoid a whole lot of trouble later. More importantly, they'll have work that is truly their own.

See Writing Research Reports for additional help.
 
 
We are inundated with news everyday that is discouraging, even downright depressing. As Christians we believe in our heads that God is Sovereign, that "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5), that the gospel of Jesus redeems and transforms lives. But when the news continues to bombard us, we sometimes forget. Testimonies of God at work encourage our hearts and fuel our hope. Here is #4 in the series.

After years of rebellion, God rescued Abraham Piper. In this piece, he shares his testimony,offering parents of wayward children suggestions for how to love them and give them Jesus. Enjoy this picture of redemption and the fruit of wisdom that comes from it!
 
 
We are inundated with news everyday that is discouraging, even downright depressing. As Christians we believe in our heads that God is Sovereign, that "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5), that the gospel of Jesus redeems and transforms lives. But when the news continues to bombard us, we sometimes forget. Testimonies of God at work encourage our hearts and fuel our hope. Here is #3 in the series.

Saeed Abedini is an Iranian/American Christian who is being persecuted in one of Iran's most notorious prisons. In a letter to his wife, he talks about his unimaginable trial. Forgiveness in his circumstances is truly miraculous, a testimony to the gospel that has made forgiveness possible.

Meanwhile, Saeed's wife waits with her two young children in Idaho, praying and hoping for his release. Her response is no less miraculous. Read the letter she wrote for his 33rd birthday yesterday.

Please join me in praying for this family, that God would sustain and encourage them, reuniting them very soon. Pray also that Saeed's persecutors would meet Jesus through Saeed's faithful witness.
 
 
We are inundated with news everyday that is discouraging, even downright depressing. As Christians we believe in our heads that God is Sovereign, that "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5), that the gospel of Jesus redeems and transforms lives. But when the news continues to bombard us, we sometimes forget. Testimonies of God at work encourage our hearts and fuel our hope. Here is #2 in the series.

This is the story of the Kings, a family of nine following God's call to adopt a 1 lb, 13 oz preemie in a state 2,000 miles away. Be blessed as you read this unfolding story of the gospel on display...and pray that God will supply their every need.
 
 
We are inundated with news everyday that is discouraging, even downright depressing. As Christians we believe in our heads that God is Sovereign, that "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5), that the gospel of Jesus redeems and transforms lives. But when the news continues to bombard us, we sometimes forget. Testimonies of God at work encourage our hearts and fuel our hope. This, the story of a family at my church, is the first of many I hope to share of the gospel on display. It is written by Mercy's dad.

I’d like to tell you the story of a little girl.  For reasons we may never know, this little girl’s family wasn’t able to provide for all of her needs.  And in January of last year she was placed in an orphanage in northern China.  On that exact same day, half a world away, a family whose hearts had been stirred by God to bring another child into their family was officially accepted into China’s adoption program.  Though the child and family knew nothing about each other, God’s perfect plan was already unfolding.  Almost a year later, the first day that child’s name appeared on China’s shared adoption list was also the first time our family was eligible to be matched from that list – and the Lord’s sovereign hand connected our paths for good.  Though there was a huge distance between us, and she still had no idea we existed, we loved her and were willing to take on all of the obstacles in the way to bring her into our family.

For those who don’t know our story – this is Mercy, and yes she is Chinese, but she has a condition known as albinism.  Her body does not produce normal levels of pigment, so she has very pale skin and white hair.  As a father (and mother), we look at her picture and feel a love in our hearts for her that is unexplainable, save that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  And this process has given us such fresh insight into the heart of God for His children.  Mercy’s story is also my story (and your story.)  My earthly family was not capable of providing for all of my needs, but there was a heavenly father that could.  And though there was a huge gap between us, and I still had no idea He existed, He loved me (and He loved you.)  And He was willing to take on all of the obstacles in the way to bring us into His family.  While we were still rejecting Him or ignoring Him or just otherwise oblivious to Him, He paid a heavy price in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross to open the door for us to be adopted into His glorious kingdom.

