Thursday, November 12, 2009

NOT a Laconic Post

For those of you who are suffering with trudging through the drudgery of memorizing vocabulary words and their definitions through a canned curriculum, stick with this very un-laconic post . . .

Yesterday, Pamela and I finished reading The Story of the Warrior Queen, a chapter from the book Our Island Story. After the previous reading, Pamela had written,
The Romans want to steal some money and stuffs. They were fighting and went to Britain. The husband of Boadicea was a king and died. The Romans stole some stuffs.
Before reading, I asked Pamela to tell me what she remembered about the story and she did. Recalling what she learned from the previous lessons helps her brain tie any new knowledge to the old. Then, we read--I say we because Pamela said she would be the quotated and I would be the narrator,
After Boadicea had been so cruelly and unjustly treated, she burned with anger against the Romans. Her heart was full only of thoughts of revenge. She called her people together, and, standing on a mound of earth so that they could see and hear her, she made a speech to them. She told them first how shamefully the Romans had behaved to her, their Queen. Then, like Caractacus, she reminded them how their forefathers had fought against Julius C├Žsar, and had driven the Romans away for a time at least. "Is it not better to be poor and free than to have great wealth and be slaves?" she asked. "And the Romans take not only our freedom but our wealth. They want to make us both slaves and beggars. Let us rise. O brothers and sisters, let us rise, and drive these robbers out of our land! Let us kill them every one! Let us teach them that they are no better than hares and foxes, and no match for greyhounds! We will fight, and if we cannot conquer, then let us die—yes, every one of us—die rather than submit."
Pamela orally narrated and then wrote,
The Queen felt angry. The Roman fought the queen. They hit her. She called her to people. The peoples had some swords and shelds.
Then, we read the next passage with the same reading roles,
Queen Boadicea looked so beautiful and fierce as she stood there, with her blue eyes flashing, and her golden hair blowing round her in the wind, that the hearts of her people were filled with love for her, and anger against the Romans. As she spoke, fierce desires for revenge grew in them. They had hated their Roman conquerors before, now the hatred became a madness.

So, when Boadicea had finished speaking, a cry of rage rose from the Britons. They beat upon their shields with their swords, and swore to avenge their Queen, to fight and die for her and for their country.

Then Boadicea, leaning with one hand upon her spear, and lifting the other to heaven—prayed. She prayed to the goddess of war, and her prayer was as fierce as her speech, for she had never heard of a God who taught men to forgive their enemies.

As she stood there praying, Boadicea looked more beautiful than ever. Her proud head was thrown back and the sun shone upon her lovely hair and upon the golden band which bound her forehead. Her dark cloak, slipping from her shoulders, showed the splendid robe she wore beneath, and the thick and heavy chain of gold round her neck. At her feet knelt her daughters, sobbing with hope and fear.
Pamela orally narrated and wrote, "She looked pretty and saw the sun. She was praying." Then we read together the next section,
It was a grand and awful moment, and deep silence fell upon the warriors as they listened to the solemn words. Then, with wild cries, they marched forward to battle, forgetful of everything but revenge.

The battles which followed were terrible indeed. The words of Queen Boadicea had stirred the Britons until they were mad with thoughts of revenge, and hopes of freedom. They gave no mercy, and they asked none. They utterly destroyed the towns of London and of St. Albans, or Verulamium as it was then called, killing every one, man, woman and child.

Again and again the Romans were defeated, till it almost seemed as if the Britons really would succeed in driving them out of the country. Boadicea herself led the soldiers, encouraging them with her brave words. "It is better to die with honour than to live in slavery," she said. "I am a woman, but I would rather die than yield. Will you follow me, men?" and of course the men followed her gladly.

At last the Roman leader was so downcast with his many defeats that he went himself to the British camp, bearing in his hand a green branch as a sign of peace. When Boadicea was told that an ambassador from the Romans wished to speak to her, she replied proudly, "My sword alone shall speak to the Romans." And when the Roman leader asked for peace, she answered, "You shall have peace, peace, but no submission. A British heart will choose death rather than lose liberty. There can be peace only if you promise to leave the country."

Of course the Romans would not promise to go away from Britain, so the war continued, and for a time the Britons triumphed.
Pamela narrated and wrote, "They had the bridge and battles. They had some swords. Britain was winning." Then, we read together the surprising and dramatic conclusion.
But their triumph did not last long. The Roman soldiers were better armed and better drilled than the British. There came a dark day when the Britons were utterly defeated and many thousands were slain.

When Boadicea saw that all hope was gone, she called her daughters to her. "My children," she said sadly, as she took them by the hand and drew them towards her, "my children, it has not pleased the gods of battle to deliver us from the power of the Romans. But there is yet one way of escape." Tears were in her blue eyes as she kissed her daughters. She was no longer a queen of fury but a loving mother.

Then taking a golden cup in her hands, "Drink," she said gently.

The eldest daughter obeyed proudly and gladly, but the younger one was afraid. "Must I, mother?" she asked timidly.

