Instruction for Struggling Writers
Tailored Programs for Struggling Writers
The Struggling Writer
As a parent, you’ve likely seen your child struggle off and on, but many times they’ve been able to pull their way through assignments, and you know that writing takes a long time to master, so you weren’t worried…until now.
Something has shifted, and all of a sudden an “acceptable” level of struggle has turned into a problem — grade slippage, troubling teacher comments — and alongside all of this, you ache the most to see your child’s growing frustration and worse, diminishment in their belief of their capabilities. Something is happening to their self-esteem, and you don’t know what to do.
If you get nothing more from reading this web site, I hope you receive this message: Your child is not alone. So many students don’t respond fully to the “writing prompt-edit-finalize” method of teaching writing that is standard in schools. This is because the standard method has a big “gap.” More often than not, the very first step that makes anything worthwhile gets skipped: identifying why writing about that particular subject matters to a student in the first place.
Making a personal connection to literature and history is a skill. Some kids get it on their own, but many need help to develop it. Because….
When Things Matter to Students, They are More Willing to Enter Vulnerable Territory
Learning new skills is hard, and being in that “not knowing” place just gets harder as we get older. As kids go up in grades, so does the pressure to get things right — along with all of those teenager things that start happening, like hormones and peer pressure. All of these make it feel even worse to admit vulnerability.
What makes it safe to be vulnerable about learning? To be genuinely interested in something, and to have your teacher create safety for that genuine part of you. As students get older, creating that safety becomes even more important. Meanwhile, much of school becomes more inflexible. The rationale: there’s a lot of material to cover — SATs and APs are just around the corner. Covering content becomes more important than cultivating intellectual curiosity.
It’s a dangerous trade-off. And who gets left behind? Well — ultimately, everyone. Because in college, those who can maintain the spark of genuine intellectual curiosity will have an advantage. And beyond this, the intellectual leadership of the world relies on ingenuity. If a child can develop a healthy relationship to their intellectual curiosity, they will set themselves apart everywhere, for the rest of their lives.
But though everyone is affected by this trade-off, students who have fallen behind in writing skills suffer the most, because the one thing that makes the struggle of learning writing worth it has faded way.
And the effects of that are probably why you’re here.
The Truth Is, Writing Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard
For a kid who struggles with writing, making that connection is the difference from teaching a student how to limp through writing “well enough” and teaching a student how to discover the power of their own voice and transform how they express it in the world.
The truth is, writing can be: Meaningful. Centering. Playful. Reflective. Illuminating. Thought-provoking.
And when it is, it makes up for all those times when writing is frustrating, tedious, confusing. When it is, students can see, “Ah. Wow. I’m a writer. I’m a writer.”
The Empowered Writer Program
The Empowered Writer Program connects your child to great teaching. It gives your child the writing skills they need while helping them feel, perhaps for the first time in a long time — or ever — the connection between academic expository writing and who they are.
Through weekly lessons, students experience spacious and focused instruction. The nurturing that comes from this kind of mentorship can reverse years of self-doubt and bolster lasting confidence.
At the end of the program, your child will
- connect powerfully to writing and how it can deeply serve them.
- have a list of “success stories” of celebrities who initially resisted writing but came to excel at and revel in it (Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, etc, etc, etc!) that they can draw upon for inspiration at any time.
- master skills they had previously found painful through focused, individualized lessons.
- appreciate the strengths of the workings of their mind in ways they had not previously identified.
How It Works
In our weekly lessons (except vacation times), we immerse ourselves in expository material ranging from Greek philosophy to newspaper editorials. All subjects are up for grabs — I introduce content based on cues from your child. The material is designed to stretch them and to get them to think about things they “didn’t know they didn’t know” while receiving focused guidance in critical reading and writing.
Each lesson generally includes
- foundation work (grammar, vocabulary, spelling)
- a lesson on analysis or writing development
- next steps and big picture synthesis (taking time to review the ground we’ve covered and where we’re headed)
You can see a sample of instructional materials I commonly use here.
Homework is important to this process because students don’t master skills until they try them on their own. I assign 20 minutes to 1 hour of homework per week (depending on the school workload that week). I have high expectations for my students, but I am also sensitive to their often insanely busy schedules. I expect my students to work hard with me. I also want them to get enough sleep.
