Sunday, March 16, 2008

What We've Been Doing for Writing

I found a way of doing writing with my Year 9 son and it is strange because it is so NOT my idealistic, unschooly-CMy way of doing things. Yet it is working; he is happy with it and we've made real progress.

My teaching-writing ideal is the Classical Writing program. I love the progym and I love the way CW presents it. Unfortunately, the logistical problems I have had in figuring out the program are many. I have not given up on it by any means but I won't be able to use it effectively until I modify it to suit my own way of doing things.

I have looked at many composition programs and have not been very happy with any of them. I recently bought Jensen's Format Writing. I have heard it recommended for years by classically homeschooling types. I held off buying it because of that word "format" and because my kids usually do start writing very adequately in their high school years. So what we are doing is working, it just takes a while. But the problem here is that my Year 9 son is going to high school next year (to play football) and he will be plunged into a traditional high school language arts program and we both want any potential "issues" to be diagnosed and corrected before he gets there.

I liked Jensen's Format Writing, but I knew right away that I couldn't just hand it to Sean. The organization and step by step method is admirable to me. I will find it very helpful throughout the years, but I am going to have to use it to teach myself, not give to the kids.

So I was at a standstill, and then one day out of desperation I simply typed out a sheet on the computer -- like this:

Read page 116 Usborne Book of Discovery , then answer in complete sentences (a subject and a predicate).

  • Who were the Vikings?
  • Where did they originally come from?
  • Tell a bit about Erik the Red’s journey.
  • Which Viking set foot in North America first, and when and how did this occur?
  • What people were called the Skraelings, by the Vikings? What happened on the first meeting?

Basically, just an outline of the page in question form. Just like the end-of-chapter questions I remember from my elementary school years. It was so funny to see his face light up with relief. He is a concrete kid and this was just the thing. He zipped through the assignment.

By the end of the week he could write a short paragraph. This week I had him write a 3-paragraph short paper. He has no trouble. He was writing run-on sentences at first, but since we have been working on subject/predicate in grammar we had the terminology to discuss why run-ons are incorrect. I showed him one of those OWL quizzes on run-ons and we went through it together. It clicked and he has been writing correct sentences ever since.

So now finally we can go on to writing papers using more than one source, making a thesis statement, and so many other things. I am not going to have him practice with the silly "talk about yourself" high school assignments that so many of the English 9 syllabi I found online contain. He can deal with those when he comes to them. My goals are to have him able to read and understand a passage, explain what it says in good language, and comment on it reasonably and in orderly sequence. He can use those skills for any type of writing.

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