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What should I be reading to decide my "philosophy" of writing instruction?


kirstenhill

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I haven't used much of a formal writing program yet. I dabbled in a couple programs with DD8, but it was obvious we needed to focus on spelling first. She is the type to get extremely stressed if she needs to write things she doesn't know how to spell. Now that we are over half way through LOE she is feeling a lot more comfortable with spelling, and can at least choose reasonably accurate or logical phonograms if she doesn't actually know how to spell a word.

 

I've started to read a lot of threads about writing programs. I see a lot of threads comparing x to y to z in terms of the type of work required, time, difficulty, cost, etc.

 

I'd like to take a step back and figure out WHY I might want to go for one of the many writing programs available. I see that writing programs vary greatly, and I know what appeals to me, but I want to make an informed decision...are they really all going to lead to the same outcome of a writer who is well prepared for the rigors of writing in higher grades, college and professionally?

 

So, I am guessing there have been some threads...but I don't think I am using the right search terms because I am not finding them. Can anyone help me find some of those threads? Or are there some great websites or blogs that will help me figure out what I want my philosophy of writing instruction to be?

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I've been traveling this road myself lately. I think I have concluded I like Susan Wise Bauer's writing philosophy. I've realized I don't want to waste valuable time working on a plethora of mindless creative writing lessons, when we can be strengthening valuable skills. The best post I read lately was from this thread http://forums.welltr...rts-curriculum/, Sonnet_25 reposted an old post from Ruth in NZ. It was exactly the post I needed.

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You could read The Writer's Jungle. If you scroll down on the page I linked she explains her writing theory a little. Here is a quote from it, "When we reduce writing to forms and formats, workbooks and formulas, we rob it of its essence—the expression of a person in written form. Instead, we settle for words that fit style and structure sheets, editing guides and exercise goals. At that point, writing becomes a game to play (trying to meet the expectations of the guidelines rather than investigating one’s inner life). Powerful writing means translating the internal thought life of a real person into written language that sounds like that person. Certainly there are skills to be learned along the way to support the communication value of that expression, but without the fundamental understanding of writing as an art, as a living, personalized, expression of each child, we risk robbing our kids of the joy and freedom that ought to be a part of every writer’s life."

 

In the Writer's Jungle, she teaches you how to teach your kids to express themselves powerfully on paper. She emphasizes the "skills" that SWB and CM emphasize as well. The formula to write a paper is the easy part. It is the effective expression of yourself that makes a paper worth reading.

 

Here is where you would want to buy it for 50% off:

https://www.homeschoolbuyersco-op.org/brave-writer/?c=1

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Thank you for starting this thread. I'm making some major changes in how I learn and teach writing.

 

All the time I see lists of the different major homeschooling methods, but have never seen anything like that for writing methods. Hmmm.

 

Abigail thank you for the review.

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Bravewriter's The Writers Jungle!!! We love it here. I even started taking the online Kidswrite Basic class (actually my dd takes it with me). I just felt like I needed someone to hold my hand through it - I know wimpy. But I am so glad I am doing it. It is actually changing some of how I homeschool in general - not just writing. Good luck!

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I am messing around trying to find mine. Some distinctions I've noticed that seem to be significant:

 

How similar is standard written English to conversational spoken English? Are they more similar than different, so you can use how you naturally speak as a base for learning to write (Bravewriter)? Or are they more different than similar, so that learning to write standard written English is comparable to learning a foreign language (SWB)?

 

Is "writing" significantly different from "learning to write"? AKA, can students learn to write by writing as writers do from the start, writing "for real" from the start (Bravewriter, writer's workshop). Or do beginners need to do things that experts don't do, in order to *become* experts (David Willingham is a cognitive scientist who maintains that experts are fundamentally different than beginners, and so having beginners act like experts do is *not* a very efficient, or effective, way to teach beginners to become experts).

 

Related to the above, are artificial writing exercises, done solely to learn a new technique that you can then use later for your "real" writing, helpful or not? Do they allow for targeted, efficient practice of just the new technique, so you don't get bogged down in extraneous steps when you just want to practice this one thing? Or are they too artificial to transfer over to real writing? Or are certain types of exercises - for example, those using the real writing of others, perhaps, instead of "fake" writing; or those that allow students more freedom to choose topics of interest - more effective at promoting learning that transfers over to real writing than others?

 

Do students need to do "real" writing - done because the student has something they want to say - as part of their school writing, to make sure they don't confuse "learning to write" with actual writing? If so, what is the appropriate ratio of "real" writing to "practice" writing, writing exercises that are strictly for the purposes of learning to write, and abandoned when mastered. If not, what is done to ensure that students are exposed to what real writing is (copious reading, biographies of writers)?