Your Role is Important
When your child is working with me, they will be changing how they think about writing and approach learning. Even as they come to trust the process and take pride in their successes, at times they may feel challenged when old patterns of avoidance or feeling overwhelmed come up. It can be a tender process. You’ll be an important part of the team that supports them in their shifts.
To keep parents informed of their students’ work, I post “logs” of each lesson in a private online portal. I also schedule regular parent meetings to discuss your child’s progress.
As successes continue, their tolerance for frustration in their learning curve grows as they witness the fruits. While progress happens all along the way, they usually have a clear “wow” moment after a year of work. In most cases, to raise students an additional grade level in skill takes 18 months.
Program Details and Logistics
“To be very honest, I have never even heard of a private teacher who gives such care and attention to the human beings involved, like whoa…what a concept!”
– Parent of 8th grader, The Menlo School
Year-long Program Details
The program provides:
- 36 one-on-one hour-long sessions over 12 months. This turns into a “generally weekly” meeting, with allowances for school vacations, etc.
- All of the necessary preparation to craft lessons that are individualized to your child (usually 1-2 hours “behind the scenes” per lesson)
- Regular Assessment and Review Meetings with parents/guardians (generally every 12 – 15 lessons).
- Log sheets documenting our work each session, accessible online, and which I ask parents to review regularly.
I meet students at the “Savvy Young Writers Studio” — an area in my home in Menlo Park designated for my work with students. Looking out onto a beautiful garden and fully feng-shue’d, many thoughtful touches have been made to make the Studio a quiet and inspiring space for students to work.
How is this work different from a tutoring model?
This program is a much more comprehensive service than what face-time-only tutoring services provide. In addition to lesson preparation, outside of any given hour with your child, I may consult with other specialists in my network about your child (I work with specialists in college counseling, testing, LD and gifted education), read up on your child’s subject interests to find great material for them, scout various bookstores to find just the right translation of a certain classic text that will spark your child’s learning — etc, etc, etc!
This level of dedication and service is what makes this program transformative for students and families.
I offer a special version of this program for teenagers. If you are looking for resources for your teenage son or daughter, please contact me for more information.
Taking Care to Make Sure This is Right for You and Your Child
I take a lot of care and time before beginning a program with a family to make sure it is right for you and your child. Before beginning the program, I set up two “no commitment” meetings, one with just you (the Parent-Only Student Assessment), and one with you and your child, so that you both can get a sense of my personality and teaching style to make sure it is right for you both.
“You have been our son’s tutor, mentor and friend. That’s a relationship that’s hard to come by.”
-Mother of a student at Gunn High School
“Working with you has really made such a huge difference in our son’s writing level this year. I also really appreciate the guidance you give him as a mentor.”
-Mother of middle school student at Terman Middle School
“So far, your class with our daughter is the only academic class she has that she seems to enjoy going to. It’s amazing.”
-Parent of a student at Harker School
“Even though I worked hard with you, I have to honestly say that it didn’t feel hard because I enjoyed it so much. I think that was because I never felt like I was talking to someone who was helping me write. I was talking to someone who really wanted to get to know me, who actually had in interest in who I am.”
– Los Altos High School student (now at Reed College)
“You have taught me so much more than how to write. I am truly grateful for the time you spent with me. I learned so much about myself that I had not realized before. I wouldn’t say that the learning process was too painful because I enjoyed being able to talk to someone who understood me.”
– San Dominico School student (now at UC Berkeley)
For More Information, and Wait List – How It Works
After more than ten years of doing this work, I am delighted that there is such a demand for this work. At the same time, I also struggle with having to to turn away inquiries each year. I simply don’t have the number of hours in the day to serve all that I want to; with only seven open slots and clients staying with me for several years, unfortunately openings aren’t frequent. At this point, nearly all of my client spaces fill from my wait list.
Once you inquire about this work, I will ask you to fill out a short questionnaire about your son or daughter. If it looks like we might be a good match, I will add you to the wait list, and my assistant will then contact you as soon as I have an opening. If it looks like someone else might be a better professional fit, or if you have an urgent concern and I don’t have an immediate opening, I can refer you to some other excellent people.
To inquire about pricing, availability, and/or to get on the wait list, please fill out the form below. I will read what you write carefully and I or my assistant will respond to you within a week.
Need time to think about this but want to stay in touch? Get on my email list to receive articles, resources, and program updates and to stay in touch with what’s going on at Savvy Young Writers.