Archive for the ‘Language Arts’ Category

Revision is not editing

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Miss A Writes a SongImage by Denise Krebs

In Brave Writer, we separate the ideas of revision and editing. Revision is “casting new vision” for the original piece of writing. It’s a “re-imagining” of the original content. You have what you want to say, now you are considering all the various ways it can be said.

Your freewrite/draft is the jet stream of thought. It’s all of it rushing out of the writer onto the page willy-nilly.

Revision is not, now, taking that freewrite/draft and fixing commas or identifying run-on sentences. It’s not addressing tone or spelling mistakes. Those practices fall under the category of “copy-editing.”

Revision is that drastic over-haul type work that literally changes the draft sometimes so completely, the original is hardly recognizable in it any more (except maybe some sentences or the germ of the idea). Revision is where you hunker down and look at specific thoughts expressed insufficiently in the draft, and then determine how to expand them, how to enhance them, how to deepen the content or insight or facts-basis.

Revision IS writing.

In fact, most writers would say that revision is the craft, is the heart of being a writer.

What I find in parents (and even in those who claim to be writing instructors) is a tendency to skip this part of the process. They move right to editing and call it revision.

When asked to give revision notes or support, they draw a blank or they praise what’s good or they give general comments like, “Be sure you think about your audience” or “It’s a good idea to make sure your points are in a solid sequence.”

This kind of general feedback isn’t helpful to writers. What helps is to become a child’s creative partner. What you want to do, what you need to learn how to do, is how to create a dynamic partnership of idea generation.

For instance, you might see a flat-footed opening line (note: they are all flat-footed in the first draft – it’s completely rare that the first line stays the same in well revised writing). Your job isn’t to point out that it is flat-footed or could be revised. It isn’t to assign the task of making it better to your child. It’s literally to brainstorm ideas for improvements. Let’s say the child is writing about white water rafting, you might try something like this:

“I wonder how we can make this opening line grab the reader’s attention. Let me think, let me think. What if we start with the experience—Let’s get in the boat. Are you in it? What’s happening now? Close your eyes. What do you see? Blue? What shades?”

You’re jotting things down as they come out of your child’s mouth.

Then you say, “How about the water? I can imagine there’s a spray. Is there? Yes? Where did it hit? What is a water spray like? Does it remind you of anything? Oh good one! The spray of a garden hose when your brother aims it at you. Good one! Yes! Let’s jot that down.”

You’re wool-gathering. You’re collecting images, experiences, thoughts, curiosities, comments, ideas.

You aren’t telling your child what to do. You’re helping your child think freshly about what is already on the page. You are providing the dialog partner the way you would in conversation—”Then what happened? Oh wait, how did you get there? That must have been amazing! What did your brother say?”

But now, you are focused on writing and you are providing the conversational partnership that your child’s writer needs. You are thinking in writing categories but having discussions about it (natural ones). You aren’t an English teacher. You are an interested friend, partner, ally.

Do you see the difference? Stop the generalizations and get into conversations. Help get those words out.

Then, when you go back to that opening sentence, you have a selection of things to choose from that might grab the reader’s attention. Together, you can find the one and write it in a way that makes magic.

Shared on facebook.

Guest Post: Six Proofreading Tips for Homeschoolers

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Proofreading
Image by Julia Manzerova

The following post is by Nikolas Baron

(Note: this guest post is in line with Brave Writer principles, but we don’t necessarily endorse all of the author’s views or associations.)

‘I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn’d) hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand.’

Those are the words of 17th century playwright, Ben Jonson, about his friend, William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, famously, did not proofread his work, and Jonson was saying that if he had he would have been a much better writer!

All writers make mistakes, but they can’t all get away with them like Shakespeare did. So, though clear and colorful content come first, it’s important for students to know that correcting mistakes is part of the process and that successful writers have trained themselves to edit and proofread their work.

Young writers don’t need to polish every piece of writing they produce, but when they do want to take a story or an essay to completion, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Use a dictionary. Maybe that sounds a bit old-fashioned today, what with all the online help available, but a good dictionary is invaluable and can greatly improve spelling and vocabulary. The same can be said for a thesaurus. The English language is rich in synonyms and using a thesaurus can improve children’s writing immeasurably, as well as increase their awareness of the different ways of saying the same thing.

2. Cheat a little. If children write on the computer, encourage them to use a spellchecker or other online programs that highlight grammatical errors. There’s nothing wrong with a little outside help, and kids can learn from the suggested corrections (emphasis on “suggested,” because it’s okay to break the rules, sometimes).

