Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Composition 2

The proper function of the mind of the young scholar is to collect material for the generalisations of after-life... 

In my last post about composition, I asked the question: Why is it necessary for a fourth grader to write an essay about which makes a better pet - a dog or a cat?

The answer is, it's not.

Instead of spending three mornings being read instructions, reading simplistic articles ripped from, discussing, planning, and writing - a starvation diet - those three mornings could be spent feasting on great ideas. (Why is my district using as a source?! How is this an example of rigor?)

...If a child is asked to generalise, that is, to write an essay upon some abstract theme, a double wrong is done him...

The child isn't developmentally ready to do this, and knows he isn't ready. One of two things happens: 1)He doesn't even try to complete the multi-paragraph essay, giving up after writing three lines. 2)He copies from the source material word for word, rearranging the sentences.

He is brought up before a stone wall by being asked to do what is impossible to him, and that is discouraging. But a worse moral injury happens to him in that, having no thought of his own to offer on the subject, he puts together such tags of commonplace thought as have come in his way and offers the whole as his 'composition,' an effort which puts a strain upon his conscience while it piques his vanity... 

This year, I had one sweet kid turn in an essay in which he wrote sentences like, "The second logic dogs make good pets is..." and "The third sense dogs make good pets is..." I didn't understand what he was writing. And then it came to me. The district assignment allowed students to use thesauri. My student had erased the word "reason," and substituted synonyms. He was trying not to use the same word three times in the same essay.

...But, perhaps, without knowing it [or knowing it], [teachers] give the ideas which the cunning schoolboy seizes to 'stick' into the 'essay' he hates. Sometimes [we] do more. [We] deliberately teach children how to 'build a sentence' and how to 'bind sentences' together.

In fourth grade, we learned to communicate in writing by journaling daily about our experiences. Each week, we turned in our journals to our teacher, and she commented on our ideas - not on our subject-verb agreement, not on our punctuation, not on our spelling - our ideas. She saw us as persons, reading our journals for content and penning positive notes in the margins.

How hippy-dippy.

And yet, my post-grad certificate program in writing pedagogy taught me that there are two ways to teach writing. 1)Focus on the negative, and turn your student off of communicating in writing, or 2)Focus on the positive, which encourages your student to keep producing.


Elementary years, the "grammar stage" of classical education, should be spent squirreling away material for later use.

I also need to take a moment to comment on a news story I read about today - Rialto Unified School District defending a Common Core writing assignment given to 8th graders, as part of their unit on The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, in which students stated their belief about whether the Holocaust was real or made up.

Didn't anyone think this was a bad idea?

Here's what Ms. Mason assigned 8th graders:
*Read on Tuesdays some subject in "Literature," or, on the news of the week, or, on some historical or allegorical subject, etc. Write on Thursdays an essay on the subject.  
*Poems (using poetic devices) on events that have struck you, characters from the term's reading, historical character, or on scenes of the season
*Letters to friends abroad on family events and general news. 

Common Core vs. Mason: What comp assignment will you be giving your 8th grader?

Quotes in this post are from Charlotte Mason's Home Education.

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