 

How wide or narrow is the definition of "writing" when it comes to educational purposes? Strictly academic? Anything that is written: essays, letters, blogs, poems, stories? Some middle ground? What constitutes "appropriate" school writing assignments?

 

Wrt spelling/punctuation/grammar-rules: drill until it is second nature, to get it right the first time? Or know enough to copyedit it to correctness at the end, but not worry about it until then?

 

Know what you are going to write before you start to write it? Or using the process of writing itself to figure out what you wanted to say? Related: outline first, write second. Or write first, and then organize what you wrote (using an outline or other method of organization)?

 

How important is formal, explicit grammar knowledge? How important is informal, intuitive grammar knowledge? And how do you teach grammar so that it transfers to writing?

 

Anyway, I would search for some Bravewriter threads on the boards - it has a definite philosophy that is right on the surface, and is good to consider, whatever you do. Discussions on SWB's writing CDs and writing programs will probably outline her philosophy (and if you look at the sample of the instructor's text of WWE, it outlines her philosophy very clearly). Also, discussions of copy work/dictation/narration, and how SWB differs from Charlotte Mason in her use of those techniques. Those are the methods I've looked into most.

 

Eta: I've really liked the discussions at kitchentablemath.blogspot.com - despite the name ;), they cover a lot of ground on writing, too.

 

Eta: I've really enjoyed reading books and articles by Peter Elbow, some of which are on his website: http://works.bepress.com/peter_elbow/

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just another bravewriter fan here. she says she approaches writing as a proffesional writer approaches it, not as educators approach it. she has a bunch of podcasts on her website, too, which gives you a good idea of her approach. She is all about nurturing your relationship with your kids and your kids relationship with writing.

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I have a shelf full of writing programs & books and STILL have yet to find the perfect "all-in-one" curriculum. There are things I like very much for specific aspects of writing: WWE for dictation, copywork, and summary-type narrations, EPS' The Paragraph Book series for writing a basic paragraph, WWS for outlining and also expanding on the basic paragraph, Killgallon for teaching variety in sentence structure, Adventures in Fantasy and The Plot Whisperer for creative writing, and I really like the looks of IEW's Windows to the World for writing a literary analysis paper (though my DD isn't ready for that yet).

 

Next year we're going to be trying IEW Ancient-History Based Writing Lessons for my oldest and Singapore Sentences to Paragraphs books 3 & 4 for my 2nd child. He isn't quite ready for TPB just yet so I'm hoping that the Singapore books will bridge the gap between sentence-writing and paragraph-writing.

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I am messing around trying to find mine. Some distinctions I've noticed that seem to be significant:

 

How similar is standard written English to conversational spoken English? Are they more similar than different, so you can use how you naturally speak as a base for learning to write (Bravewriter)? Or are they more different than similar, so that learning to write standard written English is comparable to learning a foreign language (SWB)?

 

.......

 

forty-two, these are amazing thoughts and questions! Exactly some of the stuff I have been thinking about, but my thoughts have not been nearly so organized so far...

 

Now I want to see some interviews with major curriculum writers or home education experts asking them these questions...I would love to hear their answers! Who volunteers? :laugh:

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forty-two, these are amazing thoughts and questions! Exactly some of the stuff I have been thinking about, but my thoughts have not been nearly so organized so far...

 

Now I want to see some interviews with major curriculum writers or home education experts asking them these questions...I would love to hear their answers! Who volunteers? :laugh:

 

Thanks :) - I've actually been working on understanding and integrating Bravewriter and SWB/WWE on and off since last September - I've spilled all sorts of virtual ink trying to make sense of it all. Here's a post I made with some of my thoughts: http://forums.welltrainedmind.com/topic/442909-thoughts-analysis-on-integrating-wwe-and-bravewriter-approaches/ No idea how helpful it is for anyone but me, as it was the culmination of four months of musings - it might have a "dropped in the middle" feel to it :doh. But posting in case it is helpful, as it is at least my interpretation of how SWB and Bravewriter/Peter Elbow have answered some of those questions.

