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 the child what to do. You’re helping the 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.

Cross-posted 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

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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.

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.

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.

Enticing kids to read: Practical tips!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

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Practical tips to encourage reading:
Sometimes you love to read, your kids love to hear you read, and the whole family walks around with a nose in a book or up against the screen of a Kindle. But maybe your family has a kid or two or three who finds the work of reading a deterrent to actually doing it. They love stories—books on CD, movies, cartoons. They may enjoy comic books. But the sustained effort to read a novel is challenging. And being the conscientious wonderful parent that you are, you are now worried. What to do!

I have a few tips today to offer you. Feel free to add more in the comments.

1) Create a cozy reading space.
Hidey-holes are particularly popular. Pick a corner of a room where people are (no isolated space gets used in a homeschool family so make this space a part of the family activity), prop a pillow or two up against the wall and place one on the floor (a bean bag chair works too, or a futon). Next to the floor-level cushiony space, situate a basket with books in it (tempting ones, a range – fiction, non-fiction, short, long, easy, challenging). Next to the basket, add a small low table with a lamp on it. Or alternatively (to “up the cool factor”), put a clip light in the basket for the child to attach to the book itself to provide lighting. Be sure (if it’s winter where you are) to add a cozy blanket to snuggle under. Specify that the corner is for reading, not for any other activity. Any child may go there any time he or she wants to read, even if only for a couple of minutes. (In big families, you may need several hidey-holes—don’t forget hidey-holes under tables or near fireplaces or behind sofas, too.)

2) Write personal notes in the book that the child is going to read.
DSCN7073.JPGMy daughter does this for siblings when she loans a book. She writes notes at particular moments in the story in the margins for the sibling to read. These might be comments like “Bet you didn’t see that coming!” or “Isn’t so-and-so a jerk?” or “Tell me when you get to this chapter so we can discuss. It’s so infuriating!” Knowing that these notes are in the margins waiting to be discovered can help a child sustain attention to keep reading just so he or she can see what you wanted to say to him or her.
 
 
3) Light a candle for “reading time.”
Blue and yellow Everyone in the family reads while the candle is lit. Start with 5 minutes of silent, family reading and build over a period of weeks to 15 or 20. During the “reading time,” no one will get up to get a glass of juice or a snack for a sibling or child. No one will pull out the Legos and build a fort (unless you have some pre-readers who need to do something while everyone reads). When the candle is extinguished, reading time is over, talking and noise resume.
 
 
 
4) My mom’s tip for reading worked wonderfully for my siblings and me.
She sent us to bed at whatever bedtime was the current one. But she always told us we could stay up as late as we liked as long as we were reading in bed. This strategy had two benefits. First, we found ourselves reading every night because, in part, it meant we got to stay up late. Second, we wanted to go to bed to read to find out what happened after we fell asleep with the light on the night before—it made the whole “getting to bed” routine much less of a big deal and it turned all of us into readers!

5) Go to the library on a regular basis.
Even if you have digital books aplenty, there is something about walking through the stacks and getting to pick out your own books that makes the library a fabulous incentive for reading. Don’t worry if your child picks books and doesn’t read them or doesn’t finish them. The accumulation of information, language, and story from repeated visits, paging through books, reading some, ignoring others, will generate more reading later. Only good can come of it!

Hope some of these help you and your reluctant readers!
 
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5 tips to get you back in gear

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

DSCN3023.JPG Happy New Year, Brave Writer families!

Too bad we can’t settle into a “long winter’s nap” right about now. January insists that you be productive, so let’s look at 5 ways to do it that I hope are relatively painfree.

If you live down under: You just finished your big holiday and it’s summer vacation. Rock it! Have a great time. We in the north envy you, but we know it’s well deserved.

  1. Coziness first
    It’s winter in the northern hemisphere. Everyone is nicer to each other under cuddly blankets or with fires roaring or with tea and candles. Don’t “hit the workbooks” so much as invite everyone back to the routine with a little attention to snuggling and pleasing natural light. Remember that winter can create a sinking feeling—moodiness, depression, pessimism, loneliness—all due to loss of sunlight. So bring some inside and warm up the space. Keeping tables and counters clear seems to matter more in winter too.

  2. Read alouds second
    Nothing says “gentle return to education” like a new novel to read together. Pick something you loved as a child (not a new novel). This is “comfort food” time. Find the joy in the novels of your youth (pair it with The Arrow, if we have an issue created for it). This month’s issue (Jan 2013) is for Little Town on the Prairie (my favorite children’s book series of all time). You might also love reading Wind in the Willows to help foster the coziness you need (how can you resist Mole’s home?). Check out the Already Published Issues of The Arrow for more ideas.

    For older kids, you might simply designate a time that everyone reads to themselves at the same time. Shared reading time, with a fire, is amazingly intimate. It creates a dynamic of valuing literature and private reading experience, while also giving the home a moment of silence (akin to when a newborn baby is sleeping and a hush comes over the space). The Boomerang Already Published Issues is a great place to find titles to read.

