Used with Permission
By Melissa Campbell Rowe

Writer’s block—the dreaded white page—is experienced by all writers. Then there is “grader’s block,” which begins with a homeschooling parent sitting with a neatly typed paper in hand: There are one-inch margins and five paragraphs. It looks great. The title is even underlined. The parent knows her child spent hours composing this essay. The kid even used the thesaurus! There are some great sentences. The parent has to determine if the writing is good and at grade level . . . but “grader’s block” gets in the way.

The writer needs some feedback, some direction, and some way to take his writing to the next level. Fortunately, there are techniques to banish “grader’s block” while helping a student develop writing skills.

The first technique recommended in order to successfully grade a paper is to distinguish between content and the mechanics of writing. The content reflects the writer’s understanding and comprehension of the topic, but writing also includes aspects of mechanics (capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and word usage), organization, sentence types, style, word economy, and format.

Often papers are assigned a dual purpose: (1) to fulfill a writing assignment and (2) to demonstrate knowledge of a topic through research. Research and writing are two very different skills, so when a writing assignment requires research, two grades need to be given: one for content and one for writing.

A second technique is to limit the focus of your grading to a specific area of writing. For beginning writers, start by grading only the mechanics of writing. To reduce errors such as spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, teach students to use a word processing program with spellcheck (but watch for word usage errors; they can sneak into a paper under the radar of a computer’s spellchecker).

Set specific goals for each area of writing. An example of a specific goal to develop the skill of correct word usage would be to have a student include these three homonyms—there, they’re, and their—in the paper. Another example: To teach your student about proper punctuation, require him to include dialogue in his paper.

When the student has mastered the mechanics of writing, set additional goals to develop skills related to organization, sentence types, style, word economy, and format. Specific goals keep the writer focused. All writing is for a purpose, and students with purpose learn to focus and achieve. Then the homeschooling parent can grade the paper with purpose—to see if the student writer accomplished the writing goal.

When a student writes with a purpose, the homeschooling parent can grade with purpose. “Grader’s block” will vanish, and homeschooling parents can give direction for writing improvements. Parents will no longer wonder if a paper is good; they will know.

Melissa Campbell Rowe has twenty-seven years of experience as an educator. She homeschooled her two sons from kindergarten through graduation. Currently Melissa is the director of Grace Academy, which provides educational and enrichment classes to homeschooled students ( She teaches English at Grace Academy, tutors privately, and provides online instruction in English and writing ( Contact Melissa at

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free  or read it on the go and download the free apps to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

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