Thursday, June 9, 2011

Venturing Into New Territory

I suppose I've given this entry a strange title.  A few weeks ago when I had my end of year review, I felt quite confident about what we've been doing and our plans for next year.  I worried that pride comes before a fall and my husband reminded me to just enjoy it while it lasted, because it would likely pass.

And it did.

Last Friday, I started having a reoccurring thoughts about how I've been teaching Autumn about writing.  I added a creative writing program this year to supplement Well Trained Mind's Writing with Ease, Year 2.  I found that Write About Me and Write about My World, published by EPS, were wonderful additions.  The rote method of Writing With Ease has some gaps.  There is no enjoyment of writing in the course for the student.  I didn't want Autumn to miss out on that enjoyment--especially since she is very creative.  As a side note, many of the passages used in WWE were also above her comprehension level (which interestingly is above grade level).

For next year, I ordered Writing With Ease, Year 3 and Just Write, Book 1 (the next book in EPS' series).  On Friday, a friend shared with me that she has found that it is not the curriculum that determines a child's success and enjoyment of it, but rather the time she spends with her children engaging with them as they use the curriculum.  This wisdom began sowing seeds in my mind.  Another friend recently mentioned to me that she is using a curriculum that many of my friends are using--Teaching Textbooks.  But, she has found that she cannot set her son down at the computer to do 2 lessons on his own.  Instead, she assigns 5 problems, checks on him, and then assigns 5 more.  Though the curriculum is intended to lesson a parents need for supervision and involvement, in her case that is crucial to the success of her son with the course.

What these two women said to me stayed in my mind.

On Saturday, I felt like I should sit down with Just Write and give it a second glance.  As I perused it, I began to feel that it wasn't enough.  So, I pulled out a scope and sequence that I had from my public school teaching days for K-5th grades.  I began to map out the writing skills that my children need to learn in grades K-5.  It has felt daunting to put together my own curriculum.  My weakness when I was teaching in public schools was switching curriculums and paths midstream.  I have compensated for this by choosing textbooks that I follow through to the end.  We used strictly textbooks for first grade.  For Autumn's second grade year, I added one unit from a Theme Pockets book by Evan-Moor.  My children loved it.  I saw how much they enjoyed it and learned from it.  I resolved then and there to add more smaller, well planned units.

But, put together my own writing curriculum?  That still seemed daunting.  I have seen how God has grown me in my weaknesses each year.  I know that next year I am going to have to become more engaged with my children and let go of more of my down time in the afternoon.  It looks like writing may be one of the new challenges ahead of me this year.

This morning, based on the scope and sequence, I identified these skills that my children need to develop in their ability to write--Please note that these skills can be taught with multiple elementary ages at the same time.  Younger and older students can listen to the others as you ask appropriate questions for their skill/grade levels.  Heart of Dakota does this with their Reading Program.

1)   Connect to the Text                    Children need to learn to connect to their text by connecting to their own experiences, what they know of the world, or what they've learned about in another text (or media source)
 * These connections enable students to process what they learn and turn those ideas into original thoughts.  Connecting to the text allows students to begin making predictions based on what they've learned in the past.

Connecting to the Text is an active skill taught through reading and teachable moments.  For this skill, I will put it in my plans--to make sure I remember to talk to them about the connections, but no formal curriculum is needed.

2)  2 Column Notes                       This skill begins in third grade with identifying the main idea (on one side) and details (on the other).  
> Curriculum I'm going to use:  Teacher Created Materials has a series of How to... books to teach children how to write reports.  For third grade, I'm going to use the book How To Write A Simple Report.

3)  Sentences                                Basic sentence formation begins in first grade.
> Curriculum I'm going to use:  Autumn needs to practice how to write sentences and Sami needs to begin to learn, so we are going to begin with Evan-Moor's book Write a Super Super Sentence, as recommended on Veritas Press' website.

4)  Paragraphs                              Once we've covered sentences, we're going to move onto beginning paragraph writing.
> Curriculum I'm going to use:  Evan-Moor has a book on Paragraph Writing for grades 2-4 

4) Research                                This skill is introduced in fourth grade so I'm not going to worry about it until next year when I introduce them to note cards.  I will teach Autumn to use note cards when she writes her state report next year.  I plan to use TCM's Simple Report book again.

5)  Stories                                  Autumn loves to tell stories, but she has written very few of them.  Part of this is because her handwriting has taken time to develop since she is a year ahead in her studies (she has a late birthday).  I haven't compelled her to write them, but it is time for her to learn the parts of stories and how to write them.  Sami is going to learn how to write simple sentences and draw pictures to tell her story.
> Curriculum I'm going to use:  Evan-Moor has two books How to Write a Story for grades 1-3 and How to Write a Story for grades 4-6.  This year we're going to start with the first book.

6)  Poetry                               I have to admit this is my weakness.  My husband loves poetry.  He reads it regularly.  I don't enjoy it quite as much and feel quite weak in my understanding and knowledge of it.  But, it's important.  So, we're going to introduce it as well.
> Curriculum I'm going to use:  Evan-Moor's book Writing Poetry With Children for grades 1-6.  Next year, I will plan on ordering Evan-Moor's Poetry Patterns book.

The last book I ordered is to help make all of this a bit easier:
Evan-Moor's Giant Write Every Day.  This book includes writing prompts that children can write about.  The homeschooling world and formal classrooms are different in so many ways, but there are many wonderful routines that formal classrooms have.  One of them is that in many elementary classrooms children write daily in their writing journals.  Sometimes these writing exercises are formal assignments (ie. the beginnings of the day's lesson in paragraph writing or how to write a story) and sometimes they are simply for the enjoyment of writing.  I want to introduce this idea into our homeschool classroom.  The girls are going to have writing journals.  This book will make things a little easier.  Typically in a writing journal, a student will keep a running list in the front of writing topic ideas.  Some days they will get to choose one of those ideas and other days they are asked to write on the topic they are given.  I know that the homeschool classroom is different from the classes I taught, but I think that this is a flexible idea.  I'm sure we'll tweak the idea a bit this year, but I'm looking forward to making it a part of our days.  This year such writing will only amount to a sentence or two most days.  