3. Print it out. Instead of reading a computer screen, print the text. Mistakes can be seen much better that way.

4. Read out loud. Students should read through their work, and the best method is not a silent read through. Our brains tend to see what we think is written rather than what is actually on the page, so the most effective method is to have budding writers read their work aloud. This helps them concentrate on their words in a way that a silent read-through never can. If a sentence runs on and on, children will literally run out of breath when it’s verbalized! They will also hear where those all-important full stops and commas go. Misspelled words will stand out, too. Plus if students have missed a word, or the word order is wrong then they will be able to hear that. English is a highly rhythmic language, so as well as spotting errors more easily, reading out loud helps students decide if their writing “sounds right.”

5. Pick one thing. Proofread for certain features: one read through for spelling, one for full stops, one for commas, and so on.

6. Leave it alone. After finishing a piece of writing have children put it away for a day or two then have them go back and read it through once more. They’ll spot mistakes they missed the first time round, and they’ll also be able to decide if the structure of the piece needs altering.

Using some or all of these techniques will help students polish their writing, and pretty soon they’ll be using them automatically every time they put fingers to keyboard or pick up a pen.

Happy proofreading!

Nikolas Baron is a freelance writer. He works for Grammarly.com –an online program that not only checks spelling but also gives useful advice about commas, full stops, and other tricky punctuation features.

Reading aloud matters

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

The-Wind-in-the-Willows-the-wind-in-the-willows-30730319-630-390

I spent hours of my adult life nestled in the corner of the sectional, feet tucked under me, with a book in my hands. Sometimes a baby sucked on a bulging breast at the same time, and one of those babies didn’t like to listen to my voice resonating through my chest cavity. Some well-timed nips to the nipples drove home that message. Ouch!

Other times a toddler couldn’t be calmed or a middler would knock over the orange juice onto the carpet and the book would get flung back into the library basket. Reading time over! Waving the white flag.

But those were exceptions. We made it a daily priority to read together for an hour. Read aloud time signaled the start to our homeschool day. It was the “coming together” of all of us of all the ages in all our stages, and it told us: “Yes, we homeschooled today.”

Over hummus and olives one Friday night in my friend’s kitchen (homeschoolers really rock the social scene), a bunch of my mom friends and I became animated as we swapped titles and our various reactions to the children’s novels we had read over nearly 10 years time. Better than a book club! We drank wine, we got misty over Anne of Green Gables, and had a wide variety of reactions to Moccasin Trail and Across Five Aprils. We were a wealth of detail about Rome and Egypt (easily could have talked husbands under the table about ancient history—so schmart were we, aided and abetted by fiction for children).

We also laughed about the books that bored us but that thrilled our kids.

For instance, I have no idea what happens in any Redwall book. I got through (operative phrase there) the first one (not as delighted by the woodland feasts and feisty creatures in chain mail as my kidlets), but then somewhere during the second installment, I discovered I could make shopping list, consider the benefits of dying my hair, and respond to angry posters online all in my head while reading, without skipping a sentence. So I’d merrily read along and space out, until that one moment that was sure to give me away at the end of any given chapter:

“Mom what do you think is going to happen next?’

Blink.

“Um…” I scrambled. “I have a hunch the bad guys are preparing to attack the Abbey.”

Yes! That is what they thought! They knew it!

And that, friends, is the correct answer to any question about plot in Redwall. You’re welcome. You may return to kitchen remodeling in your mind.

While in this vigorous conversation about kids’ lit, one of the moms made a remarkable statement:

“I can’t figure out how you all have time to read aloud. We never have time. That’s the one thing we’ve never done in all our years. I just don’t see how it could be fitted in.”

For a tense moment, you could have heard an olive drop to that tiled floor. We were stunned, because what quickly became clear is that there were even a few us (I plead guilty to this charge) who sometimes got little more done in a day than reading aloud. I couldn’t imagine what homeschool would be if you didn’t read books to your kids.

If I had been forced to supervise workbooks all day, every day, for 5 kids, for 17 years without fiction? Without reading Laura Ingalls Wilder? Without discovering Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf or Robert Peck’s Soup? Not getting to read The Shadow Spinner or become enchanted by Toad and Mole and Badger in Wind and the Willows?

My laundry basket of library books, the wide array of reading lists, the hours spent using my voice to share my emotional reactions in real time to the plights and adventures of heroes and heroines I grew to love as my own possession… This was/is the teaching that is/was homeschool to me… to us.

