Feature Article – The Problem with Homeschooling, Part 2 by Marlin Detweiler
Educational Helps – by Laurie Detweiler
The Problem with Homeschooling, Part 2
In last month’s lead article here in epistula I introduced the concern that, generally speaking, math was frequently a weak link in homeschool education. I also said, “The title is not intended to suggest this article will be a critical rant about an educational approach.… Rather, it is intended to recognize that, like every endeavor, there are strengths and weaknesses that can be addressed in order to help or improve things.”
This month I am addressing another weakness we observe in the education of homeschooled children. As we have watched and continue to watch education unfold today—especially with the homeschool community—and compare it to education in other countries and at other times from the past, we are quick to observe a more significant disparity today between reading and writing abilities than should be.
Generally speaking, the homeschooling community has raised children who read. They read well, and they read much. There is no doubt that the children educated at home read more, on average, than their non-homeschooled peers. And it should be little surprise. The homeschooling community didn’t fall for the silliness of the “look-say” method of reading, the “whole language” approach, preferring to stick with the time-proven method of phonics. As homeschoolers, many also found it fairly simple to use one of the thorough phonics curricula in the marketplace. Parents know how to read, and with a good curriculum to aid the parent/teacher many have taught their children to read well. Additionally, homeschool families tend to spend more time with their children reading out loud together. It’s a great way to have older children and younger children together. All these reasons have contributed to the relatively high reading level of the homeschooled child.
It is commonly the case that good writers are good readers. The reverse is not always true, and unfortunately, a high level of reading does not simply translate into as high a level of writing. Yet a correlation remains, and we are convinced that students who read well are good candidates for writing well.
It is certainly true that writing in general has fallen on hard times in education. Teaching writing is not as easy as other areas—like teaching reading—and we have not been as successful in raising great writers as we have at raising great readers. Teaching writing is considerably more work. It is also less objective and less clear as to what it takes to be an effective and talented writer. Great writing is a little like great art in that there’s some subjectivity and personal taste to be applied.
One might argue that excellent writing is more about giftedness than teaching, and to some extent, I might agree. But that is also true with math, language, and even reading. Some students are more capable, more gifted, in any given discipline. That is hardly a reason not to develop whatever our level of God-given gifts—even if they aren’t as extensive as someone else’s. What I’m arguing here is not that everyone can be the next great novelist, but that everyone should take learning to write well very seriously, because an ability to communicate through writing is very important. The capstone discipline of a classical Christian education is Rhetoric, and writing is one of the major tools in the effective rhetorician’s arsenal.
To be fair it should be noted that writing is not just a weakness among the homeschooled. The following quote was found in a recent Yale University alumni magazine, “It may come as a surprise that many students who are otherwise highly qualified for Yale arrive with serious writing problems. Computers seem to be compounding the situation, which has given new urgency to the way the College deals with it.”
In 1993 folks from the U.S. Department of Education said, “Study after study shows that students' writing lacks clarity, coherence, and organization. Only a few students can write persuasive essays or competent business letters. As many as one out of four have serious writing difficulties. And students say they like writing less and less as they go through school.” They went on to observe, “There are various reasons: teachers aren't trained to teach writing skills, writing classes may be too large, it's often difficult to measure writing skills, etc.”
In a guideline from the National Council for Teachers of English we read, “Though poets and novelists may enjoy debating whether or not writing can be taught, teachers of writing have more pragmatic aims. Setting aside the question of whether one can learn to be an artistic genius, there is ample empirical evidence that anyone can get better at writing, and that what teachers do makes a difference in how much students are capable of achieving as writers.
“As is the case with many other things people do, getting better at writing requires doing it—a lot. This means actual writing, not merely listening to lectures about writing, doing grammar drills, or discussing readings. The more people write, the easier it gets and the more they are motivated to do it. Writers who write a lot learn more about the process because they have had more experience inside it. Writers learn from each session with their hands on a keyboard or around a pencil as they draft, rethink, revise, and draft again. Thinking about how to make your writing better is what revision is. In other words, improvement is built into the experience of writing.
“To say that writing is a process is decidedly not to say that it should—or can—be turned into a formulaic set of steps. Experienced writers shift between different operations according to tasks and circumstances. Second, writers do not accumulate process skills and strategies once and for all. They develop and refine writing skills throughout their writing lives.”
Although learning how to write is not as simple as following a set of steps, let’s summarize and then offer some concrete ideas to aid in the process. Writing is hard but important work. Considerable time should be given to it on both the student and teacher’s part. As is the case with lots of things we are called to teach as homeschool parents, we may need to develop our own knowledge and abilities to teach our children or we may need to enlist help from others. Here are some goals toward making the next generation better writers:
1. Read out loud to young ones.
2. When they’re old enough, encourage them to read out loud to you. Offer suggestions for how to make their tone, voice modulation, and timing communicate what the author intended.
