This year I start teaching writing again. I have taught several writing classes over a scattered 5 years from 2001-2010. I started off using the old IEW teacher training materials that the mother who wanted me to teach gave me and my mother-in-law’s IEW teacher manual. Every year that I taught, I deviated more and more from Pudewa’s implementation, while still keeping the principles.
This year I am teaching a weekly writing class with my two oldest sons and 4 of their friends. We’ll cover the writing process, expression, punctuation, and grammar. The ages in the class span 8-12, but this is a time of tutor-like instruction, not a presentation of a set, graded curriculum, so I think it will work just fine. They are all new to or uncomfortable with writing and grammar, and my goal is to help them gain fluency. I’ve found that most students who say they hate writing or grammar simply don’t have confidence in their abilities, so they don’t like it because it makes them feel dumb. Once they get success, through baby-stepping through the writing process and through seeing that grammar does make sense after all, they decide it’s not so bad. Some of them come to enjoy it, but most at least realize that they can write after all, so they no longer actively dislike it.
Being able to complete a writing assignment with confidence while not actively disliking writing is a good goal for the pre-high-school years, in my opinion. One doesn’t really start writing as an author, with a love or with passion or with strong thesis statements, until one has complex ideas to communicate, which requires more maturity, opinions, and knowledge than the elementary set has.
So, my goal in elementary writing is to show the students that they can write, that it’s fun, that English does make sense, and that they can play with words and check for errors and not be scared or threatened.
For grammar, I will be teaching from Nancy Wilson’s Our Mother Tongue, but we aren’t using it as a textbook and we won’t be doing full diagramming. I’ll do some diagramming myself as I teach, but I won’t be assigning diagramming (unless, by happy providence, they beg to learn; that’d be awesome). We’ll simply be learning about parts of speech and parts of a sentence so that we can have the vocabulary we need to talk about writing, about punctuation, and about style. I’ll take my example sentences and my definitions and teaching notes from the book, but simply present the material on the board myself and make my own practice exercises to assign.
For writing, we’ll learn to outline a fable and then to rewrite it. After they’re all comfortable doing that, I’ll add in additional requirements and change up how we rewrite.
There are several writing programs that use this instruction method, and I looked at just buying a program and following it rather than teaching it my own way (already knowing the drawbacks to straight IEW, I looked mostly at Classical Composition), but I think things like vocabulary exercises are usually just busy work, and I think it will be less intimidating for the students if we are able to pace ourselves by how quickly concepts are grasped rather than feel we must march on through a curriculum. Plus, I anticipate needing to increase the challenge for the older students while keeping it simple for the younger. So, I am simply going to leverage my teaching experience and be a teacher-tutor rather than a curriculum-task-master.
My course plan goes something like this:
- Learn outlining with fables. I’ll use fables from AesopFables.com
- Learn how to rewrite a fable from the outline. Practice until comfort is achieved.
- Add in some word (IEW “style”) requirements, like strong verbs, adverbs, sentence openers. We’ll also use the IEW “banned words” chart to force better word choice.
- Change things up by rewriting in different ways: change the perspective, make a long fable short, make a short fable long, change the setting but keep the moral, etc.
- Instead of vocabulary exercises, we’ll have a “word of the day” moment where I will share a good word. Then we’ll see if we can work it in to our group writing practice on the board or into their homework paragraph. After they are comfortable, I’d like to give the opportunity to the students to bring a word for the week, keeping it fun and focused on the pleasure of playing with words, not on completing a worksheet assignment.
- Learn about clauses and their correct use. Use them in the fables and get lots of practice. Clauses are where a lot of grammar errors occur, so I will spend plenty of time teaching about how the grammar of clauses work and give them lots of opportunities to try it, mess it up, figure it out, and correct it.
- Transition to outlining nonfiction, like short biographies. Show that the same principles apply.
- Introduce the idea of a topic sentence and a conclusion sentence.
- Learn how to correctly use end marks, commas, apostrophes, colons, and semicolons. I will only expect mastery of end marks, commas (mostly), and apostrophes, but I want them to know what colons and semicolons are for (they aren’t decorative). These lessons will be sprinkled throughout the year.
We’ll have classes where the kids can read their stories out loud to the class, we’ll do group writing every week on the board as a team, I’ll put them in groups to work on grammar exercises and then we’ll do them together on the board, and I’ll get them started on their homework in class. I’ll only be assigning one paragraph a week, plus they will often likely have one paragraph to revise based on feedback. Slow and steady will get them farther, because they will learn better if they are not pressured or overworked. On top of that, I will give better feedback if my stack of grading isn’t overwhelming. :)
I love seeing how far a child, budding into a young adult, comes in a year in his ability to express himself. I’m looking forward to it.