  3. Make one plan
    Plan ahead and execute the One Thing you’ve been meaning to do all fall but never got to it. Check out our blog entry on how to focus on one thing at a time.
  4. Go on a field trip to…
    A nature center, a ski lodge, the library, an art museum, the movie theater, the zoo, a restaurant from another culture, your best friend’s house, McDonald’s playland (yes, sometimes that’s even a good idea in January), a shopping trip to China Town, or Little Saigon, or the Italian Quarter. Pick one. Plan it. Do it. Get OUT of the house.
  5. Add one novelty item to your homeschool
    This could be a new set of watercolors with an easel. You might purchase a whole set of dinosaur cookie cutters to go with your dinosaur unit and you will make playdoh and do cut outs. Maybe you add a bird feeder to the nearby tree and spend some time each day noting which birds show up. Get a new strategy board game or several decks of cards and teach everyone Solitaire. Even a new sled (for outside) or a mini trampoline (for the garage or basement) can inject some lively activity when you start to feel trapped indoors.

The main thing to remember is that January is the middle of the year. You can actually plug along nicely in your traditional education work (math, science, grammar work, reading, writing) because the quieter, slower months are conducive to all of that. Just remember to not let cabin fever take over. In those moments, remind yourself of this list and pick ONE to do!

09 Interview with author Melissa Wiley

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

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Today’s podcast (podcast player at the bottom of this entry) features children’s author and home educator, Melissa Wiley.

Melissa and I met in 2005 online and instantly formed a wonderful connection around writing and homeschool. Her most recent children’s novel, The Prairie Thief, is the featured title for the October Arrow. You may purchase it here: The Prairie Thief at Amazon.com

 

Check out Melissa’s website and blog, too. Her blog, Here in the Bonny Glen, is a treasure trove of home education insight, poetry sharing, and reviews of her favorite children’s books. You might enjoy reading her entry titled “Hurrah for Brave Writer,” too.

I loved my conversation with Melissa so much, we rolled right by our usual 30 minute time limit and chatted for nearly an hour! I hope you enjoy getting to know Melissa as much as I have. We’re offering a special deal for the issue of The Arrow that goes with The Prairie Thief, which will be published on October 1, 2012.

If you’d like to purchase The Prairie Thief Arrow go here.

The Arrow is a monthly digital product that features copywork and dictation passages from a specific read aloud novel. It’s geared toward children ages 8-11 and is an indispensable tool for parents who want to teach language arts in a natural, literature-bathed context.

Do a little violence to words

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Homeschool tip of the day:
It’s about time we take back our power in language. We are not controlled by Mrs. Cox, the ghost of public school past sitting on our left shoulders. We are free. We are at home. Let’s figure out how to make writing a freeing, liberating, sparkly experience, shall we?

You know how we let our kids take apart an old phone or toaster to see how it’s made, to learn how to use a screw driver, and to have the satisfaction of working on a “real” household item? That’s a great thing, isn’t it? Little screws lying on the ground, bits of wire, the metal tray, the coils that heat… It’s amazing to see it in pieces and to marvel at the fact that someone knew how to put these bits of metal and wire together to make a tool that burns our toast! Taking the toaster apart is more effective to teach us about the toaster than studying it in a book or even making toast, right?

Some of us have rooms dedicated to art exploration—a similar freedom to discover. We might keep an easel, paints and brushes available any time, a tray of pastels or colored pencils, and stacks of scratch paper.

Still others of us will collect musical instruments—percussion and piano, recorders and flutes, and two kinds of guitars! Or maybe we’re the kind of family who has a whole slew of balls, frisbees, hockey sticks, hoops, and goals available to practice a favorite sport or to learn a new one.

We know that play and exploration produce learning.

By contrast, we’re reluctant to play with, take apart, explore, and mess with language. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the grammar hangover from school where teachers are more about accuracy than inspiration.

Flip the script.

What if your house had an accuracy-free play-zone for words? What would be in it? How about a variety of writing utensils (gel pens, fountain pens, markers, sidewalk chalk, calligraphy quills, crayons, lipstick)? How about some unique writing surfaces (butcher paper taped in a big sheet to a wall, dry erase board, chalkboard, clipboard, various sizes of lined paper, cards, notecards, postcards, an iPad, a mirror, colored paper)?

How about making a stack of notecards with all the words you like—a whole big mixture of words you collect for a week, one per card?

How about putting individual punctuation marks on notecards (a comma card, a period card, an exclamation point card, a quotation marks card, a question marks card – or several of each!)? Then use your word notecards to make a sentence and lay the punctuation marks where you want them to go. Walk around the room and lay them out on the floor. If you want, you can use big poster boards rather than tiny notecards.

Begin by punctuating it all wrong, first. See what happens when you start a sentence with a period or an exclamation point? What if you put one in the middle of the sentence?

