Writing: How we are doing it this year

Dear Reader,

I find that writing curricula is a subject that comes up a lot in conversation, don’t you? It seems to be an area in which we homeschool moms particularly struggle with what to do and how to do it. And I think it is a hard area for us to be both parent and teacher in. One’s writing can be  a very personal subject, and it is not easy to get critical feedback on it. So this subject becomes a struggle for both parent and child.

I have two children who are of an age where they should be doing some writing. They are entering 6th and 7th grades. They did take a writing class two years ago which was wonderful. It got them writing a lot and also taught them some skills to make their writing more interesting and readable. It discussed words like character and setting and plot.

But since then, we have not done much deliberately in the way of writing. We read a lot and narrate both orally and in written form. At the end of a few history units (but not every one) I asked them to write me essays telling me what they knew on specific subjects. I gave suggestions, but they got to pick the subjects. So, for instance, one might tell me what they knew about the Greek gods and another about Archimedes.

I also at one point attempted to reach essay writing. We briefly discussed introductions and conclusions and having a few points to make in the middle, then I let them pick subjects and write. My daughter wrote on how developments in media changed art (for example, the invention of watercolor paints allowing artists to move outside to paint). Art is a subject she knows and loves.

My son went a different route. He wrote me a very long essay on different kinds of dragons. Call it part essay and part creative writing.

But all that was last year and I feel that it was mostly haphazard. There wasn’t a lot of planning or organization to it on my part. Nor was there a lot of regularity to our writing. So this year I have resolved to assign writing more regularly.

I have friends who use the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). From what I have heard, this sound like way too much busywork to me. It sounds like they spend a lot of time reading reference-type books like encyclopedias or Usborne books and then outlining and rewriting in their own words. One particular friend who uses this program is very interested in promoting academic writing skills but sees not much value in creative writing. From what I have heard of the IEW program, it deosn’t aloow for much creativity and also can be very particular about what it watsn, eg. “use twelve descriptive words in your answer.” This is not what I was looking for. Personally, I wish most academic writers had had more background in making their writing interesting and enjoyable to read.

Another resource I bought and read through was the Writer’s Jungle. This is a very Charlotte Mason-styled approach to writing (I am a big fan of CM-style educating). I found it very interesting to read, and it contains many helpful hints. So my initial plan was to follow its plan and have them do free-writes once a week for a few weeks and then pick one of these to edit. But something about the idea of free-writes seems hard to me. Hard for me to make time for it in our schedule and enforce it. Hard for them to have to think of things to write. It seems like it would lead to me hanging over them saying things like “You have to do at least 10 minutes.”

Then I ran across the idea of the progymnasmata. This is a classical way of teaching writing. I am not a big fan of the classical approach to homeschooling, but there is something here that appeal to me. The brief explanation is that one looks at an example of classical writing, writes some sort of outline or very brief summary of the work, rewrites the selection in their own words (basically a written narration), and then rewrites it again but with some sort of expansion or change. You might, for instance, change which character’s perspective is given, change the tone, or change the setting. The normal procedure seems to be to start with Aesop’s fables and then more on to narrative passages and then later to other more complicated forms.

There are a lot of curricula out there to help one with this process. I have bought this one and looked at others online. Mostly, I find them too fiddly and with too much added busy work. But I still like the basic idea. I like that we start with Aesop. We began learning to narrate with his fables and found that worked very well. I like that the kids can be creative but do not need to come up with entirely new ideas of what to write on their own. I like that we are copying the style and forms of classical writing. It reminds me of all those artists one reads about who learned to paint by copying the great masters. I see a distinct advantage over the IEW approach which begins with very dry writing. The idea with the progym is to learn to write from those who can write.

So my plan this year for my two oldest is to attempt something progym-like every two weeks. I do have one book to go to for ideas, but I have also just picked up some from the internet. So far we have done this twice. The first time, we used a fable (I was inspired by this website’s free samples for this first assignment). I read it aloud, they narrated it orally to me, they wrote three key words from each sentence as a sort of outline/notes on the fable, then they rewrote the fable trying to make it about the same length as the original. Then they rewrote it changing something about the fable. My son changed the perspective, making it from one character’s viewpoint and also (perhaps intentionally) giving it a old-style detective story feel. My daughter changed details in the story about how the characters helped each other and made a much longer fable.

The second time, we began with the story of Icarus which I read from D’Aulaire’s book of Greek myths (I got the idea for this one here). It is just a short section within another story in this book, but it was long enough for our purposes. This time we answered a reporter’s questions with regard to the story: who, what, when, where, why and how. And then they wrote a newspaper article-style account of the events. We had talked the day before about what a newspaper story looks and sounds like.

We have a week before the next session.I think we will probably do another fable though I haven’t decided which yet. I like that this method is creative but doesn’t leave kids to come up with ideas completely on their own. I also like that they can get practice with different styles of writing. I would like to see them turn some prose into poetry at this point. For this year, our focus will be on fable and narrative, and  I will save looking at the later forms that make up the progym for future years.

So that’s our plan for writing this year. What’s yours? Have you found any good resources which work well without being burdensome? How do you balance creative writing and more academic writing?

Nebby

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10 responses to this post.

  1. […] Letters From Nebby ::: Writing – How we are doing it this year […]

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  2. […] methods and what they ended up doing for writing this year.  Get some ideas in the post – Writing: How we are doing it this year  Petticoat Government offers a discussion of memorization in their home schooling in part […]

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  3. […] I wonder how does this affect my homeschool? Are there lessons here I can learn? What can I apply? Writing is an area we have been revamping this year so this has given me a lot of food for […]

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  4. […] Now I have been doing some writing this year with my 10 and 12-year-olds. Though my aim is to have imitate good writing. They are not typical composition lessons nor are they frequent. We also do some grammar, but I try not to belabor it. I am not sure if it is truly helpful, but I am not sure I can give up the traditional methods entirely either. […]

    Reply

  5. […] am pleased to say that the approach we have taken to writing this year does rely upon looking at works of writing and trying to imitate them. I think of it as something […]

    Reply

  6. […] have posted about how we are doing writing this year and some thoughts on the traditional 5-paragraph essay. In an effort to apply my new ideas, I had my […]

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  7. […] have blogged previously on our attempts this year to follow something like the progymnasmata,  a classical approach to […]

    Reply

  8. […] and then rewrite the information in his own words. While the process is not hugely different from what we have done for writing in the past year, the use of dry books like Usborne makes me cringe inside. Now I don’t know if the kind of […]

    Reply

  9. […] out on their own and say “write something creative.” Instead they do basically what we have been doing, they have children base their compositions on good writing. The end result that an IEW lesson […]

    Reply

  10. […] 4. Language Arts — For the older two this consists of prepared dictation using Spelling Wisdom volume 3. This is our first year using this curriculum though we have done dictation in the past. We will spend 3 days on each passage, one just reading over it and discussing what might be troublesome points, one analyzing its grammar based on KISS  grammar’s approach, and one doing the actual dictation. We have in the past used Spelling Power and may get back to it later in the year. The younger two will use volume 1 of Spelling Wisdom, doing copywork rather than dictation. They will also do cursive handwriting using Handwriting without Tears. I may also have the older two do some longer writing assignments as we have in the past. […]

    Reply

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