Friday, October 20, 2006

Some Common Misconceptions about Charlotte Mason and Language Arts

There is a misconception that Miss Mason was against teaching formal grammar, spelling and composition; the idea being that children would just acquire these skills by reading good literature. On the contrary, she was a strong proponent of teaching these subjects. She just didn't believe that these should be focused upon as separate subjects when the children were still very young. DAILY Oral narration, rich literature and copywork were used with incidental grammar and punctuation instruction until about ten years of age. About that time, grammar, punctuation, composition and spelling were studied in earnest, but always in the context of their living school books, avoiding the workbook mentality which zapped the life out of learning.

Miss Mason stated several times that her methodology would not be successful if applied sporadically, just 'here and there.' The philosophy she espoused requires the use of each principle, stacked one upon another like building blocks. If only copywork, a little narration now and then and some living books are used, these will certainly fail in building a strong tower. That is, they will not produce a well-rounded, educated child of character, with necessary communication skills and a love of learning that will last through a lifetime.

Let us take the skill of SPELLING for an example. Many words sound alike in the English language but are spelled differently. Thus, spelling is not primarily an auditory skill and a child should not rely on hearing the word aloud to produce accurate spelling. This is why the skill of visualization must be strengthened. Parents and teachers know through experience that some children although brilliant in other areas, have weaker visual memories than others. This affects their ability to spell well. Miss Mason believed children could be taught to strengthen their visual abilities by regularly:
-drawing narrations of scenes that had visualized while reading from a schoolbook
-observing the details of nature while attempting to sketch them
-describing paintings aloud that they had viewed during picture study after seeing them just once
-visualizing difficult words in their schoolbooks through studied dictation
All of these methods PUT TOGETHER and OVER TIME help to strengthen the visual memory and create good spellers.

Naturally, if a child is new or even fairly new to the CM method, he will not have had time to strengthen certain areas and develop particular, important visual skills necessary for good spelling. If my 13 year old had serious spelling issues, I would concentrate on this area by developing his visual skills, especially working on studied dictation almost daily, but not neglecting to use the other above mentioned methods as well. I believe, through experience, that these are very effective forms of instruction and do not think a full blown spelling program is necessary even for the weak speller. However, if you are beginning the CM method a bit late, or your child is still visually weak, then using books that help the child recognize word patterns that are giving him trouble can be helpful. There is an excellent little book available that teaches the child to recognize and group the types of errors he is making while explaining simple rules of spelling. Tricks of the Trade by Gayle Graham is concise and not time-consuming. The little companion teacher's booklet is not necessary, in my opinion, since the author does not focus on visual, studied dictation. (edit- here is a helpful free online source)

NOTE: Our favorite spelling and dictation resource is Wheeler's Graded Studies in Great Authors available online free.

Concerning formal GRAMMAR instruction... Again, if you have been building on CM's principles over several years, by the time the children reach the age for formal instruction (approx. 10 years of age), they should have already acquired a fair amount of basic grammar and punctuation incidentally, through copywork, reading living books and oral and written narrations. It will begin to show itself in their everyday speech, too. The transition to formal instruction should be quite easy. Miss Mason used a formal program beginning in fifth or sixth grade, but had the children practice the new rules learned on passages from their schoolbooks (in context). This helped keep it interesting and relevant. I like this idea and should do it more often, but simply do not have the time to create exercises of this nature. We simply use Easy Grammar Plus over a two or three year period, beginning in fifth or sixth grade. In high school we revisit grammar one more time with  Our Mother Tongue: A Guide to English Grammar. Further grammar instruction was given to CM's students through the foreign languages they were learning.

This post is getting long, so I will save COMPOSITION for a later date. I hope this clarifies any confusion you may have about these areas.


Post a Comment