Friday, October 27, 2006

Teaching What They Need to Know When They Need to Know It

The beauty of a Charlotte Mason philosophy is teaching what my kids need to know when they need to know it. One does not have to work every single exercise in a grammar book or memorize spelling lists to become skilled in the mechanics of writing. For example, I have never formally taught spelling. When they make a spelling error in their studied dictation or writing, I develop a spelling lesson around that word (using either similar words or those that offer a contrast).

Yesterday’s studied dictation of the first four lines of Daffodowndilly illustrates this process. In her previous dictation, Pamela had confused “were” with “wore” and wrote, “She were her greenest gown.” This was the only mistake she made. I wrote a short lesson tailored to what she needed to know under the dictation:
wore = past tense for wear
were = past tense for are

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet.
Her sun-bonnets were pretty.

Her gowns __________ long.
She __________ her greenest gown.
Her jeans __________ blue.
She __________ her blue jeans.
She __________ red ribbons.
Her ribbons __________ curly.
She __________ new sneakers.
Her sneakers __________ bouncy.
Her earrings __________ dangling.
She __________ long earrings.
Her socks __________ short.
She __________ solid white socks.
Pamela spent about five minutes doing the lesson. Then she studied the first four lines of the poem, aced her dictation, and recited it nearly perfectly. She is ready for the entire poem. She has never memorized language for recitation so quickly, and, clearly, the multi-sensory way of learning is what she needs. She was so proud of her accomplishment: as soon as she put her pencil down, Pamela told me, "Congratulations!" for she knew she had written it perfectly. After her recitation, her face lit up with her bright smile. Because of her flat affect, a smile meant a strong emotion.

The neat thing is how connected learning becomes. In her speech therapy program, we have turned our focus to three aspects of sentence structure last week and this week: does not have any, his/her in the subject of a sentence, and is/are in a sentence with the structure, subject-is/are-adjective. The spelling lesson reinforced the structures she is mastering in the association method. It thrills me every time a moment of connectedness emerges.

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