For Part One: Introduction
For Part Two: Why History?
For Part Three: Era, Person, Dress Up, Geography, Explorer study
For Part Four: Reading and Literature Studies
Today I am covering Writing, Narrations and Re-enactments
Writing is my nemesis. I hate how it is traditionally taught, using workbooks and such like to teach grammar, spelling, vocab and writing separately. T11, due to his speech difficulty, was tested vigorously to find out why he found speech so hard. It became glaringly obvious to the speech specialist when his vocab level was off the scale (he was seven and the scale went up to 13, meaning his vocab was at least six years ahead of expected). Speech was hard for him because he had too many words to choose from. I can say with confidence that the children’s vocab has not suffered by having no formal lessons. I am not so sure about the rest. I believe deep down that it will one day come together, but I am aware that the lack of formal spelling and grammar has probably rendered my children a little ‘behind’ (although I can’t say for certain as I have nothing with which to compare). In general both are acceptable but I do sometimes wonder whether the use of a traditional curriculum would have helped them to become more proficient spellers and grammatists. Things are improving all the time and I believe that the more they write the better they will become. Isn’t that true of every thing?
I always try to remind myself the reason for teaching writing is not so the children can compete with similar aged children but that they are able to effectively communicate using the written word. This helps to take the pressure off a little. I think one of the hardest things about not using a curriculum is how vulnerable the children and I are to criticism. There is no school to blame, no program to blame and no curriculum to blame if things go belly up!
Narration as a form of writing
For us the writing process begins and continues to some extent with narration. This takes its form in many ways and I believe in mixing it up. Always, when I ask the children to do something, I keep in mind my goal for doing so. Is it to check understanding? Is it to monitor sentence structure? Vocab? Am I looking for some critical thought?
This happens almost from the time the children can talk and is a very natural process between us all. I ask, they answer. And always they chat. I have five of the most talkative children in the world. Verbal narration is never a hardship! As they get older this type of narration is extended into historical discussions where I require much more thinking out of them. Not just recall but thinking about the whys and hows of the information they have learnt. Here is one of their earliest narrations (age 7) on Sargon which I typed as they talked:
To start with I simply write down that which they have previously verbally narrated to me and have them copy and then illustrate it. The children move on quite naturally to writing their own thoughts down. We do lots of rewrites of fables and myths, adding our own details and characters to the mix. Here is an example, age 8:
Building what they know
I always have the children do hands on activities when they can. Often I use these as an opportunity to check understanding in addition to consolidating everything they have learnt. When we did Ancient Rome they built a typical Roman City, including and labelling everything they had learnt about. When we did about the feudal system they build a diorama. This was particularly effective in allowing them to visualise the whole system:
Re-enactments as a form of narrations
Re-enactments can take place in many guises. The children have written and performed plays (Aesop’s fables come to mind), when in Greece we did an interview type re-enactment to ensure they understood the social structure of Athens. The black writing is me acting as the reporter and the red writing is their reply. Each child had a role and had to dress up and become that person to demonstrate their understanding of the various strata in Athens at the time:
They did a re-enactment of the Trojan war (the elephant is meant to be the Trojan Horse!):
When learning about castles they built up a Play Mobil castle, adding bits here and there to make it more authentically like those they had learnt about (note the use of the sari as the moat!):
Of course we had to do the Olympics for our little Olympians:
My favourite was a re-enactment they did using our map and some metal soldiers of the events running up to the Battle of Hastings. I think there were five or six different set ups under which I typed the narrations. Here are the first two:
I took photos of them and we made up notepages to go into their history note books:
We do this in dribs and drabs. Only if there is a passage in our literature or poetry study that I particularly want the children to learn do I have them copy it. When they were younger they did more but these days not so much.
I’ve been told that we do a lot of writing. Funnily enough I don’t think we do enough. My goal is that the children write each day for at least half an hour, and they do. For me though there is a balance to be reached between the child who can’t get enough of writing and the child who abhors it and the one in the middle who is compliant and enjoys it but not so much that she would like even more assignments. This problem is resolving itself as we seek to make the children’s school work more individualised. This year T11 has full say over his work and is science and maths based although he always joins us for history (we all love that hour!). This has meant I don’t expect as much writing from him in other subjects. Next year C11, who loves to write, will be working her way through many, many writing projects (all chosen by her) in addition to her required assignments.
In general, for writing linked to their history, I try to make the assignments as interesting and useful as possible. I always have a goal in my mind of the skill I want to build with each assignment. A couple of years a go I wanted to teach the children to write a good paragraph, which they can all do well now.
This paragraph is a sample of C’s work over a year or so ago about being in the Trojan Horse just before going to war:
I felt a strange shiver down my spine; we were on our way to Troy. The shiver could have been down to the nervous excitement that was locked within me. As we rumbled to a stop just outside Troy, my stomach twisted into a knot and my heart skipped a beat. The sweat from the soldier next to me mingled with mine. I was impatient, ready to kill anything in my path. The tough leather armour that I wore, hardened by battle, made me hot, sticky and ever so stuffy. I was panting, gasping for air. I squinted and looked on the other side of the hollow horse we were in. The men passed around water, but that was a long way from me.
‘Rumble, rumble!’ We were on the move again, this time into Troy. We stopped. I fidgeted with anticipation. Silence. Suddenly, with a mighty thud, the latch door opened and I went to meet my victory!
I will also be serialising a murder mystery she has written over the Christmas period which she has done ‘for fun’ in her own time. This girl loves to write!
Last year the goal was a three paragraph essay, which I spent the year teaching them. I made them up an informationary, which contained everything I expected to see in the essays. This helped to keep them independent (a huge goal of mine) and also gave them a base from which to edit their own work before handing it in to me:
For more information on how to make an informationary click here. This was particularly useful for T11 who finds writing so hard. I wrote a post on his struggles and how the informationary has helped him here. This post also includes one of his essays, should you wish to see a sample of his work.
This year I am teaching an informal and formal letter writing and we are looking at the skill of persuasion. L11 wrote an informal letter on parchment with a feather ink pen and ink well, begging her husband to come back from the crusades:
We do no spelling or grammar. I just correct before the final editing. T11 has struggled with spelling for years, but suddenly (whilst by no means perfect) things seem to have fallen into place and there are far fewer corrections. I really do believe that it is writing that makes you a writer not copious workbooks, and this is the main reason I believe we ought to be doing more writing!
The one regret I would have is that none of my children have great handwriting and that is because they were never taught how. Next year the girls have asked to learn joined up writing and we will be buying in a handwriting workbook for this purpose. For my younger two I will have them do that right from the start, negating the need to correct bad habits.
On Monday I will cover how we learn about art, artists and musicians who are living around the time period we are studying.