Homeschoolers rightly think reading to our children is about getting them to hear quality language or to learn about history in a story-format or to become familiar with great literature. It is those.

But it’s also this: When you read aloud, your children discover your values and your humanity. They see tears form in the corners of your eyes. They notice the catch in your throat as you describe a tender scene of connection between two estranged characters. They hear you roar with laughter over an inside joke or a cultural touchstone and they want “in” and expect you to help them “get it.”

Big Juicy Conversations

And then you talk. About the book! About that awesome story and your surprise at the ending or how glad you are that it did end well. Forget that odios word “narration” for a moment (it has been used to drub tedious recounting out of children when a Big Juicy Conversation will do so much more).

You talk about who you liked and who you believed and who you rooted for to get what he or she wanted. You talk about the evil stoat or the wicked prince or the confusion that goes with a troubled character who has both admirable qualities and also real flaws. You compare today to then, and here to there. But you do it, filled with emotion and connection, and the sense of your own place in history and on the planet, all in front of your children—showing them a way to interact with each other, with their neighbors, with their fellow country-persons, and even with how they perceive other times and places.

Reading aloud is the chief way in the homeschool you show who you are to your children—and they show themselves to you. It’s the core of education.

I can’t think of any more important practice in the homeschool than the sacred read aloud time.

I’d love you to name titles that stand out in your memory that made good read alouds (include ages they might work for, though I found my kids could listen to virtually anything at any age).

Read to your children every day that you can. You won’t regret it.

Email: What other curricula did I use?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Hi Julie,

Thanks to The Writer’s Jungle, I can now relax and teach writing in a more natural and fun way. Your blog has helped inspire our homeschooling and remind us of what really matters. I like your homeschool style and wonder if I could get your recommendations on any particular materials that you used over the years that you found to be valuable.

murderousmaths

I get the idea that you are probably not the type to use a curriculum – but thought I would ask anyway. I’m sort of a curriculum junkie. I have two daughters, 12 and 10.

For the moment we are using the follow…..

  • Math-U-See
  • Singapore Math
  • Apologia Science
  • History Odyssey
  • Writer’s Jungle and The Arrow
  • Worldly Wise

I’ve wasted a lot of money on plenty of other resources.

Thanks so much,

Susie

——

Hi Susie!

I certainly did use a variety of curricula over the years. Some of it I regret (and cringe to think about now). Some of it I loved and would use again. And then for a period of some years, we unschooled (though the definition of that word varies group to group, but from my perspective, that is who we were).

Some of my favorite resources follow, as well as how I “solved” some of the needs we had where I didn’t purchase curricula. I have omitted choices I regretted.

Math:

  • Miquon Math (For elementary school; combined with Cuisinaire rods—I literally didn’t understand multiplication until these books)
  • Family Math (I loved this book – we did everything in it)
  • Math-It (A game to learn multiplication tables quickly)
  • Keys to… (Fractions, Decimals, Percents)
  • Murderous Maths (Hands-down the most fun we’ve ever had with math; lots of volumes)
  • The I Hate Mathematics Book and Math for Smarty Pants by the Brown Paper School company
  • Saxon Math for Algebra and Geometry
  • Tutoring for math in exchange for writing help between homeschool families
  • Paid tutoring for high school math
  • Parttime enrollment at the local high school

History:

  • Sonlight (back when the Instructor’s Guides weren’t so enormous)
  • Well Trained Mind for a reading list, and Story of the World books
  • Personal rabbit trails and my own interests
  • (My regrets are in this category more than any other so the list appears to be short.)

Science:

  • Charter member of HENSE (Home Educators Neglecting Science Education)
  • Kitchen chemistry experiments from books
  • Ring of Fire Rock Study Kits (These are fabulous!!)
  • DK books
  • A telescope
  • Nature journaling 
  • Bird study through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including their BIG book and course.
  • Biology through our co-op
  • Chemistry through the local high school

Language arts:

Logic:

Art:

  • Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting (Oh My Goddess!! I just googled and all of her “videos” are now online for free. Just the music alone sent me wheeling with memories and happiness. Don’t miss these.)
  • Linnea and Monet’s Garden (Then look at the recommended books and you will see all the others we read and enjoyed!)
  • Any museum in driving distance, regularly visited. Bought the books in the museum shop to review at home.

