Our philosophy of writing instruction is based on the methodology of Charlotte Mason described in her book A Philosophy of Education. There are three steps, or better still, processes involved. They can take place over a span of time or, according to the age and ability of the student, can occur simultaneously. They are: (1) Reading or listening to Great Books (2) Verbal Narration and (3) Written narration.
1. The process of writing begins by reading well-written books. Over time, the reader naturally absorbs the vocabulary, sentence structure, language patterns, and ideas of great literature. The reader acquires a keen sense for story development and what “sounds right” grammatically. The living ideas and themes of great literature are internalized, providing a basis for creative writing.
2. The next step is developing the ability to narrate well. After only one reading, the book is set aside and the student is asked to “tell the story.” Charlotte Mason insisted on the principle of a single reading or hearing of the text: “The student should be trained from the first to think that one reading of any chapter is enough to enable him to narrate what he has read.” We see this ability to narrate verbally as the foundation of writing.
3. The next step is written narration. Once again, a good literary model is provided which the student can reconstruct — this time in written form. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin described himself using this same approach when he wished to improve his writing ability. He would read an article from the Spectator, put it away, and then return the next day and attempt to reconstruct it. He would then compare his work to the original. “I thought the writing (of the Spectator) excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it.” (Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, p. 11)
Plumfield students use Ruth Culham’s Six Traits program for improving their editing and revision skills.
4. Once this ability to narrate in written form is well established, our middle school students participate in a weekly writer’s workshop.
The writer’s workshop is designed to help students discover the joy of putting pen to paper. To that end, students and tutor work with a number of tools designed to help writers become more comfortable and proficient with the written word, including daily journals, freewriting, workshopping, and practicing forms from essays to sonnets. Students learn and practice:
- Their own individual writing processes, including the habits and methods which help them get started and keep going
- Their unique voices and styles
- Thesis statements and topic sentences
- The five paragraph essay
- Incorporating research into an original work
- Exploring memoir
- Creating short fiction
- Writing poetry
- Analyzing others’ writings
Text: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style