Friday, October 20, 2006


Just when I think I have Pamela figured out, she amazes me again! Last Sunday, I mentioned Pamela's mastery of two verses from A.A. Milne's poem, Growing Up On Wednesday, she nailed the entire poem! I am stunned, speechless! This is truly a miracle. She has never memorized a verse of a poem in three months, much less three days!

For years and years, I have avoided recitation because trying to teach an aphasiac poetry was painful. Her tongue tripped over little words, her word order was all over the map, and she sputtered and stuttered. Memorization of anything except catchy phrases from television and radio was completely out of reach. Yes, I settled for "No payments until October 2006" and "I just saved a bunch of money on car insurance by switching to Geico" because it was better than nothing. After disastrous flirtations with recitation, I concluded Charlotte Mason was totally wrong about recitation when she said, "All children have it in them to recite; it is an imprisoned gift waiting to be delivered, like Ariel from the pine" (Volume 1, page 223). Being imprisoned in the pine with Ariel seemed more inviting that teaching Pamela poetry.

It only took ten years, but I have finally found a system for memorizing poetry that works for Pamela. When she recites "Growing Up," her face shines and she giggles. A.A. Milne poetry is now part of her repertoire of stim phrases, repeated for her personal enjoyment. If given the choice between stimming on advertising and poems, the latter wins!

Charlotte Mason recommended teaching poetry through auditory channels, Pamela's weak spot. I have known for years that she is a visual-kinesthetic learner, so other elements of Miss Mason's philosophy work better for memorization of poetry (copywork and studied dictation). Here are the steps:

First, I type up the poem in prose fashion and slightly alter the spelling and grammar to conform to standard Americanized English. Here is how Pamela's new poem, "Daffodowndilly" by Milne, usually appears:
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
"Winter is dead."
This is how the poem appears in Pamela's studied dictation sheet:
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet. She wore her greenest gown. She turned to the south wind and curtsied up and down. She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head, and whispered to her neighbor, "Winter is dead."

Second, I break up the poem into manageable pieces. For Pamela, four lines is the right length, and she focuses on four lines at a time.

Third, Pamela writes the first four lines of the poem from the studied dictation for her copywork (penmanship).

Fourth, she studies the typed version. When ready, I recite the poem to her, a few words at a time, and she writes what she hears on a clean sheet of paper. When finished, she compares what she wrote to the typed version to look for any mistakes.

Fifth, whenever she makes a mistake in her dictation, I turn it into a grammar lesson for the next day. Prior to the next studied dictation, we cover a short lesson that will help her avoid the error in future dictations. She repeats step four and cycle from grammar lesson to studying to dictation until she makes absolutely no mistakes.

Sixth, after a perfect dictation, I ask her to recite. Usually her recitation is nearly correct, but halting. Within a few days, she has perfected it!

Seventh, we go back to the third step, turning our focus to the first eight lines of the poem. I keep adding four lines at a time until she has mastered the entire poem as copywork and studied dictation. After all the visual and kinesthetic work, the recitation comes much more naturally!

I know this sounds dull and tedious, but it is not! Yesterday, when Pamela started "Daffodowndilly" she had already placed her next order for "The End" by Milne. For the first time ever, memorizing poetry is sheer joy.


Anita said...

THANK YOU! We are just starting CM/AO, Y0 with my oldest who is not autistic but has CAS and a pretty hefty receptive language disorder. Was anxious how to do memorization, dictation, copy work, narration, etc., with him. I know it's early to think about since he is still Y0 and will be six in March, but his comprehension is truly the hardest part about schooling him. He just doesn't get 85-90% of what anybody says. Since we turned off the TV, however... :D Major improvements. Thank you again for this example. I needed a concrete way of doing this. We can't do four lines yet (maybe more like one) but we will get there!

Can you confirm: CM DOES WORK for children with delays and disabilities -- it just takes longer?

walking said...

I think CM/AO is a beautiful way for our kids to learn and it is highly effective when you carefully scaffold the child into it. Living books and things are far more engaging than textbooks.