Thursday, 24 April 2014

Encouraging Children to Write - Late Readers

I've been asked at various times what I've done to get my children writing and whether there's a need to use resources to help in the writing process if you are following Charlotte Mason's educational ideas. What I've written here is my own personal experience: what has worked with my own children; what I've learned in the course of teaching various ages, stages and abilities; what I understand of CM's principles and how I've applied them as I've taught my children.

Charlotte Mason recommended that in the high school years, 'some definite teaching in the art of composition is advisable, but not too much, lest the young scholars be saddled with a stilted style which may encumber them for life.'

I know the writing process is a concern for many home educators and for those who have had no formal training themselves often feel unequipped for the task. My eldest three children (girl, boy, girl) were comfortable with writing and my main object was to encourage them, provide them with ideas from living books, give them an outlet or audience and work on giving their writing some polish. I'll share some of the ways I did this in another post.
I wanted to concentrate on what I did with my fourth child, Hoggy, in this post. A late reader, he was high school age before he could read well and even then he had difficulty with anything not in story form. I started to panic especially because I was comparing him to his older siblings at the same stage. He was totally different. I tried using different writing programmes, without much success, and then I thought I better do something about his vocabulary and tried using workbooks and other materials to try to make some progress. It was rather miserable for a while.
What I should have done was let him gain confidence and fluency with oral narration and then progress to written narration. He had some visual problems, least of which was short-sightedness and probably tracking issues, plus he is dominantly left handed, but information on these issues wasn't as accessible as it is now so it was trial and error.
I had read Charlotte Mason's ideas but only through the writings of others who had interpreted her but when Hoggy was about 15 years old, I began to read her own words (I started with A Philosophy Of Education) and began to put it into practice. Oral narration was the catalyst for his writing. It was the best thing I could have done.
A few months before he turned 17 years of age I started him on Ambleside Online Year 8 with his 15 year old brother. He completed that year and then six months of work I'd put together using a combination of AO years 10 and 11 after which he started work full time.

I love this quote by A.W. Tozer:
'That writer does the most for us who brings to our attention thoughts that lay close to our minds waiting to be acknowledged as our own. Such a man acts as a midwife to assist at the birth of ideas that had been gestating long within our souls, but which without his help might not have been born at all.'

Putting the right books into our children's hands helps them develop their thoughts and ideas and bring them to birth. Oral narration allows a late reader or struggling writer to perceive and articulate ideas without the encumbrance of putting them down on paper until they are at a stage of readiness.

Thoughts disentangle themselves as they flow through lips and fingertips.

Oral narration isn't second rate. It allows thoughts to disentangle themselves and it's difficult work. If you don't believe me, try it.

CM talks about giving our children 'enough work of the kind that from its absorbing interest compels reflection and tends to secure a mind continually and wholesomely occupied.'

There's a tendency to minimise the difficulty of the work we give to a student who's struggling with reading and writing but sometimes we have to act counter intuitively and allow them a mental challenge.  

Once there is fluency in oral narration - and that will come fairly quickly with an older child if they are given compelling and living books to read - they can begin writing their narrations.
Boys often find it easier to use the computer for this and I noticed a marked improvement in the quality of their work if they didn't have to wrestle with handwriting at the same time.

Tozer had another interesting thought:

Perception of ideas rather than the storing of them should be the aim of education. The mind should be an eye to see with rather than a bin to store facts in. 

I realised in my panic that I was focussing on facts rather than ideas. I was cleaning out out under our stairs yesterday and found a notebook Hoggy used for writing stories in when he was 12 years old. He'd been reading everything by G.A. Henty he could find, after he'd weaned himself off the Redwall series (temporarily) and he was inspired to write his own story. Seven years on I have a different perspective and I can see that the books he was reading were beginning to help form his writing. I think I was looking at all the mechanics; his spelling!! etc and I was anxious because I was concentrating on what he couldn't do rather than seeing that he had been absorbing ideas all along.

