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Helping Families Support Their Middle and High School Writers at Home

By Jacqueline Raphael | March 16, 2021

Jacqueline Raphael
Jacqueline Raphael is a practice expert in system improvement at Education Northwest. She has extensive experience in facilitating constructive dialogue and professional development among stakeholders to improve alignment between secondary and postsecondary education systems.

By middle school, students likely recognize that writing involves multiple steps. At school, students learn steps of the writing process—planning, drafting, and revising their written work—through practice with teachers. At home, parents and caregivers may worry that they cannot help their middle or high school students practice, particularly if family members struggle with writing themselves. However, parents can indeed support their secondary-level writers through conversations about the writing process.

To better equip parents and caregivers, REL Southwest and REL Northwest collaborated to develop the resource Supporting Your Middle or High Schooler's Writing Skills at Home. The resource describes many approaches parents and caregivers can use to assist students in all stages of writing, regardless of the parents' own skills and experience. The activities draw on recommendations from Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively, a What Works Clearinghouse practice guide.

Many of the activities in the resource do not require that family members have special writing or editing skills. Instead, the approaches allow any parent or caregiver to support students in planning their writing, beginning well before the first draft. For example, parents and caregivers can encourage young writers to identify which stage(s) of the writing process they will focus on during a specific writing session. Using questions provided in the resource, parents and caregivers can ask students to reflect on their audience and purpose for writing. Students and family members can talk about the key features of different text types that students read (for example, arguments or narratives) to build students' understanding of what high-quality writing looks like.

The resource includes an example process log where middle or high schoolers can record their decisions and reflections as they move through the stages of the writing process. Family members and peers can also provide feedback on the draft via the log, which can aid the student in revising their own work.

The approaches in the REL Southwest and REL Northwest resource can help secondary-level students think in a purposeful way about how to approach a writing task or achieve a writing goal, with help from family members. This strategic thinking can strengthen students' ability to communicate ideas clearly and deepen their appreciation for writing. Framing writing as a conversation—both with oneself and one's readers— is a valuable approach that emphasizes the rewards of the writing process.