 

Also, my reading list:

 

WWE, by SWB ;) - the first few chapters, in particular, lay out her philosophy clearly, and in my linked post I went through it point by point, comparing it to Bravewriter/Peter Elbow and adding my conclusions

 

The Writer's Jungle, by Julie Bogart (aka Bravewriter core book)

 

Writing With Power, Writing Without Teachers, Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing (excellent book, some of his draft chapters are at his website: http://works.bepress.com/peter_elbow/doctype.html#other ), Voice in Writing Again (PDF article: http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=peter_elbow ) - all by Peter Elbow

I *love* Peter Elbow. Definitely of the "write for real only" camp, and extends his writing philosophy to life in general - his approach to writing is an extension of his approach to life, and that resonates with me. Very democratic in his leanings - everyone has something worth saying, and has the potential to say it with power - in contrast to the classical "focus on the most worthy of what has been said and thought".

 

Why Johnny Can't Write, by Arthur Whimbey and Myra Linden

He's definitely in the "go artificial exercises" camp; his methods of choice are text reconstruction and sentence combining. But he isn't really traditional, either - he believes a lot of the traditional grammar/writing exercises are ineffective, but he wants to replace them with effective methods, not do away with them entirely. Interesting counterpoint to SWB.

 

Eta: also, wrt philosophy, Whimbey is much more practical and narrow in his writing philosophy than Bravewriter/Elbow - he just wants to teach kids to write, and never mind what they then go and use that skill to do. Whereas Elbow sees teaching writing as encompassing the entirety of writing, in fact as a subset of the entirety of life. And so Elbow's beliefs on other things - like the importance of authentic work instead of artificial exercises - comes into how he approaches teaches writing. And Whimbey disagrees with that - that rejecting empirically useful writing exercises because of a non-writing-based philosophical objection is beside the point wrt finding the best way to teach *writing*.

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I've actually been working on understanding and integrating Bravewriter and SWB/WWE on and off since last September - I've spilled all sorts of virtual ink trying to make sense of it all. Here's a post I made with some of my thoughts: http://forums.welltr...ter-approaches/ No idea how helpful it is for anyone but me, as it was the culmination of four months of musings

 

Thank you for writing up your ideas. I have been thinking about writing off and on for several months as well, and many of my thoughts mesh with yours--so much so that I hoped that your kids were older than mine so that I could see what programs you use. Alas, my kids are older than yours, so I thought I might give you some of my musings.

 

I see writing as a combination of four areas: ideas, organization, expression, and mechanics.

 

Mechanics is what most early writing programs cover: letter formation, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, etc. It is usually easy to correct mechanical problems because there are clear right and wrong answers. It is also the "lowest level" of writing. If the mechanics are messy, it is hard for both the writer and the reader to focus on the content of the writing. I like to teach mechanics early (both my kids started taking daily dictation in kindergarten) to build up practice so when the child writes, the mechanics come automatically. I work on mechanics with my children through copywork, dictation, and their spelling lessons. I want my kids to be able to write down any sentence exactly as spoken without making adjustments for weak mechanical skills (shorter sentences, simpler vocabulary, etc.).

 

Expression is a combination of vocabulary, sentence structure, and voice. It is how you phrase things. I think that WWS addresses this aspect of writing with use of the thesauraus and copia skills. IEW address it through its stylistic techniques. Classical Writing uses the six-sentence-shuffle. BraveWriter does not have explicit lessons on this, but tries to develop it naturally without imposing restrictions or requirements. I think that kids can use direct instruction in developing different ways of phrasing their ideas; but even more helpful is encouraging children to speak (and think!) in complex and varied sentences with rich vocabulary in everyday life. I am looking into using Killgallon for getting my DD to the next level with this skill. Memorizing poetry and reading widely also helps implant different patterns of expression in the brain.

 

Organization is the flow of the text. Written text is inherently linear and grouped in paragraphs. Thus, writers need to figure out how to organize all their many and various thoughts into a linear format, with related ideas grouped together. This is where outlining comes into play. Learning the format of outlining (Roman numerals, indenting, etc.) is trivial. The hard part is looking at a bunch of ideas and figuring out which bits fit together, in what order, and coming up with more ideas to flesh out empty parts. SWB teaches organization by having students outline what they read. IEW teaches organization through its structural units. Hamburger paragraphs and five paragraph essays are organizational tools. I find BraveWriter does not give me enough tools to teach organization. Preset structures are useful for beginning writers, as long as they treat them as tools and not hard and fast rules.

 

Ideas are the content of a piece of writing. If you have no ideas, you can't write anything. Some kids are bursting with ideas; most need more coaxing. Since coming up with something to say is often the hardest part of writing, writing programs need to figure out where the student should get the ideas. Ideas can come from external sources (e.g. something you read) or from internal sources (e.g. something you make up in your head or already know well). Programs like WWE/WWS and IEW provide the ideas in source material that the student reads. In these programs you have to carefully match the reading comprehension level of the passages to the student. Programs like BraveWriter have the child get ideas internally: a subject that the child knows well or providing direct experience with the subject. BraveWriter uses freewriting to generate ideas. Unfortunately, when working with ideas from the child's head, it is difficult for a writing program to give detailed instructions how to guide the child unless the program also dictates how to organize the composition.