It took me awhile to wake up to the fact that it was story that inspired him and that he could write decently well if he had a model to work from. As I gave him more of a challenge with books over a period of time his writing improved and he became more articulate generally. Part of the problem was lack of confidence and that came as even he could see a vast improvement.

This is part of his story I found under the stairs. He had a list of characters and a prologue: 



The story went on for another nine pages.

These are examples of his work after he'd spent time on oral narration:

I got him to read aloud his narrations to me and he'd pick up errors or substitute words if he'd used a certain  word too often. He enjoyed doing various forms of narrations and when we added The Grammar of Poetry during AO 8, he attempted some poetic narrations. I put some of his work on Pinterest. Studied dictation helped with punctuation and spelling, while still using The Spalding Method, which I highly recommend for anyone who finds reading difficult.



So in summary the keys were:

Challenging living books
Regular oral narration 
Studied dictation
A wide variety of written narrations
A good spelling programme

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton has been called one of the greatest thinkers and writers of the 20th century which explains why he's quoted and referred to by people from very different backgrounds and persuasions. His name keeps cropping up when I least expect it. The other day I picked up a book by  Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message, and in the second chapter I read this:

The first time I walked through the noisy streets of Bethlehem and endured its smells, I gained a whole new sense of the difference between our Christmas carols, glamorizing the sweetness of the "little town of Bethlehem," and the harsh reality of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Ah! But it is not a part of the wonder of God's disclosure of reality that He points to what we live with to show us what true living is meant to be?

Pointing the way to the Celestial City

Jesus brought truth to light and a different world to His message. In Him my heart finds its true home.
G.K. Chesterton has captured the wonder in how Jesus' earthly address changes ours, as only he can do.

A Child in a foul stable, 
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know, 
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star, 
To the things that cannot be and that are, 
To the place where God was homeless 
And all men are at home.

Where does Jesus live? Come to Christ and see what it means to live.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Preparing Homeschoolers for University/College Writing

It's been interesting to see how my children have coped with learning at a tertiary level when they've had no experience of institutional schooling. One of the first questions we were asked when people knew we were going to teach our children ourselves was, 'What about university?' Someone quizzed me about this when my eldest was only 2 years of age. We had no idea at the time what we'd do when we got to that stage and I was more concerned about how we would get them entry into university than how they would cope once they were there. I wrote about how we went about that here.
I thought that to gain entry into university you would obviously have to possess the skills needed to do the work required in a particular course. I found out that isn't necessarily the case.

Our daughter Zana is in her fourth year of a double degree - Bachelor of Education/Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English - and is employed by her university to tutor first and second year university students. Much of her time is taken up with helping them with basic things that should have been covered before they left school.
I asked her to share some thoughts on writing essays. Some of what she's written here might not apply to students in other degrees such as science related areas, but there are some general areas such as grammar, structuring an argument, punctuation, spelling, apostrophes and run on sentences that were issues for many of the students she worked with, regardless of the degree they were studying.

"Essentially you need to understand the structure of an essay (thesis statement, introduction, body, conclusion) & how to create an argument that clearly answers the question & stays on topic while incorporating research & secondary sources.

Be aware that academic writing very rarely uses first person, so don't get used to writing essays with "I think" etc in them. That's generally saved for reflection type assessment tasks.

Having an understanding of paraphrasing, referencing & some experience of a referencing style (eg Harvard or APA) would be very useful as this is an area most first year uni students really struggle with. In my first semester of face-to-face university, I had to use 4 different referencing styles. The fact that I'd done two  online units with Open University Australia & therefore knew how to reference using two of the main styles already was really helpful. Referencing guides are readily available by searching on google.
I tutor 1st & 2nd year uni students & I've found that even the students who are good writers will often fall down in these areas.

