Friday, August 7, 2015

Charlotte Mason Composition: Preparing for the Precis

How do we prepare for the precis?

In Form III (~7th grade), the first step is summarizing.

If we're following the Charlotte Mason method of teaching composition, we don't need to require our students to summarize until Form III. Prior to Form III, we're allowing our students to become fully immersed in the world of the story. We're not imposing constraints as to how our students can interact with the text.

But in Form III, we begin requiring our students to get critical, to look for the main idea, to decide what is most and more important. This is what students must do to write a summary. But what must we, the teachers, do to facilitate this?

We have to limit. If a student usually writes a 3 page narration, limit the student to fewer than 2 pages for a summary. This is a hypothetical starting place, not a rule. If a student usually writes n pages, limit the student's summary to < n pages. It's as simple as that. Have the student to talk through the summary before they put it on paper, giving them the opportunity to remember relevant information and decide where to put it, or to "delete" less important information. The limitation will force the student to decide what they really want to include.

But this is just the beginning of preparing to write the precis.

In Forms I and II, we're not explicitly teaching things like text structure or genre or author's purpose. That doesn't mean we can't gently teach it, pointing things out as they come up. ("So, do you think Alice in Wonderland is realistic or fantastic?") We can do this, or we can not.

However, in Form III, we are teaching author's craft (narrative elements and literary devices).

Another way of thinking about it is like this:
  • In Form I, the student learns how to form letters & practices writing by copying other people's words.
  • In Form II, the student adds to what they know about writing by learning how to use the rules of our language (grammar) & practicing those rules in their written narrations.
  • In Form III, the student adds to what they know about writing by learning about author's craft & practicing author's craft in their own writing.
Learning and practicing.

The student must know about narrative elements and literary devices before writing a precis, because the precis weaves together a summary of a work and an analysis of the author's craft. This is not to say that a student must learn each and every last literary device before attempting a precis. In the same way that a student learns a grammar rule, and practices that grammar rule in their own writing, adding to their rule list, the student learns an author's tool, and practices using that tool in their own writing, adding to their "tool box." Rules and tools.

And that's how we prepare for the precis.

Your thoughts on this? I'd love to hear them. :)

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