I know that using these books is going to require a bit more planning on my part for our writing curriculum, but I like the way Evan-Moor's books are laid out. The 6 books cost $52.20.  They are reproducible so I will be able to use them with all 3 of my kids.  I am still planning on using Writing With Ease, Year 3 and Just Write, but they will be used as parts of the curriculum rather than the whole.  There are 36 weeks of lessons in WWE and I will aim to do a third of them.  The skill I didn't mention that Writing With Ease helps students practice is summarizing.  It also helps students think (and then write) in complete sentences because they are required to answer questions about the passages in complete sentences orally before writing down their summaries.  Just Write includes pages for writing a story.  When Sami and Eli go through this age, I likely will not purchase Just Write for them if this year goes well with the Evan-Moor books.  They should be quite enough.  WWE is also reproducible so I won't need to invest any more for third grade writing.  

I did look for a complete writing curriculum that I could use, but costs were daunting to me.  Many homeschoolers love Institutes for Excellence in Writing.  It is quite an expensive program though.  The DVD teaching set begins at well over $100 and each year's course costs between $100 and $300.  When I have looked at IEW's teacher guides they haven't made sense to me in the past.  Two veteran homeschooling friends encouraged me this weekend with the advice that even if everyone else loves it, if it doesn't appeal to you then it is probably not wise for you to use.  If you don't want to use something, you probably will procrastinate with it and possibly not get a lot of use out of it.  There are other Evan-Moor and TCM books that will cover these same components of writing through 6th/7th grades, so I am hopeful I will be able to use these books.  Editor in Chief is a curriculum that has also been recommended to me for middle school.  

If I were looking for a preplanned kit, I would probably use Bob Jones.  I have looked at a friends' materials and I like how they integrate grammar and writing.  The homeschool kit for 3rd grade is $91.  But, I would need to buy additional student books for Sami and Eli which would cost $42 additionally ($21 each) which would bring the cost to $133 for the course.  Using these books is a much less expensive option for us if it works out well.  We'll see!  I am going to keep BJU in mind for when we get to Middle and High School.  It may be a good option for us then.  I have been told by a friend that because BJU does update their editions it can be hard to get additional workbooks for the same teacher's editions if you have multiple children using the course over the years.  One of my friends who has 3 boys has bought 2 workbooks after her first son has gone through the course.  Then, she knows she likes it and it has worked for her family before investing for the other boys.  But, this way she also doesn't miss out on having the student books for her teacher's edition if they change it in the years after her first son has completed the course.  

Another friend of mine uses Switched on Schoolhouse which also integrates writing and grammar.  She has successfully homeschooled many children and so it has obviously worked very well for them!  We are not prone to using our computer much in our schooling at this point (and that isn't in the plans) so I don't think we'll go that route in the future.  But, it is another option out there.

A few months ago I had a random conversation with a gal who teaches writing to homeschooling students.  She shared with me that many homeschooled students she's seen are not good writers.  She isn't sure as to the cause of this, but suspects that many moms are nervous about critiquing their child's writing and may feel unsure of themselves.  At first I was puzzled by her remarks (which were loving and gracious, not critical).  I wondered why this was the case.  And then... well I found myself in this quandary about Autumn's writing curriculum this weekend and it completely made sense to me!  WRITING is a complex process.  It seems so simple, it really is a complex process to be taught and broken down.  And the process which I've felt confident about began to seem quite formidable to me.  

A few weeks ago, I had shown a friend the scope and sequence I had for writing and I had been daunted by it immediately.  I realized this weekend that I needed to tackle it head on and not be afraid of it!  Homeschooling grows us as much as our kids, right? ;)   So, that was why I sat down and wrote down the main skills that needed to be taught.  I had a huge binder of lessons on how to teach the skills, but I set that aside because it was too vague for me--I needed a simplified guide (or in my case set of guides) to help me accomplish what I knew my children needed.  I found the Evan-Moor books on Veritas Press' curriculum list and that's where I began.  

I realized this weekend, too, that it is easy to feel insecure about our own ability to correct our children's writing, but that is why we (I!) need to relearn the grammar with them and reinforce their grammar lessons by gently correcting their writing.  Not making a a big deal of it--requiring them to recopy their work when necessary--and encouraging them always that they are making progress--highlighting what they've done well!  Those are my goals.  Sometimes I do these things well and sometimes I don't.  I'm a work in progress, but I need to have confidence that God will be my strength in my weakness.  I have always firmly believed that God first made me a classroom teacher and now a homeschool teacher that I might trust Him in my weaknesses--because believe me--they all come out in teaching!  But, I daily see God's grace in how He guides my heart and mind to what I need to teach them (teachable moments) and how I need to teach them (curriculum).

I will post again as we make our way through our school year about how these books are working for us.  Yesterday, I found the curriculum lists I made when I read the Well Trained Mind 5 years ago.  I read it before I had begun teaching Autumn, so my lists were based solely on that book.  It was interesting to see that I've used only 1 or 2 things from that list!  I learned a lot as Autumn went through PK4 and K about what kind of teacher I am and what I like and don't like.  The lists I made when Autumn was in K, though, are what I've used for 1st and 2nd (excepting Math).  As much as I would love to know what I will need for middle school and where exactly we are heading, I feel at ease realizing that I will learn more as we get there.  It isn't time yet.  It's enough to tackle this year and ponder 4th and 5th grades.  

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