Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Breaking It Down- Composition

Composition is actually made up of all the Language Arts subjects.

The mechanics of writing (penmanship, spelling, and grammar) are important components, but so are creativity and clarity. All of them are important, especially in this computer age.

You should have your child write about a page’s worth per day by the time they are teens. One day can be a History narration, the next a Science summary, and the next a creative story or a letter to Great Aunt Millie. Creative writing takes practice, so let them practice!

You can find some “How to Write” books at your library, or you can buy a formal teaching program. I like Writing Strands. Many people like Abeka Book, Bob Jones, or Rod and Staff’s text books. They are all good programs.

If you can’t or just don’t want to afford a program, however, the narration, copy work, dictation, and regular writing in History, Science and Bible will produce good writers. This is, in fact, the method Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and Jack London used to learn to write, so your children will be in good company. As they get older you can add writing to editors of newspapers and magazines, companies you like or don’t like or many other things to increase their skill at expressing themselves. Mine now each have a blog and google docs account. They share stories with each other, writing (and discussing over the dinner table) endlessly! One has even finished a novel.

When you are first beginning, as young as four or so, read them a paragraph in an interesting book, such as Beatrice Potter’s Peter Rabbit. Then have them tell you what you just read in their own words. 

You may have to ask questions to get them going at first. “Who was the story about? What did his mother tell him not to do? Did he do it anyway? What happened when the farmer came home?” and so forth. 

I do this with our Bible reading everyday (one sentence plus a picture), History once per week (a paragraph), and with works of fiction occasionally. 

Write down what they tell you, name and date it. If your state requires that you keep a portfolio or if you just want to for keepsakes, you can save a few of these along as samples of their work. Or keep them all in a writing notebook.

Another interesting option is to have them set up a blog (there are several free companies out there). They can post their day’s work and you can read it when you have time. The electronic element can be exciting and fun and would be easy to share with Grandma if you wished.

Oral reports could be given on YouTube, also. This would give your child experience with visual production and who knows where it would lead? 

And just as a note, correct work in Google Docs is easier than with a pen and paper. Just set it on suggestions and anything you type will be in a different color. this way the child can go back and see what they did wrong.

I begin having them write the first word of their narration when they are around six or seven. I gradually work them up to doing their own narrations by nine or so. By eight or nine you can write their narrations down and have them copy them into their own notebooks. Somewhere around nine, they should be able to write their own.

Remedial children need to be taken back to smaller reports or just oral retellings and gradually worked up. Most of them have had their confidence so shattered by the structure of the school classroom that they will need a great deal of encouragement to even get started. Go slow and include two to three times as much praise as criticism.

Around eleven or thirteen, have them write out the main points of an article paragraph by paragraph (outline). Put it away for a week, and then have them rewrite the article in their own words. Compare it with the original. Benjamin Franklin soon got where he felt his version was sometimes better than the original. Maybe you will too.

Now, any English text will tell you that the “proper” way to write is to write down your major points, then your minor points, then flesh it out. Tell your audience what you are going to say in the first paragraph of the essay and the first sentence of each paragraph. Then you say what you are saying. Then tell them what you said in the last sentence of each paragraph and the last paragraph of your essay. 

I don’t know anyone that actually writes this way.

I will use myself as an example. Some relatives from out of town were staying with my mother. She mentioned that I planned to homeschool my then three year old oldest. They asked me why. I said something about liking to teach or something and changed the subject. There was so much that popped into my head I just didn’t know what to say.

Later, the more I stewed on my answer, the more nuts I became. I finally took the advice of a veteran homeschooler that I had heard tell newbies to write down why they were homeschooling and make it into a pamphlet. My only problem was that my font had to keep getting smaller and smaller to hold all the information I wanted to tell everyone.

Then the thought popped into my head that I should know what I would say if someone asked me what to do after they decided to homeschool. I sat down and wrote their question down and then answered it, fully intending to make another pamphlet. It just wouldn’t obey and stay that little, though.

When someone asked for my help, but they had no money whatsoever (Their lights had just been shut off for goodness sake. She had to homeschool because her daughter was ill and couldn’t go to school.) I sat down and wrote out how I would go about it with just the library. Then, while looking at all these essays, pamphlets and notes it dawned on me that it was the very beginning of a book. Only then did I sit down and brainstorm the subject headings.

After I wrote them all down I went through and answered them as if someone was sitting across from me and asking questions. I didn’t write outlines, just wrote the way I talk. Then I rearranged them into an order that made sense to me, did a lot of editing, and let it sit untouched for a while, (Computer crashed. Thankfully, I had printed it out just before hand! Oh the pain the pre-Dropbox days!!!) More editing and adding a few more places as I thought of them and, viola! I have a book.

So, I used the outlining skills I have learned- sort of. But only for editing purposes after my major writing.

I guess my point here is to teach your children how to do it “right,” but give them the freedom to do it wrong, too, Sometimes it is really is right to just start writing and see what happens.

This really is about all there is to it. Composition is probably one of the easiest subjects to teach “from scratch.” I don't actually much bother these days. My kids are, as I said, always writing something. If it isn't one of their stories, it's a refutation of atheistic philosophy to an e-friend on social media. Even my four year old has his own characters he makes up stories about.

How do you grade a composition? The technical skills (spelling, punctuation, etc) I will cover later. I don’t grade the compositions themselves. (Actually I don’t give grades at all. My state doesn’t require it. I just tell the children if their work is acceptable or needs to be redone. Pass or redo.) When looking at it you should only be concerned with style issues (though you can make notes of what needs to be studied in skill areas to use later.)
If you don’t need to grade them for legal records, let them judge the content and effectiveness of their words. 

Have them read the composition themselves and see if it says what they want it to say. 

Put a composition away for a week and then reread it. Kind of let them grade it themselves. 

If it doesn’t say things right, then help them rewrite a new draft. Give suggestions and ask questions, but let them do it their way, especially as they grow older, and form their own style. 

Continuous practice will be the best way for them to learn and improve.

  • Listen to your little ones as they tell you whatever is on their mind, even if you don't know what they are talking about.
  • Ask them questions and have them tell you what they have learned in each subject. Encourage expression in drawing, writing, acting, etc.
  • Encourage them to go back and improve their writings after taking a break from them. 

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