There is a right way—a methodology—for teaching writing and if followed, your children will become proficient if not skilled writers.
Unfortunately, our modern educational system does not teach writing well. In fact, poor writing is the biggest complaint of college professors and is why most every student who enters university must take a remedial writing class their first semester.
Doesn’t it seem bizarre that students are forced to churn out essay after essay from early grade school through high school, yet enter college unable to write? It seems strange that trained professional English teachers are unable to produce students who can write, doesn’t it?
The fact is, many professional teachers do not feel equipped to teach students to write. A recent study obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald revealed half of the teachers surveyed felt they were underprepared to teach writing. Two-thirds said not only were they not trained to teach grammar, punctuation, spelling, paragraphing, and sentence structure, but they lacked the confidence to grade or give feedback on student writing.
DEVELOPING EXCELLENT WRITERS
Teaching children to write is probably one of the most misunderstood arts in education.
However, Charlotte Mason knew exactly what it took to produce brilliant writers. Her methodology was not only sound, but quite easily accomplished.
There are five basic methods for accomplishing the goal of developing skilled writers. Some of them you are already doing. These five absolutely essential ingredients are:
- Copywork or transcribing
- Oral narration
- Written narration
- Creative notebooking
- Living books
These methods synchronize and progress through a child’s education, resulting in proficient writers, excellent writers even. Does this seem too easy? Well, it actually is!
But the problem with things that seem too easy is we have hard time believing they’ll accomplish the goal.
Over the next few posts, I’ll dive deep and show you why these methods are essential and how to use them in your homeschool. But let’s start with transcribing, also known as copywork.
Be on the lookout for my new Bible Copywork curriculum. Not only will it develop the skill of writing, it will impart spiritual truth and build spiritual maturity in your children. I’ll be introducing the curriculum in next week’s newsletter and subscribers will receive 50% off a digital download of the full 28 week curriculum.
EMULATION RESULTS IN MASTERY
Did you know that the greatest master artists of all time learned their skills through copying the works of other great masters? Making exact replicas of another artist’s work formed an essential part of artistic training for centuries. In this act of replication, students learned the method of the artist, his manner of approach to movement, expression, form and beauty. They discovered the art of mixing and gradations of color from dark to light. They learned to create shadows and sunlight, and even understood the use of symbolism in art.
So critical was this process of learning through copying that only after an artist had demonstrated mastery of emulation would he be allowed to progress to creating works of his (or her) own design. In fact, when the Louvre opened in 1793, exactly half the month was set aside to train artists in the work of studying and emulating the masters.
COPYWORK IS ESSENTIAL
Writing is an art. And like the art of painting or sculpting, it is best learned through imitation.
This is why copywork is a fundamental and necessary tool when teaching children to be skilled writers.
And what’s truly amazing about this methodology is you, yourself, do not have to be an exceptional writer to teach your children to write well. All you have to do is incorporate copywork into your children’s weekly routine to grow the neural pathways necessary to create an excellent wordsmith.
Copywork teaches handwriting, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, sentence structure, and—if passages are carefully curated—character and spiritual maturity.
It seems too easy.
Can it really be that copying excellent sentences is all it takes to develop the skill of writing sentences with excellence? Is it truly possible that copying a well written paragraph will result in a child with the skills of a wordsmith?
Yes! It is that simple. But it takes years. Years and years of the slow but sure progression in the training of the eye to see, the hand to write, and the mind to develop. It starts small…a phrase, a sentence, two thoughts, a quote. Then, gradually, the mind is transformed into a writing machine.
KEEPING A BOOK OF COMMON PLACE
Every child, as soon as he is able, should have in his care a book of common place where he transcribes his favorite passages, verses, scriptures, and quotes. This was a common practice of young scholars for the last six hundred years. Only recently has this fallen out of practice.
And we can see the disastrous results in today’s culture.
Charlotte Mason tells us,
“A certain sense of possession and delight may be added…if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure.”
John Locke, one of the greatest minds in educating youth, wrote an entire treatise on the proper use of a book of common place called Organizing Common Place Books (1706). For many years after the induction of the printing press, scholars had their common place books published for the edification of others.
Did you know that all our founding fathers kept a common place book? The greatest thinkers of our past were dedicated to compiling their own living book of important and valuable thoughts. This trained their thinking skills and honed their writing skills.
Most importantly, it kept truth and beauty at the forefront, visible to their eyes, so that right thinking would not be forgotten. Shouldn’t we be doing the same? Shouldn’t our children be taught to do so as well?
One thing is certain, when a child is struck by a passage and feels a connection to its truth, it’s likely he’ll forget the impact. As time moves on, the child will become more and more enamored with the idle ways of the culture in which he is immersed.
Yet when the child takes a moment to transcribe his impressions, he is less likely to be easily swayed by cultural norms. He has a record of great thoughts that were personal and powerful to him. Throughout his education, the child will add to and constantly review the important passages that impacted his spirit.
John Quincy Adams, at the age of ten, wrote in a postscript to his father, John Adams:
P.S. Sir, if you will please be so good as to favor me with a blank book, I will transcribe the most remarkable passages I meet with in my reading, which will serve to fix them upon my mind.
Of all the ways we can help our children improve as writers, fixing great thoughts upon their mind is by far the most important.
My Book of Common Place is available for purchase here.
Yet, as John Quincy tells us, any blank book that will become part and parcel of your child’s education will do.
BUILDING THE SKILL OF COPYWORK
Here are a few things you should do to build the skill of writing through copywork.
- Ensure the copywork font is a handwriting font and not a print font.
- When your child is first learning to transcribe, choose copywork that has a space directly below the printed word for the child to copy exactly what he sees.
- Offer your early writers primary lines with a center-dashed line.
- Begin with short writing samples or passages that gradually increase as your child’s skills do. Start with letters to words to phrases to sentences to passages over the course of his education. It’s a process. Don’t try to skip ahead or push for more than your child is developmentally ready for. Let the skills, muscles, and brain develop over time for the best end results.
- Choose passages with care. Passages from your child’s reading that teach character are ideal.
- Encourage creative expression with visual narration and illustrations when appropriate.
Transcribing is where writing begins, developing over time into a natural skill. By implementing this regular practice in your homeschool, you’ll be well on the way to developing authentic, skilled and excellent writers.
Next week, I’ll discuss the process of creative expression through oral and then written narration and will tell you how to maximize the benefits of both methods.