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.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Education is a Life

Recently I've been reading books by three very different authors - G.K. Chesterton, Charlotte Mason and A.W.Tozer - and they all touched on a similar idea with their own unique perspectives:
there should be no separation between the secular and the sacred.

But it would be well if we could hinder in our children's minds the rise of a wall of separation between things sacred and things so-called secular, by making them feel that all 'sound learning,' as well as all 'religious instruction,' falls within the office of God, the Holy Spirit, the supreme educator of mankind.
Charlotte Mason 
As a home educator I can get sidetracked into this division when I feel the weight of responsibility for our children's education. I need to remind myself of what education really means.

The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection...
I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.
Of Education: John Milton (1608-1674)

 Reading Utopia by Sir Thomas More

You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera, 
And before the concert and the pantomime, 
And grace before I open a book, 
And grace before sketching, painting, 
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; 
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

You are not worshiping God as you should if you have departmentalized your life so that some areas worship and other parts do not worship.
A.W. Tozer 

A Flowering Bromeliad - occurs every two years

The Apostle Paul teaches that every simple act of our lives may be sacramental. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." And again, "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him."

Some of the great saints, who were great because they took such admonitions seriously and sought to practice them, managed to achieve the sanctification of the secular, or perhaps I should say the abolition of the secular. Their attitude toward life's common things raised those above the common and imparted to them an aura of divinity.
A.W. Tozer (The Dwelling Place of God) 

Hands to Work, Hearts to God 

...a human being comes into the world, not to develop his faculties nor to acquire knowledge, nor even to earn his living, but to establish certain relations; which relations are to him the means of immeasurable expansion and fulness of living. 
Charlotte Mason 

A Little Frog (1cm long) on the Trampoline

Education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness and beauty...
Circe Institute 

The Birthday by Marc Chagall

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.

George Herbert

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Whatever Happened to Worship by A. W. Tozer

Before Tozer died in 1963, he had expressed his concern that worship is largely missing from the church. He wanted to write one more book on the theme of the worship of God. He didn't get to write the book but a series of recorded sermons from 1962 made it possible to collate and edit his messages on worship and the result was Whatever Happened to Worship.
This book has a different tone from The Pursuit of God, which was published in 1948, possibly due to the fact that he didn't actually write this book. The first book was meaty and reflective; the compilation of sermons in the last book were punchy and pointed.

Tozer stresses that true worship must always be in spirit and in truth and that it is possible to have a form of worship and a religious experience that is not acceptable to God.

Some people let their worship begin and end with nature. This was me before I came to know the one true God. I thought nature was magnificent before I knew God but I was only seeing it through gauze compared to the wonder I saw when the veil was lifted from my eyes. I'd been worshiping a created thing and not the One who created it. I was worshiping unacceptably.
Tozer speaks about the godly men of ancient times such as Isaiah who,

...revealed in their writings that they were intensely in love with every natural beauty around them. But they always saw nature as the handiwork of an all-powerful, all-wise, glorious Creator.

He said that one of the greatest tragedies is the failure of men and women to discover why they were born and that there is an almost universal denial of the fall of the human race as recorded in the book of Genesis. As a result of the terrible injury we received in the fall, we have a numbing amnesia and we no longer know the purpose of our existence.

Numbness is not a good sign. If I woke up and couldn't feel an arm or a leg I'd be concerned. I wouldn't muck around or ignore the numbness. I'd take action and find out what the problem was. But I had spiritual amnesia as a result of the fall and I ignored it until a crisis occurred in my life and jolted me into acknowledging it.

I was created to worship and praise God. I was redeemed that I should worship Him and enjoy Him forever.

That is the primary issue...

God is not asking you to come to Christ just to attain peace of mind or to make you a better businessman or woman. You were created to worship. God wants you to know His redemption so you will desire to worship and praise Him.

...many Christians repent only for what they do, rather than for what they are.

Sometimes I'm asked if I would have done anything differently, in hindsight, as a mother or home educator but I have no real regrets about what we did or used or didn't do or didn't use. My regrets stem from who I was.

Real worship is, among other things, a feeling about the Lord our God. It is in our hearts. And we must be willing to express it in an appropriate manner.

What many of us do not understand is that all beautiful things, so pleasant to the eyes and ears, are only the external counterparts of a deeper and more enduring beauty - that which we call moral beauty.

In relation to Jesus Christ, it has been the uniqueness and the perfection of His moral beauty that has charmed even those who claimed to be His enemies throughout the centuries if history.

If you cannot worship the Lord in the midst of your responsibilities on Monday, it is not very likely that you were worshiping on Sunday!
We were part of a church for many years that used the term 'song service' as opposed to 'worship service,' to foster the understanding that worship isn't limited to a time or place but is part of our daily lives. Now when I hear musicians referred to as the 'worship team,' or the song leader called a 'worship leader,' I wonder if it helps to produce an incorrect view of worship - just a thought.
You are not worshiping God as you should if you have departmentalized your life so that some areas worship and other parts do not worship.

I'll finish with a quote I needed to read and which encouraged me very much:

A young man talked to me about his spiritual life. He had been a Christian for several years, but he was concerned that he might not be fulfilling the will of God for his life. He spoke of coldness of heart and lack of spiritual power. I could tell he was discouraged - and afraid of hardness of heart.

I gave him a helpful expression which has come from the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux: "My brother, only the heart is hard that does not know it is hard. Only he is hardened who does not know he is hardened. When we are concerned for our coldness, it is because of the yearning God has put there. God has not rejected us."

God puts the yearning and desire in our hearts, and He does not turn away and thus mock us.