 

And now I put in my plug for teaching grammar. I see teaching formal grammar as a way of obtaining a shared vocabulary for discussing writing between teacher and student. Native speakers have a natural sense of grammar, but they are not naturally aware of it and do not know how to discuss it. As long as the child has the mechanical ability to transcribe her spoken language, most of her written grammar will be correct automatically. This does not mean that formal grammar is unnecessary. Teaching grammar gives you the vocabulary to explaining problems with mechanics that do not appear in speech: punctuation and capitalization. Teaching grammar also gives you the vocabulary to eplore different modes of expression: try moving that prepositional phrase to the beginning of the sentence, how about adding that information as an appositive. Those two ideas are really closely related; how about combining them with a dependent clause. Can you be more specific by including an adjective or using a more concrete noun?

 

You asked about "real writing" versus "practice writing." On some level all writing that is strictly for school is practice writing. However, I take it that by "practice writing" you mean writing exercises to practice specific techniques. Yes, I think that a certain amount of this "practice writing" is useful; it should be focused until the skill is easy. If the technique doesn't transfer naturally to "real writing" you can suggest it where appropriate and the student should be able to easily incorporate it while focusing on *why* to use the technique, versus *how* to use the technique.

 

You also asked about the connection between written English versus spoken English. I think that there is a high correlation between the written English and spoken English. Aside from capitalization and punctuation, I think the difference arises in that most spoken English is informal, and most written English is formal. If you compare informal speech with informal writing (like jotting down notes) I think you will find that they are very similar. If you compare formal speech (like giving a presentation) to formal writing, again they are very similar, especially in terms of ideas, organization, and expression.

 

Here is another thought about writing that is bopping around in my head.

 

Teach your kid to type when she gets to multi-paragraph writing, even if she doesn't struggle with the mechanics of writing. If the composition is typed, the child can easily go back and change things to improve the ideas, organization, and expression. The process of going back and making those changes is so helpful in learning how to organize and express her ideas. Eventually she'll have to handwrite some essays, but let that wait until after she is skillful at generating and organizing ideas in her head.

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so kuovonne- what programs do you use and in what order? your post resonated with me. my oldest is almost 8, has had no formal writing instruction and LOVES to write stories. i want to capitalize on that- guide, hone, perfect- without squelching it. and i know ZERO about writing or literature.

 

writing tales had been recommended to me on these boards and i really liked the look of it. now i've read here about bravewriter and i really like the sound of it, too. any chance you know if i could combine the two? it sounds like writing tales would fill in the structure instruction you mention bravewriter lacks.

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I've been traveling this road myself lately. I think I have concluded I like Susan Wise Bauer's writing philosophy. I've realized I don't want to waste valuable time working on a plethora of mindless creative writing lessons, when we can be strengthening valuable skills. The best post I read lately was from this thread http://forums.welltr...rts-curriculum/, Sonnet_25 reposted an old post from Ruth in NZ. It was exactly the post I needed.

 

 

um, why is creative writing mindless?

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um, why is creative writing mindless?

 

 

 

Creative writing is not mindless, but creative writing lessons can be. I said I don't want to do mindless creative writing LESSONS.

 

“I don't want to waste valuable time working on a plethora of mindless creative writing lessonsâ€

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so kuovonne- what programs do you use and in what order? your post resonated with me. my oldest is almost 8, has had no formal writing instruction and LOVES to write stories. i want to capitalize on that- guide, hone, perfect- without squelching it. and i know ZERO about writing or literature.

 

writing tales had been recommended to me on these boards and i really liked the look of it. now i've read here about bravewriter and i really like the sound of it, too. any chance you know if i could combine the two? it sounds like writing tales would fill in the structure instruction you mention bravewriter lacks.

 

 

I am very ecclectic and choose bits and pieces from different programs. That's just my personality. My DD also tends to be asynchronos so it is difficult to find an all-in-one that fits her across the board. Here are some tools I like or am considering.

 

mechanics: I like a spelling program based on phonograms, syllable types, and rules. Then I do daily sentence dictation with review spelling words to ingrain elementary level mechanics. I have used SWR, AAS, amd Spelling Plus. I start working on mechanics early and hope that they are firm before getting to paragraph level writing.

 

expression: We model speaking in complete and complex sentences. I teach grammar to demonstrate how to combine ideas into sentences. I like MCT grammar, and also use some KISS grammar.