In relation to exam essays, timed writing is also useful, as often you could have anywhere from 2-12 essays within an exam, depending on the subject. Being able to write at a rate of 10 minutes a page will set you up very well for uni exams. The faster you can interpret a question, brainstorm & write, the better you will perform under exam conditions.

Some Ideas on Preparing for University Writing

--Analyse the question: what exactly are they asking for?
--Outline: short sentences or bullet points. Means that you have a logical sequenced argument that you can then follow while writing to ensure that you stay focused & on topic.

Teach each of these areas specifically & gradually combine them together; keep a lookout for grammar & punctuation mistakes.

Get them to write using a variety of different topics. An essay on a factual topic will require different language & a different type of argument etc to that of an essay on literature"

SAT practice essays are great (even if you don't plan to do the SAT) because they make you think but require more general knowledge & logic than they do specific content knowledge. They're also timed (25min) which is good practice for writing concisely (we also used them un-timed, especially at first).
These are some examples from my daughter and son who were 14 & 17 years old at the time they did them.




I taught them to outline and they practiced taking notes eg. while listening to a sermon at church and then outlining it properly later.
A book like Writers Inc. or some other writing reference book and a grammar rules book is also helpful.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Hildegard's Gift by Megan Hoyt

Hildegard of Bingen (Germany) lived around 1098-1179 A.D. and possessed all the attributes that would have earned her the title of a Renaissance woman had she been born two centuries later.

A few months ago I noticed that Ambleside Online had scheduled her as a composer to be studied later this year and my interest was piqued. I had heard of her years ago but had no idea of her influence and the breadth of her abilities, let alone listened to any of her musical compositions.
A contemporary of Bernard of Clairvaux, she joined the ranks of such luminaries as Augustine, Bede the Venerable and Athanasius, when she was made a Doctor of the Church in 2012.

An online search gave me an indication of the interest generated by her life and work. From university studies and articles from diverse Christian persuasions, to recordings of her compositions by contemporary artists, I found a good amount of information for adults, but nothing for a younger audience.
And then along came this book:

Hildegard's Gift by Megan Hoyt

Hildegard's Gift gives us an insight into the life and times of Hildegard of Bingen, starting with her childhood and her struggle with the gifts she had been given and their expression. The story follows her journey as she enters the Abbey, meets with Bernard of Clairvaux, accepts the call of God on her life and eventually gives voice to her gifts. Hildegard called herself, 'a feather on the breath of God,' and dedicated her life to God and serving others.

This delightful book has 28 pages, and is attractively illustrated by David Hill. It is written for 5 to 10 year olds but the author's inclusion of a number of quotes from Hildegard herself opens the book up to a wider age range, adding depth without over-complicating the story. I think the book would enhance any study of mediaeval times or church music for children.

'There is the music of Heaven in all things, and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.' 

I appreciated the author's intent and belief that every child is God's workmanship created to do good works and each person has a gift to be put to use. Some gifts come wrapped up, as Hildegard experienced, and have to be sought out, and as in her case, may involve a commitment from others to help unwrap that gift. I think this book helps us to see and appreciate the role that we can play in this unwrapping, and the possibility that our role in this area might also extend beyond our own children.

Information on Megan Hoyt and her personal story which inspired her to write this book can be found on her website. It also contains examples of music and paintings by Hildegard, spelt recipes (Hildegard was also interested in health!) and printable colouring pages by the illustrator.

Hildegard's music has found a more recent voice through performances and recordings by groups such as Sequentia, an innovative ensemble for medieval music, and Elfthenthal (see video below), an early music ensemble based in Germany.

The Ambleside Online composer's page has a list of recommended listening and links to you-tube videos of her compositions.

Other websites that I thought were helpful are:

A well written historical aspect:  The Freelance History Writer 
Historical sites related to Hildegard of Bingen.
An article written from an Anglican perspective.
Another from the Christian Worldview Journal.

I was kindly given a free copy of Hildegard's Gift by Paraclete Press for the purpose of this review.