3. Have grammar school-age students narrate from an oral story-telling and write a variety of very short exercises, frequently modeling other writing.
4. Seek to have them develop a substantial mastery of English Grammar by the end of 6th grade.
5. Teach them Latin through the upper grammar school years—3rd grade through 6th. This will, among many other things, develop their vocabulary, their ability to master English grammar, and expand their connection to what they read (and write).
6. In 7th -12th grades have them write many and varied assignments—sometimes very short fiction, sometimes research papers, etc.
This list could go on for a very long time, but I expect you get the picture. Teaching writing is hard work, but it’s a distinguishing mark between the well-educated and the not-so-well-educated, and we know what we want for our children.
Happy 2012! Last year was quite an exciting year for our family and here at Veritas Press. We continue to be amazed by the families who are connected to Veritas Press. As families become even more connected through Veritas Press Scholars Academy, we are sometimes privileged to have glimpses into some of your lives. You all have some amazing children, ones who love to learn, who excel in sports, drama, music—the list could go on—and most of all who love the Lord. This past year we have also had some sad days with families stricken with cancer and death. I want you to know that I am overwhelmed at the response of love and generosity from the families. It has truly shown the hearts of our families. You all have been Christ’s hands and feet at work in His kingdom.
By now I hope that you have read Marlin’s article. When he first said he was going to do a series on the problems of homeschooling, I thought, are you sure? But then I realized the reason we do all that we do is to help families educate their children. And like with anything we do, there are strengths and weaknesses. It is not our intent to simply criticize, but to offer an observation that hopefully will cause all of us to look for ways we can do it better.
As his article stated, writing is one of those areas. One of the things that was always difficult for me was helping my children with ideas. So I asked my daughter-in-law, Lexi, to write up some ideas that might be helpful. (For those of you who don’t know, Lexi was a journalism major in college and currently writes for a few magazines and a food blog. She also serves as a consultant for the Veritas Press Scholars diploma program.)
1. Describe a change in your life. It can be sudden or gradual, recent or a long time ago. How did it affect your life? How did it affect the lives of those around you? Maybe it was a small change that had a huge affect, or maybe a drastic change that had a big impact. Pay close attention to character detail and development or degradation once the change occurred.
2. Write a “day-in-the-life” story from the perspective of your computer. What does the computer observe? What does it think about all of the things you do on it? Does it work hard? Describe what it’s like when the computer is not working properly. Is it really malfunctioning, or is it because you don’t know how to use it? Remember, this is the computer’s perspective.
3. Write a letter to your five-year-old self. What warnings would you give? What do you have to look forward to? What do you wish you would have done differently? How would you describe your current self to your five-year-old self? How do you view your five-year-old self now? Maybe write a response letter.
4. Describe how your parents or your grandparents met. This will require some research on your part. Write about how they felt, describe their appearance. When did they first know they wanted to marry each other? Use metaphors and similes.
5. Choose a photograph from a periodical, reference book, textbook, etc. that shows humans in uncertain conditions. Choose a person in the photograph and write a fictional story about them. How did they get to this point in their life? What are they feeling right now? Do not describe the photograph; instead tell everything else that is going on around it.
6. Create a how-to manual for something you can do well (play violin, dance, program computers, play chess, make grilled cheese sandwiches). Write it as if you are teaching a child/peer/adult. Do not use bullets or lists. Write in present tense and be descriptive.
7. Describe a scenario between two people from the perspective of one character, then flip it around and write it from the perspective of the other character. For example, a soldier comes home from war after being away for nine months, or a parent teaching their teenage son or daughter to drive.
8. Write a story using black and white vision, as in old films and photographs. The story can have a nostalgic, surreal, romantic, or Hitchcockian feel. Use dialogue as a tool to give the feeling.
9. Go through a bag of trash and create a story using the things you find. It can get messy—you may want to wear gloves. Receipts and mail are the jackpot.
10. Write about a “first” in your life (first job, first performance, first F on a test). Set the scene, then describe the “first” and the aftermath. If it hadn’t happened, where would you be today? Was it a first and last kind of thing? How did you feel before, during and after?
Free Talks on Writing Instruction
Our friend Andrew Pudewa, of Institute for Excellence in Writing fame, is one of the best writing instructors we know. He has graciously provided us two talks to be given to you for free. (He normally sells these on his web site.) Both are intended to help us become better writing instructors. Click each title to listen. (If you are using Safari, you will need to right-click or option-click and save the link as a file.) Enjoy!
Q. My children are older, but I feel that their grammar skills are rusty. Maybe they never got all they needed. I looked at Shurley English and don’t think they need quite so much repetition. Do you have any suggestions for catching them up?