 

organization: We are not there yet. I am exploring WWS and IEW. We also dabbled in The Paragraph Book.

 

ideas: Ultimately I want DD to do more writing across the curriculum. She isn't there yet.

 

BraveWriter: I really like BraveWriter, but it does not have enough help for me as the instructor. I think that one can incorporate aspects of BraveWriter in any program. We added in bits of BraveWriter early on as well.

 

Writing Tales: I have never seen this. I think it is a program that integrates all the areas of writing I mentioned (ideas, organization, expression, and mechanics), and thus would not work well with my DD who is all over the board in terms of these skills.

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I am messing around trying to find mine. Some distinctions I've noticed that seem to be significant:

 

How similar is standard written English to conversational spoken English? Are they more similar than different, so you can use how you naturally speak as a base for learning to write (Bravewriter)? ...

Eta: I've really enjoyed reading books and articles by Peter Elbow, some of which are on his website: http://works.bepress.com/peter_elbow/

 

Having just read his book Vernacular Eloquence, I smiled when I saw this. :)

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Well, I read thisrecently, and it really solidified writing for me. But it probably won't be very popular here. :)

 

 

I'm the biggest Leila Lawler fan there ever was. I'm pretty sure :)

 

I'm not sure what I think about her writing advice. I need to sit with it a bit--but just wanted to throw you some support :)

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Kuovone,

Thank you for writing down your ideas. It is very helpful to consider writing in terms of those four categories.

I completely agree, but I don't think I could ever have come up with such as clear outline or explanation.

 

On another note--

I don't separate my kids writing into real versus practice writing. Whenever my kids finish a final draft (even for something like a structured how-to paragraph), they place it in the "finished" section of their writing binders. My kids are extremely proud of their finished writing assignments and would certainly consider them "real" writing. Sometimes my 4th grader and 2nd grader sit on the couch and take turns reading to each other from their writing binders, even though many of those assignments would be classified just as "practice" writing by some people.

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Well, I read thisrecently, and it really solidified writing for me. But it probably won't be very popular here. :)

 

 

I think she is on track in that reading aloud good books to your children (ad using audio CD's of good books) is actually one of the most effective methods (perhaps the most effective method?) of teach writing.

 

I would disagree with her opinion that formal writing instruction shouldn't be done until later years.

 

I like the last bit at the end concerning discipline, regarding having your child write a formal letter. I may have to implement that from time to time with my 4th-grade-likely-law-school-bound-son.

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I have a shelf full of writing programs & books and STILL have yet to find the perfect "all-in-one" curriculum. There are things I like very much for specific aspects of writing: WWE for dictation, copywork, and summary-type narrations, EPS' The Paragraph Book series for writing a basic paragraph, WWS for outlining and also expanding on the basic paragraph, Killgallon for teaching variety in sentence structure, Adventures in Fantasy and The Plot Whisperer for creative writing, and I really like the looks of IEW's Windows to the World for writing a literary analysis paper (though my DD isn't ready for that yet).

 

Next year we're going to be trying IEW Ancient-History Based Writing Lessons for my oldest and Singapore Sentences to Paragraphs books 3 & 4 for my 2nd child. He isn't quite ready for TPB just yet so I'm hoping that the Singapore books will bridge the gap between sentence-writing and paragraph-writing.

 

 

Crimson Wife,

For which grade levels (in general) would you recommend The Paragraph Book series? The series states it is for 5-8th grades, but it looks like it could be used a lot earler.

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Crimson Wife,

For which grade levels (in general) would you recommend The Paragraph Book series? The series states it is for 5-8th grades, but it looks like it could be used a lot earler.

 

 

It's designed for 5th to 8th grade remedial students. I would say it's about the right level for a typical 3rd or 4th grader, and because it doesn't require a lot of physical writing it can be used with a bright younger student.

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It's designed for 5th to 8th grade remedial students. I would say it's about the right level for a typical 3rd or 4th grader, and because it doesn't require a lot of physical writing it can be used with a bright younger student.

 

Thank you!

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Thanks everyone for the awesome thoughts...I'm still digesting them. Writing has always come naturally to me, so it's hard for me to decide how it should best be taught. I had what I would consider average or typical writing instruction through my public school years. I started out college in pre-engineering and had to spend hours upon hours studying for science and math classes to pull off a C or worse, while meanwhile I was getting A's in any class involving writing with very little effort. Eventually I wised up and changed my major to English. :laugh: But I did not have a teaching emphasis so I never developed any theories regarding writing pedagogy. :-)

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