Though it was nothing like His sacrifice, we also had to pay a heavy price in time and resources to allow our daughter to come home (which we are now on the brink of accomplishing).  But we have been blessed by tremendous help from our family (and that’s all of you!)  From the start of this process we have been shown overwhelming support, and we wanted to take this time to deeply thank you all.  Our spaghetti dinner (believe it or not) was a year ago yesterday.  And it humbles me to this day to remember the willingness and eagerness that so many of you showed to give of your time and energy as well as financially.  So much food and so many auction items donated; so many hands volunteered to do the work of setting up and cooking and serving and cleaning up; such a blessing to our souls to feel the unconditional support of our church family!  And that was just the beginning.  In the weeks and months that have passed since then we are constantly asked “How are things going?”, “What can I do to help?”, “Here’s something I thought you could use?”, and “What specifically can I pray about for you?”

And let me tell you we have felt those prayers all along the journey.  God has provided consistently, “exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or imagine”.  Making sure we had all of the funds we needed exactly when we needed them.  Connecting us with complete strangers who had kids with similar conditions as Mercy to encourage us when our spirits were low.  Having a couple of seats open up on the “fully booked” flight we wanted appear just as we called to make a reservation.  But most of all – providing a supernatural sense of peace about bringing Mercy into our home – even in the face of doubts and fears.  I don’t want to paint an unfair picture – those doubts and fears still do come.  Like countless others before us, no matter how many times God provides, we still question “But what about this?”, “Can I really trust you to provide that?”  But God has been faithful to bring us peace in our hearts when we remember to focus on Him.  And thanks to so many of you who have helped us to get our focus back on Him when we needed it most.

Adoption is not easy (and we’re just getting started!)  There are so many of you here that have gone before us, and have so much more to tell than we do.  And we have benefited greatly from your friendship and experience and wise council – thank you so much for your time and patience, sharing your journey with us and illuminating God’s work in the lives of your families.  We look forward to being able to do the same someday, and share our stories of God’s grace to those who take this journey next.  Let me encourage those who may be hearing the call of James “to care for orphans” in your lives, but are filled with fear or feelings of inadequacy – we have those feelings too, but we are not in this alone!  When I first thought about putting Mercy’s picture up on the screen – the thought struck me that I don’t even need to!  Because most of you already look at her picture every day.  She’s hanging on refrigerators and bulletin boards, in picture frames and on computer desktops all around this region.  The world looks at her and sees a poor little orphan girl without a family – but the reality is she has a huge family!  A family that is anxiously waiting with open arms to gather her in.  Eagerly anticipating her arrival to shower unconditional love upon her.  And at the front of the line is Jesus Christ himself who longs for her to know Him, and trust Him, and love Him as He loves her.

Our ultimate prayer is not that Mercy will have a better life, or have her medical needs met more effectively, or bring joy to our home – though we do hope for all those things.  Our deepest prayer is that she would know Jesus and receive His salvation from sin.  And we are so glad to have all of you, as her extended family to help her to find Him.

Isaiah 43 

1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.

5 Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you.

6 I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,

7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

We leave for China this Friday.  If all goes according to plan, Mercy will be in our arms on Mother’s Day – what a gift, right? 

Thanks for being such good stewards of God’s grace.  Thanks for supporting us, encouraging us, and lifting us up in prayer.  Thanks for opening your hearts to our Mercy, just as you have to Michaela, Matthew, and Mason and for sharing your walks of faith with them.  We couldn’t do this without you.

Thank you!

 
 
How many times have you heard your child whine, "When am I ever going to need this?"

When do they ask the question (if it even counts as a question)? I've typically heard it during grueling math or science lessons.

Have you heard your child ask the question about writing?

I can't speak for the usefulness of higher level math or science for the non-math and science majors, although the information and skills have helped me in homeschooling, a calling I never anticipated as a young mom, let alone a young student. What about writing? Will your kids need it?  Should it be a priority in your homeschooling program?

I say a resounding yes, but what does that matter, especially to your children?

Sometimes ideas come at the strangest times and places. Last night, as I was hanging laundry under the night sky, this one came. I want to compile a list of dads, moms, and their professions and how/when they've needed to write as an adult.

I'm wondering if we can make a convincing case that writing is an important skill, worthy of our students' time, thought, and energy.

Leave your comments here. I'll share the results in a future post.
 
 
Left to myself, I would have kept this site in my imagination for a long time. But thanks to friends, who encouraged me to offer my gifts more broadly, and to my girls who prodded and helped me, here it is.  I hope you enjoy.