A. Nancy Wilson’s book, Our Mother Tongue, is a great review of English grammar. It is quite appropriate for secondary school students and can be gone through rather quickly, if need be. This should give them all the necessary tools to be proficient in grammar. If your children are in the 11-14 age range, you might consider our Grammar and Writing Transition course online. Our teachers use Our Mother Tongue as the text, and it is intended for younger secondary students who need a bit of skills reinforcement.
Q. How do I teach Latin if I’ve never had it myself? How do I teach Wheelock’s Latin, since it’s more of a college level text?
A. Fortunately today, unlike a few years ago, there are some wonderful Latin programs that have DVDs available with the authors of the program teaching through the text. If I were beginning to teach Latin to my children today, I would use the Latin for Children or Latina Christiana teaching DVDs. Both these programs can be taught without the DVDs by parents or teachers quite effectively, as well. The authors had you in mind when they designed them.
Ultimately, if you want to eventually go through Wheelock’s Latin with your children, then it will be important to learn with your child in these earlier years. By the time the children are ready for Wheelock’s, you will be, too. Sometimes it is practical, if not necessary, to find a tutor. If you live in an area with a university, call their classics department, and they may have a student willing to tutor for a very reasonable fee. And don’t forget, we offer Latin courses online for ages as young as 9 years old up through high school level Latin readings of the classic authors, too.
Please submit any questions you’d like answered here to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online Course Registration for 2012-13
Believe it or not, it is time to start thinking about registration for next year. We have new offerings planned and more sections of the classes everyone loves. Families who are currently enrolled may begin registering on February 6, 2012. Those of you enrolling for the first time may begin registration February 9. Registration details and the list of course offerings will be posted in late January at VeritasPress.com. Watch for it and join our growing community of families online.
Opening of a New Position at Veritas Press
We are looking to hire a Vice President of Marketing and Development to work from our home office in Lancaster, Pa. In addition to being a mature Christian, the ideal candidate will have considerable experience in contemporary forms of marketing (especially social media), be an effective fund raiser, possess a love for classical Christian education, and be knowledgeable about Veritas Press. Résumés should be submitted to email@example.com.
Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest
Year three of the Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest is underway. In addition to $1,000 in cash prizes, the contest now offers college-bound participants $5000 in scholarships to New Saint Andrews College. The contest is open to Latin students in middle school and high school. Students submit a 100- to 200-word original fable in Latin, along with an English translation of the submitted piece (by Feb. 1st). Click here to learn more.
New Course Offerings for Second Semester
SAT Prep Course Coming in Spring Semester
There’s still time to register for our semester-long course, taught by veteran teacher Cynthia Jackson, which will help your child prepare to take the SAT test., The SAT Reasoning Test is a measure of the critical thinking skills students need for academic success in college. The test is just one factor colleges look at when they consider student applications. The SAT Test Preparation course is a comprehensive review of the skills and techniques required to get the best performance results for this college entrance requirement. This course is ideally suited to upper secondary level students. The course begins January 24. Read more details and register here.
Math Help Evening Course
Another new offering coming in the second semester is a math help course. This course will provide help for students in Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, and Geometry courses with their homework, test reviews, as well as post-test corrections. It is intended for students who would otherwise benefit from having a tutor or some other outside help beyond what can be offered in the regular class. The instructor will follow the syllabi of the Scholars’ Academy teachers, preparing students to deal with potentially troublesome concepts covered during the regular classes. Meeting Monday through Thursday evenings for forty-five minutes from 7:45—8:30 PM ET, the class will be limited to 20 students from these courses, so all will benefit from help on new concepts as well as review of old material. Questions will be answered on a rotational basis going from Pre-Algebra to Geometry. The goal is that all questions will be answered in the time limit per evening. This is a non-graded, non-credit course where attendance is on an as-needed basis. Click here to browse details and register.
Special Group Rate for Self-Paced History
Don’t forget to get your group together to take advantage of the special price on our self-paced history courses. The offer expires January 31, 2012. Click here for details.
Teaching and Consultant Openings with Veritas Press Scholars Academy
Receiving résumés for Online Teachers and Diploma Consultants!—We have needs for experienced teachers for the 2012 academic year. Teachers can work from home, the beach, or anywhere high-speed internet is available. Send teacher résumé to Bruce Etter.
Diploma consultants are educators who assist parents with their curricular planning in pursuit of a Veritas Press Scholars high school diploma and/or yearly certification for their grammar level children. Like online teachers, diploma consultants can work remotely. Send consultant résumés to Deb Nissley.
Interesting Facts about Veritas Press
We’re back, and you have a chance to win! Our question for January is, “How many individual books did we have in stock in our warehouses on December 31, 2011?"
The first person to e-mail the correct or closest answer by January 15, 2012, 5:00 PM (ET) to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a $25 gift certificate.
Visit us on the web at VeritasPress.com or call us at 1-800-922-5082.
Browse the Veritas Press virtual catalog online!