What new uses of these marks can you think of?

Are you getting the idea? Language is not meant to be treated like an antiseptic vaccine. It’s a toy! Play with it! See what happens. Discover how the pieces of language and writing work together to create meaning and joy, communication and inspiration.

Still not getting it? Maybe this will help.

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Despite the nearly 100 pages of content on this website, sometimes moms have a hard time wrapping their brains around Brave Writer. They ask questions like:

  • What grade levels is it for?
  • Why is The Writer’s Jungle so expensive?
  • Do I need any other writing program if I use Brave Writer materials?
  • What do I do once I’ve worked through The Writer’s Jungle? Do I go on to some other program or can I keep going with Brave Writer?
  • What’s the difference between the Arrow and The Writer’s Jungle?

I’ve answered these questions throughout the website, including a Frequently Asked Questions section (that is, unfortunately, not clearly visible on the home page – that’s changing). Still, sometimes it helps to have another run down.

With all the new visitors and emails flying into my in-box, I thought I’d take a moment to give you another way to think about Brave Writer.

Brave Writer requires a paradigm shift in how you think about writing.

Like any paradigm shift, it feels “wrong” at first, even though you also feel drawn to it. Brave Writer is not about programmatic writing. It’s not organized by grade level. It’s organized by developmental stages of growth. These stages are clearly described in detail in Chapter 14 of The Writer’s Jungle.

The reason you may feel flustered by Brave Writer is that it requires you to consider each individual child’s needs and then match the right products to him or her. That’s a bigger challenge initially than clicking on “1st grade” and buying the 1st Grade Package. But the up side is this: we offer TONS of support (email, phone calls, blog comments, Facebook page, texting, and more) to ensure that you buy the right products for your particular family. That’s why we charge what we do. Once you enter the world of Brave Writer, we take care of you and your kids. You have access to me (Julie Bogart) and my staff.

The Writer’s Jungle is not a “curriculum” in the sense of schedule, assignments, and grade level. It’s both a resource for you, the mother or father who needs to understand how to be a homeschooling parent and writing coach simultaneously without damaging your relationship with your child, as well as a tool with processes and exercises to help you and your children establish a writing process that is tailored to your unique child. See how different that is? It helps you to execute ANY writing you do with your child, in any other curriculum you are already using. It’s the manual that tells you HOW to teach writing, not WHAT to teach.

Can you feel the difference?

It’s not: “Write a descriptive paragraph, using a topic sentence, an “ly” word for the second sentence, and a clincher for the last sentence.”

It is: “Delightful child of mine: you have so much to say. Let’s see how we can get that captured on paper in any way we can so that you and I can play with your ideas and thoughts, so we can expand them, enjoy them, and share them with others. Let’s discover all the cool, interesting thoughts inside you. I’m on your team and I have some tricks up my sleeve for how we can make writing comfortable, interesting, less taxing, more satisfying, and even enjoyable. You deserve that. Have a brownie.”

Brave Writer products facilitate writing growth through a specific set of ideas about writing.

These are:

When growing a writer, you want to match the level of support you offer to the developmental skills of your child. Help helps!

It’s essential to separate the mechanics of writing from the original writing voice in the early stage of development.

We use someone else’s writing to teach mechanics.

We capture the child’s original writing voice on paper, on screen for that child until the mechanics take hold.

The writing process is more important than writing formats, particularly in the early years.

Writing growth happens through a series of papers, not in every single paper.

Workbooks that give detailed instructions about paragraphs, letters, how to write a “how to” piece, etc. teach children that writing is “puzzle solving.”

Writing with freedom, support, and modeling creates space for kids to access/delve into their own language that reveals their natural insight, vocabulary, and passion.

Parents make the best coaches and allies to their children.

Any native speaker who reads and writes can be their child’s writing coach.

Creating emotional safety for writing risks is the single most important skill a parent must master to grow a writer.

A language rich environment is more important/effective than spelling, grammar, vocabulary, literature, and writing workbooks.

Poetry teatimes are the gateway drug to all things Brave Writer.

Brave Writer exists to make parents better coaches and allies to their kids in the writing task. A wonderful side-effect is that it will make you a better homeschooling parent, period. The paradigm shift away from “school,” to “home” is profound. You’ll find that you are suddenly much more able to be there for your kids, valuing their quirky individuality, no matter how skilled or unskilled they are in academics. You’ll discover that you love hanging out with these little people and you’ll be startled by how their mind life delights and fascinates you (rather than worrying that they are behind).

In other words, Brave Writer’s paradigm shift speaks to the whole of how you home educate but uses writing as the primary lens through which you re-envision what it means to celebrate, nurture, love, and lead your fabulous little people. Got it now?

If not, please ask follow ups in the comments below. I also schedule phone consults if you email me and need help for your kids. I homeschooled for 17 years. I know how important it is to make good curriculum decisions for your family. I want to help you do that.

Julie