We also had fun with Ancient Greek, Rosetta Stone Chinese (didn’t get far in it, but it was fun to wet our feet), and Power Glide for French. Still, in the end, it was much easier for my kids to learn foreign languages in school (they attended the local high school for language learning, all except Noah who studied Klingon on his own <g>).

Hope that helps! Would love to hear about other favorite resources in the comments below.

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Great phone call today. Here’s the gist:

Mom: What do I do when my son retells the details of a book or movie or story, but he can’t tell me the overarching narrative that goes with it? Like he can’t say the main plot points. He rambles and gets caught up in details that are non-essential to the plot, but he tells them with so much accuracy and depth, I hate to stop him.

Her son is 11.

My response:

Adults summarize. They can pick out the main points and sequence them. They’ve read 1000s of stories, watched as many films, and are well aware of the narrative arc (plot diagram) by virtue of time on the planet and years logged reading/absorbing “story.”

Kids don’t have this background, and can’t summarize like you. They’re younger. Story is fresh for them. They are beguiled by subplots and character quirks and twists. They chase the shiny object called “weapons,” “cute puppies,” “sassy friends,” “weird creatures,” “magic spells” or “epic battles” and report all that is filling their imaginations to the brink of enthusiasm. When you ask them to tell you about the story, the most exciting, fascinating points overflow. They can’t “sort” the images and emotions. They aren’t likely to sequence events into the narrative arc. They retell the memorable moments, with detail, reliving them in front of you.

Of course, most adults have completely lost the ability to trap details to that extent. Our brains are too busy for detail. We save the important markers and ditch the quirky dialog or style of weaponry. Children can retell with amazing accuracy. We have too many digits, words, experiences, memories, obligations in the way of uncluttered retelling. We hang onto the big picture and file it under “mental notecard” – as in, if asked, this is what I share.

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Being able to summarize is a fairly sophisticated skill. It is possible to cultivate, but please don’t think it a superior skill to retelling in detail. For now, here’s how I want you to proceed:

Start by listening, really closely. Ask real questions that help you understand who, what, where, and when as the child relates the particular scene. You can jot down the responses on separate sheets of paper per scene or image or dialog. Keep these on a table in front of you. Ask for key details (names, places, why such-and-such happened).

Print a plot diagram (a simple one).

Then, with these notes in front of you both, ask some of these questions to help sort the information just shared:

1. Pick up one of the stories: Did this event happen at the beginning, or in the middle, or near the end of the story/film/book? Move the note you took to the right place on the table along the narrative arc. Do that for each of the scenes you’ve jotted down.

2. Ask the child what moment decided the outcome (the climax)? It may be difficult to identify the single one (there are lots of sub-plots in most stories). But the BIG one happens near the end. So direct your child’s attention to the end of the plot line. You can even discuss ones that were important along the way, but weren’t the final key determining factor. That’s a good conversation to have!

3. Talk about the characters. Which character is the most important to the story (without whom, there would be no story)? It’s usually obvious, but not always! The main character is called “the protagonist” and that is the one who is a part of the climax. We figure out who is important by how much we care about what happens to that character. A guide to identifying that character, then, is “Whose story do we care the most about?” Of course, your child may love a character in the subplot, but then you can expand backwards and say, “Who do you think the author wants us to care most about?” That will help differentiate.

4. Now talk about the antagonist (the character that wants to thwart the goal of the main character). Who stands to gain by interrupting the progress of the protagonist?

5. Lastly, ask about the events your child narrated to you. Are these related to the protagonist’s plight? Or are they about side-kick characters? If they are “side-kick characters,” we call these scenes part of the “sub-plot.” A sub-plot keeps the story interesting, adds detail to the main plot, and supplies a distraction or complication when the author needs one. Figure out whether the memorable scenes are plot or subplot.

Retelling: details or summary or both?

Once you’ve collected this data, see if you can put it in a meaningful whole. You might narrate back to your child all the information you’ve collected and demonstrate what it means to put it in sequence. Once you’ve done that, you can ask your child to correct you, add to it, or try his/her own hand at it! Overtime, you can ask the child to take over and create the narration from this material from scratch.

What I hope you’ll take from this post:

Work with what your kids give you! Help them sort it out. Model what it looks like when it matches what you are hoping to hear. Then give them the chance to do it, with your help. Do not abandon your child to your expectations and then wring your hands when they fail. Teach! That’s your job and your privilege.

Images: Children reading by Brave Writer mom, Kort / Girl reading on bed by Personal Creations (cc)

For Email Marketing you can trust