“Every other subject comes with an answer key,” Luchsinger observes. “With writing, there are any number of ways to answer a given prompt: there is no single right or wrong answer. Many parent teachers of writing, lacking any better way to help students improve, just mark everything they can see is wrong.”
The author, a writing tutor to both secondary and college students, observes that many students feel frustrated by overwhelmingly negative feedback, but suggests that parents who give only positive feedback do their students no favors either: “Students who get good grades for expressive writing assignments in high school but don’t know how to compose a coherent academic essay are often perplexed when they get to college and realize they never really learned how to write.”
Grading with a Purple Crayon offers a more analytic approach to teaching and evaluating academic compositions. Luchsinger advises the use of an individualized rubric to prioritize goals, which parents and students generate by analyzing students’ actual writing. Parents who aren’t sure how or what to prioritize can follow the order proposed by Luchsinger: First, students learn to develop adequate content in their essays; later, they learn to convey content with clarity. As tasks become more complicated, students learn coherence and later eloquence as well. By prioritizing a limited number of clear and objective goals each semester, students gradually acquire the technical skills needed to express themselves in writing.
Another critical aspect of the program is consistent practice. While many writing curriculums call for students to write for a variety of audiences and purposes, Luchsinger suggests that what students need is consistency. “Unless students practice with the same tasks and goals repeatedly, they can’t master difficult skills, and teachers can’t measure growth: grading necessarily becomes subjective.”
As students master objectives, they progress to more challenging tasks. Initially, tasks focus on short summaries and five-paragraph essays; students focus on learning write with clarity, coherence, and eloquence. Later, students advance to applications such as literary analyses and research papers and learn to incorporate quotations and document sources. An addendum offers advice for students preparing for timed tests or applying for a job or college.
Dena Luchsinger is a college writing tutor and a homeschool teacher. She holds a Master of Arts degree from Alaska Pacific University with a dual emphasis in writing and practical theology. The parent of three children, one diagnosed with Down syndrome and autism, and another as “twice exceptional,”
Grading with a Purple Crayon: A Developmental Approach to High School Composition for Homeschooling Families by Dena M. Luchsinger – 224 pages – 8” x 11.5 Softcover ISBN 978-0-9848313-