Thursday, March 7, 2013

Volume 1: Spelling, Dictation, and Composition

In these few short sections, Miss Mason gives us some excellent ideas about how children best learn to spell and write...and guess what? It has nothing to do with spelling curricula, spelling lists, or silly composition prompts!

In many cases, she writes, children become poor spellers because the method of dictation in the classroom is faulty. For example, the teacher will read out a passage for her class, repeating each clause or sentence several times, answering questions about words as she goes, and the students simply write things down as they see fit. Later, the teacher will correct the work, underlining misspelled words, which the students are supposed to correct. According to Charlotte, this does not truly help the child "see" the word correctly, and for the rest of their lives, they will see both the misspelled word and the properly spelled one, and will have confusion about which to use. I know this has been the case for me..."separately" is a stumbling block for me. Somewhere along the way, I learned the wrong way and the right way, and I'd be lost without spell-check to help me figure it out! And I have a master's degree in English! No, there simply must be a logical, easy way to make good spellers and writers.

There is, says Miss Mason. Rather than go about a dictation exercise as explained above, she would rather the student be given in advance the passage to be written. They have time, then, to read it, examine it, notice words which might be a challenge, and fix in their mind's eye the way the passage is correctly written. Then, the passage is removed, and the teacher reads one sentence at a time, once and once only. If she notices a student misspelling a word, she covers it, so he doesn't fix the mistake in his mind. In this way, memory is engaged, excellent written material is presented, and there is less fussing over going back over old work, correcting mistakes, etc. The ease of this really speaks to me.

Now, in terms of composition, Charlotte, as you might have guessed, was not a fan of silly writing prompts which demanded the student call upon non-existant life experience in order to write, and rather spoke down to him as an intelligent being. So, for our Charlotte Mason students, under the age of 9, there is very little written composition, because they are still gathering mind stores of material, still soaking in stories, still preparing fertile soil for later use. If they are narrating and reading well, they will later write well.

I continue to be relieved by the sensibleness of Miss Mason's ideas and her confidence in the power of excellent works to form the mind of a child. 


  1. So what do you think about the more modern idea of inventive spelling, allowing the child to write as the words sound to him in the beginning?

  2. Wow! Is that a thing? I'd never heard of that, but I'm not surprised. I'd say I'm not in favor;)

  3. Mason's approach encourages better spelling by teaching the mechanics of writing through copywork and studied dictation well before asking for written narration. Oral narration and wide, varied reading of well-written books build a foundation for composition. It all comes together in the late elementary years.

    I suspect Mason would see invented spelling as flawed because it fixes incorrect spelling in the mind. It is why I take pains to spell correctly even when I text or send instant messages. I once went to a spelling workshop given by someone who specializes in teaching spelling. Because she sees so many words spelled incorrectly, she stated that her own spelling has gotten worse. She sets time aside to study spelling due to the hazards of her job.

    I enjoyed your summary of Mason's sensible approach to language arts.