My son is very articulate when it comes to debate and dialogue, but he's always had a lot of trouble representing his thoughts coherently in writing.
He's recently started attending a new school, www.catalystedu.org, and I must admit I was a bit nervous the day he turned in his first writing assignment.
He came home triumphant, announcing, "My teacher LOVES my writing!!" At first, I thought, "Huh? Is she reading what I'm reading?" But I zipped my lip and celebrated with him.
About 10 minutes later, he casually said, "Oh, and she says there's just a few little adjustments I could make so that other people can understand me a little better." Ah-ha! There it is. So smooth, he didn't even realize he was gonna learn something. I mentally high-fived his new teacher. Sheer brilliance!
The magic? She connected with him first on the content, not on the form. Once she validated that he had interesting ideas, he became motivated to express them in ways that people could understand. He needed to know that grammar and conventions have a real purpose - they help others to more clearly comprehend our point.
The take-away for parents? Let the school handle grammar and conventions. At home, get excited about the content of your child's writing. Talk about what kind of ideas they have inspired in you, or what you learned from their writing that was new or exciting for you.
That's how parents can help keep the fire of motivation burning bright -- not by correcting the spelling or commas or capitalization. Too much emphasis on right and wrong only forges a strong link in our children's experience between writing and criticism. Instead, let your enthusiasm about the content strengthen the link between writing and communication. The rest will follow naturally.