"Yes, dear one," said Boadicea gently. "I too will drink, and we shall meet again."

When the Roman soldiers burst in upon them, they found the great queen dead, with her daughters in her arms.

She had poisoned both herself and them, rather than that they should fall again into the hands of the Romans.
Pamela orally narrated and wrote, "The battle was over. Queen was lost. She drank the poison and died." Then came the best moment of the entire narration! I asked Pamela what she thought of Queen Boadicea. Reflecting on the queen's determination to defeat the Romans, she replied in her typical laconic way, "I failed!"

Laconic? You don't know what the meaning of Laconic is? Neither did I until I read the chapter called "Hard as Nails" in the book, A Child's History of the World (for another version of the story, try A Laconic Answer). The kids and I read this story seven years ago and, because I learned it in the context of a well-written tale, I have remembered it ever since! Keeping this experience in mind, I have never forced my kids to slog their way through memorizing vocabulary words because words are learned best in the context of literature, especially when children apply those new words in their narrations. The key to remembering vocabulary is to teach them what they need to know when they need to know it.

How does this look in real life you ask?

Yesterday, we were reading two pages in the chapter "Fear in the Dark" from the book Watership Down. I gave the section four breaks, and, because she finds this book difficult, Pamela asked me to be the narrator and we shared the dialog. Right before we hit the last section, I noticed an unfamiliar word, kestrel. Since the paragraph gave sufficient context clues, I decided to let Pamela infer the meaning.

Me: "Do you see the word kestrel?"

Pamela: "Kestrel. Yes."

Me: "Do you know what kestrel means?"

Pamela: "Means? No."

Me: "That's okay. I think you will be able to figure out what a kestrel is."

Then I read, "The hanger might have little or no undergrowth but at least the branches gave cover from the sky: and kestrels, they soon realized, were common in this solitude. Although kestrels seldom prey on anything bigger than a rat, they will sometimes attack young rabbits."

I stopped and asked, "What do you think kestrels eat?"

She studied the passage and said, "Rats. Rabbits."

I followed up with, "What do you think a kestrel is?"

She guessed, "A wolf?"

I just smiled and said, "Let's look for more clues. 'No doubt this is why most grown rabbits will not remain under a hovering kestrel. Before long, Acorn spotted one as it flew up from the south.'"

Then, I asked, "What was the kestrel doing?"

Pamela said, "Flying."

I followed up with, "What do you think a kestrel is?"

She smiled and said, "A bird!"

"Right! Do you know what kind of bird?"

At that point, she guessed wildly, "Seagull?" forgetting the context of the woods. I clarified, "Remember the bird is in the woods. It is hovering high in the sky and it swoops down to eat the rabbits." I demonstrated with my hand as I talked. No bells rang for Pamela, and she said, "I don't know."

I went ahead and told her that it was a hawk. In her narration, she wrote under the title Kestrel, "The hawk will catch the rabbits. It will fly."

Later in the day, I wanted to give Pamela another chance to recall the word. So, I said, "David, Pamela learned a new word today. Do you know what a kestrel is?"

"No, what is it?" he asked.

I said, "Pamela, David doesn't know what a kestrel is. Do you remember?"

She said, "Hawk. It's a hawk."

Today, before we read Watership Down, I plan to find a picture of a kestrel and let her talk about it to let her link the new reading to the old one.


Adelaide Dupont said...

I remember learning the word kestrel from a wonderful book called Kestrel for a Knave, where the nickname for the boy in the story was Kes. (He was the protagonist).

And the Bodiccea story was excellent, a great display/example of how you and Pam do the narrations.

I like the way she put herself into the voice/position/perspective of the Queen Bodiccea in the last sentence.

Laconic. That can be a tough word. Another word which expresses the same meaning is tactiurn, or at least in that shade.

walking said...

Adelaide, you just demonstrated my point of how you remembered the word kestrel in the context of a book!! I love it!

We have been doing things to work on theory of mind, and I see it helping Pamela in subtle ways. Now, when she shows me a photo, she turns it in my direction because she understands that I cannot see it otherwise . . .

Anonymous said...

We learned the word laconic from CM's readings also! We now use it often. When I ask Raymie a question and I am in a hurry I say "laconic answer please". She does the same.

It is wonderful to see how well Pamela retains what she learns. I like your reader/narration method. I have Raymie notebook her readings and read them back to me. This way she gets to practice her writing and drawing too.

After reading your post, I want to read the story of Bodiccea!

JEMD1966 said...

We have been learning new vocabulary as we read Farmer Boy. It has been wonderful to see how Tim remembers the new words as we go through the chapters!

walking said...

Totally agree Cynthia and JEMD!

walking said...

I am reading Sir Walter Scott's The Monastery for my own amusement and happened along the word kestrel in Chapter 19! Too funny!

amy in peru said...

I too learned kestrel in watership down or was it in once and future king or the combination of the two? well, it was this year anyway ;)

I am SO glad to remember laconic. I think I won't forget either now that I read it in context. :)

amy in peru

ps. I love Cynthia's application of the word too!!