Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chapter 4: Spelling and Composition

I'm grateful that it was my turn to read and discuss this section on Spelling and Composition by Jack Beckman, because I confess I have had some reservations about Miss Mason's theories on these two subjects. Mr. Beckman writes that at first the student is completely absorbed in reading wonderful literature, and not in writing. In fact, it is not until after age 9 that much writing at all should take place. And that's what had me worried:)

"For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know" (p. 148). Of course, they will be writing, in the form of dictation and copy work, but as for lots of original compositions, those are to wait until later. If the focus is rightly on the child's learning, one can easily know how much and how well they are learning through their narrations. The need to "write a narration" simply isn't there, and better to spend the time on piling up a treasure trove of literature and good ideas in their minds. Any written narrations can be simple, based on the child's real life, for example. And of course they are doing copy work too, so they are practicing the mechanics of the written word.

Similarly, no need to worry about formal grammar and spelling. As to the former, it was Miss Mason's observation that it was too abstract and difficult for young children to know and understand all the parts of speech by name. As to the latter, a formal study of spelling is unnecessary. The child who is reading well and broadly will see words spelled correctly, lock them in their minds, and then know how things are to be spelled. The teacher's job is to carefully watch the student's writing and immediately correct misspelled words, so as to erase the incorrect spelling from the child's mind. Mr. Beckman suggests another way to do this is through dictation. The student will discuss with the teacher the words he thinks will give him trouble in a given passage, and after they have been written down correctly, they are taken away, the teacher will dictate the passage, and the student will write it. Having discussed and studied the challenging words in advance, he now knows how to spell them properly. And it is all in the context of a passage from an excellent book, a poem, or a nursery rhyme.

As to children over 9, Miss Mason believed that composition should not be taught as a formal subject until age 14. The student should be engaged in worthy reading, and respond via narration, having moved from oral narration to more written narration after age 9. The student who has been truly engaged in excellent reading will have within them the sentence structure, style, and voice they need to write, and once their minds are ready for more abstract things, the disciplinary subject of grammar can be added. Spelling can be addressed through diction, again, but with longer and longer passages for the older student. When composition truly becomes a subject, Mr. Beckman suggests a process of drafts and editing, with the teacher and student working together. In this way, "issues of content, form, structure, and so on" are addressed and the student can feel confident of success (p. 152)." This delay of the formal composition and grammar seems to fall into line with the Classical Education division of learning into "stages," with the older student being more mentally prepared to tackle more abstract work.

So, I was worried. My fears ran along the lines of "oh my goodness, these children won't be writing! Or leaning to spell! Or learning what a noun is!" And of course, that was silly, because they are learning, through exceptional books, and the formality will come in time. 

1 comment:

  1. This was one of my first concerns as well: "But I loved diagramming sentences!" But when I think back, that love (and it really is a love--I still enjoy it!) really developed in middle school, which is right about when grammar starts to hit the CM curriculum as well. :) And in these few weeks of formal schooling I've done with G and V, I can already see the effect that narration is going to have on composition, as their ability to compose sentences with a linguistic flair is developing thanks to all the great reading we're doing.