It’s a new semester, which means I’m re-evaluating the way we do a couple of things. I find that the kids development and our family situation change a couple of times a year, and it works well to zoom out and see what could be added or made better.
One thing we’re adding in this semester is Susan Wise Bauer’s excellentThe Complete Writer: Writing with Ease. We already use her mother’s (you may remember that Bauer and her mother co-wrote The Well Trained Mind) First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind as a beginning grammar, and we use The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading for phonics. So one thing I really like about Writing With Ease is that it integrates nicely with the rest of our language arts.
Bauer is a professor at William & Mary, which is a rigorous school (my little brother went there!), but she notes that increasing numbers of her students are abysmal writers. In looking into why, Bauer unpacks the component skills required for good writing, and considers the best way to build those pieces in a way that will not frustrate the child. She notes that prematurely asking kids to combine handwriting, sentence structure, analysis, and composition organization is not a good idea, because except in the case of the (few) naturally gifted writers out there, this approach will only create kids who hate writing, or kids who think they know how to write but who are actually terrible at it or have no sense of style.
Rather, Bauer’s study led her to conclude that the classical and Charlotte Mason approaches of emphasizing narration, dictation, and copywork in the early elementary years, then moving into deep understanding of sentence composition and connecting style and thought in compositions in upper elementary and middle school, and finally working on building style in high school work best.
The first 25 or so pages of Writing with Ease give an excellent explanation of the approach and why it works. I particularly appreciated Bauer’s descriptions of how boys differ from girls in writing, and how to help boys to love writing (many curricula are designed for girls, who gain fine motor skills at different times and in different ways than boys do). Following that is an outline of how to use the book for preschoolers through grade 4, then outlines for a 36 week writing curriculum for each of those grades. If you use First Language Lessons, you’ll notice that WWE dovetails perfectly with FLL years 1-4.
In implementing this book with my kids, I’m planning on using the grade assessments to figure out where to place them. Jack and Sarah (ages 6 and 5) will probably pick up in the middle of year 1, since that’s what they are working on in FLL year 1. I’m not sure what Hannah needs. Bauer describes how to handle situations where kids can move fast through material without letting them miss something.
Writing with Ease was tremendously helpful to me by showing me how narration, dictation, and copywork can progress and precisely how those tools can teach writing and grammar. I knew the theories before, but had not been exposed to particular practice. Now I feel much better equipped to use those methods effectively. I also think I understand the vision of how grammar and writing work together. Since my ultimate goal is to turn out kids who are GOOD writers (not just kids who can string together sentences, but kids who write with style and excellence), and that’s the goal of Bauer’s sequence, I think these books are a good fit for us.
As a side note, Bauer followed Writing With Ease with a middle years book, Writing With Skill, and my guess is that a high school curriculum will follow.
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