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The Pen is Mighty

This month’s Homeschool High School Carnival is hosted by Take Up and Read and we are chatting about:

Writing and Composition in High School
What place do you see writing have in your high schoolers education? Do you use a writing program? What approach do you use? Which ‘tools’ did you use in the younger years that helped prepare your high schooler to write and prepare them to join “the Great Conversation?”

Learning to write well is a high priority in our home, a goal in which we work towards from the earliest years. As our overriding academic goal is to nurture “thinkers and effective communicators, both in the written and the spoken word” a large portion of our time is spent on language arts. Our writing journey, like much of our home education journey, began with some ideas and theories and has developed its own rhythm and paths as the approach is adapted to each childs needs.

Laying down strong foundations in the early years is vital, part of our journey was to discover there are no short cuts to this;) diligence and vigilance play a necessary role.  Our Language Arts program is initially about equipping the children with basic tools to express themselves.  Each approach that we use generally has more than one purpose, copywork for example not only focuses on handwriting skills but by using Bible passages and poetry we are exposing the children to quality literature, grammar and sentence syntax.

Copywork, studied dictation, spelling lessons and narration are our cornerstones.  The fruits of narration include learning to shift through information and to extract the most important, to order thoughts sequentially and to be able to articulate well.  We begin with oral narration which enables a younger child to express himself without being held back by the mechanics of writing, we graduate to written narration when they have mastered the mechanics.  For some children narration is naturally easy, others may struggle and state their dislike, however we now persist as part of our journey was to discover that dislike can often stem from lack of mastery.

Formal grammar using gentle books occasionally makes an appearance, mostly though we just discuss grammar naturally when sharing our literature or when encountering poor examples, we’re the kind of family who enjoy playing with language.

Immersion in quality literature always receives a high importance and this has been of great value to our children’s writing education,  they are constantly exposed to rich ideas, an extensive vocabulary, they absorb grammar and syntax in context. With the mechanics mastered the focus then shifts to writing itself, written narration is a wonderful skill to use as already explained but opportunities need to be explored to introduce other writing genres.

The phrase “writing and composition in high school”  is so broad and encompasses a huge range of genre. The writing style utilised depends upon the purpose and the audience, so we strive to expose our children to a variety of opportunities.  Creative writing, written narrations, letter writing, resumes, covering letters for job applications, blog posts, poetry, plays, literature analysis, essay contests, speed essays, research writing, five paragraph essays, persuasive essays and self editing (and constructive criticism) are all part of their high school writing experience.  The various genre are not all ‘tackled’ within a year but over the period of the six years of their high school education, the goal firmly in mind that at the conclusion of their formal education they can express themselves effectively and be confident of undertaking further education if they so choose.

We have utilised a small selection of quality resources in the high school years, for our older children we used  English for Australian Schools by Ronald Ridout, OOP.  A wonderful gem covering basics in  grammar and formal writing using an integrated approach, its drawback was the lack of an answer key.  We continued to look for ‘the key’ and at the conclusion of Anna Maria’s schooling we found the Institute for Excellence in Writing products. Whilst we don’t use the DVD component of these products we use a number of their books.  The high quality of these resources ensures that our children are making solid progress.

Carpenter for the past couple of years has been writing a fantasy novel which is very close to completion, the first of a trilogy.  Whilst we did purchase The One Year Adventure Novel the majority of his novel was written prior to this.  This major undertaking has involved all members of the family as audience, typists, editors and critics.  A wonderful learning experience to be part of.

One of the challenges of home educating a high schooler is that it can be hard for your student to extend themselves fully until they have a genuine need.  Earlier this year we saw how essay contests can supply this role.  When Carpenter entered into an essay contest he embarked upon a huge growth area, within three weeks the growth of his essay skills grew the equivalent of three months.  Research and bibliography skills were the least of what he learnt, he also learnt diligence, persistence, how to take criticism well, and how to re-write and re-write after editing.

Our oldest daughter is away at College and whilst we are no longer her primary educators we are privileged to still be involved in her education to a smaller extent as she often emails through her essay drafts for feedback.  We make suggestions and challenge her;)  sometimes she takes on board our suggested edits sometimes she argues her case:)  All wonderful collaboration.

A couple of years ago a friend and I began a collaborative effort to encourage our children to write.  We started meeting weekly for ‘Writing Club’, initially we began with our children between the ages of 8-16 but soon the younger children clamoured to join in.  Creative writing was our starting point, most popular were ’round robin’ stories, each children began with a paragraph passed their tablet to the next child to continue and took their neighbour’s tablet and continued their story, more challenging for them were speeches and research topics.  The synergy from the group enabled us to accomplish far more than we had done as individual families.  After a year it became apparent that our wide age range was ‘holding back’ our high schoolers, feeling most bold I set out to find a retired teacher who would enjoy mentoring our children.  An answer to prayer was finding a retired teacher, Sr J at our local Convent, she has become a treasured part of our children’s education bringing more than just her English skills into their lives.

The popular belief regards success in reading literacy is that children should see books valued in their homes, be read to and see their parents reading.  It is our experience that this pertains to many areas of education including writing.  In our home our children see writing as a valued skill, not only is time set aside for its pursuit but they see us as parents writing. Our children share their pieces and often family discussion makes their writing experiences not just a lone pursuit but part of a collaborative effort, we strive to support and encourage each other in finding their story.

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