Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back to Basics- Writing

This fall, as we have been in a time of transition as a family, I have needed to get "back to basics" in our homeschool.

Over the years, we have had many subjects going at one time and I have enjoyed planning and implementing different approaches, actually relishing the planning and teaching as I would a treasured hobby. Not so this year! I am tired! The adoption process and the subsequent travel and transition of our awesome new son into our family has left me very little mental energy for "mile-wide" school planning. All of my "systems" that I've used in the past are still what I default to (and I'm so glad to have them in place) but they only work if I *do* them! And it's been slow-going getting back into my tried and true systems of planning and organization. Add to that, that for the first time I have a high schooler, a middle schooler and an elementary schooler. Oh, and add to that that the elementary schooler speaks very, very little English.

So, it's been "back to basics" around here. Here's what I mean by that:

I sit at the park every afternoon while my sons play, practicing their basketball skills, Minte honing his bike-riding skills, all of us enjoying the change of seasons and getting some much-needed exercise. These daily outings to the park have afforded me the opportunity to read back through a few books that have become a lifeline to me as a homeschooler over the years:
  • The Well-Trained Mind -- I LOVE this book because I think it sets forth a vision of excellence, and a buffet of "doable" things- binders, schedules, etc. from which to choose. I *don't* follow it to the letter, but I have always loved how Bauer and Wise inspire me to raise the bar in my homeschool.
So it is, on these afternoons at the park after I walk my laps around the pond, I have sat with my coffee or Diet DP and perused these books, trying to re-energize myself towards our school, refresh my memory on what I've done that has worked in the past, and convince myself the "all is not lost" in certain areas in which I've let us get behind. Yes, we've gotten behind! There, I said it! Over the years we have taken mission trips, taken on ministries, adopted a child, and certain academic areas ::cough::writing::cough::: have slipped through the cracks. Whew, I feel better now that I've admitted it. :)

So. What to do about it? Two weeks ago during my "park reading" I came across a list in Ruth Beechick's language book that helped me greatly as I was mentally lamenting not being as diligent in writing as I should have been. I have read this list many times, it was highlighted in my book, and I have implemented it over the years. But this time I read it with fresh eyes: the eyes of a mom with an English Language Learner, a middle schooler who hates writing, and a high schooler preparing to tackle essays for college prep.

Here is her list of writing skills, leveled in difficulty from easy to hard:

1. Trace a model letter or word.
2. Copy a model word or sentence.
3. Write a sentence from slow dictation, getting all the help necessary to make it correct.
4. Write a familiar sentence from dictation fiven at normal speed and expression. Compare. Write again.
5. Write an unfamiliar sentence from dictation. Compare. Write again.
6. Study a paragraph. Write as it is dictated sentence by sentence in normal expression. compare and correct errors.
7. Write an unfamiliar paragraph from dictation, deciding from the expression how it should be punctuated. Compare. Talk about any differences between your writing and the model. Learn from these differences.
8. Write from dictation a variety of passages which are longer than a paragraph- dialogues, descriptions, news stories, and others. Compare. Learn.
9. Review by repeating two or three times any lesson in which you made too many errors. (If you keep on making many errors, find easier sentences or paragraphs.)
10. Make notes on a passage of writing, put the notes away for a few days, then try to rewrite the passage from your notes. Compare to the model.
11. Find a description, poem, or any short piece of writing that you like. Use it as a pattern to write something of your own.
12. Find a letter to the editor or other piece of writing that you disagree with (wouldn't blogs be great for this? ;) Write your answer.
13. When you have something to say, decide what form you will use- essay, poem, letter, or other- and write your thoughts for someone else to read.

This has helped me so much because as I read this list, I saw it at a sort of "writing continuum." I could see where my ELL-son is. I could see where my 7th-grade-writing-hater is. I can see not only where they currently fall on the "continuum" but where we need to back up, review and practice in order to get our "writing feet" back under us and keep taking those steps.

Dr. Beechick goes on to expound on implementing these steps as well as give grade level guidelines, discuss spelling, and give sample lessons in the book, so I encourage you to get it (it's only $4.00 new on Amazon, and only $.01 from some sellers!). But just this list of steps has helped me to assess my kids writing "skill level" and realize that all I need to do is back up a "step" and do that for awhile. Another thing I've had to do is give myself (and my writing-avoidant son!) a LOT of grace. So, rather than struggling, we've simply been doing some well-chosen copywork and dictation. He's reminding his brain what good writing sounds and feels like. Just like a piano student plays songs that have been been written and performed by many others before him so he can learn the technique, a writing student can copy beautiful pieces of writing that have stood the test of time. My English-language-learner son can copy modeled letters and words. I know what they can do and what the next step is. I can get out of "analysis paralysis" and take some actual steps.

I just wanted to share something that is working for us, and encourage you during this season when so many of us typically slow down school for the holidays (a good thing) but then get disheartened as we reflect on what isn't working or what we didn't get done this fall (a bad thing.) All is not lost! Maybe you just need to stop, take an honest look at where you are and get "back to basics."

1 comment:

School for Us said...

Thanks for posting this list! It reminds me of something I've been neglecting, too...


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