Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How We Do Language Arts, Part 2

You can find Part 1 (Intro, Literature, and Narration) of this series here.  Just to recap, this is a snapshot of what language arts instruction looks like right now with a first grader who reads well. Today's installment: how we approach handwriting, copywork, reading, and spelling.

Handwriting and Copywork
Michelle’s print handwriting is excellent, so we moved on to cursive at her request this year.  We are simply working our way through a workbook for that.  The main difference is that although the work book is set up for a page to be completed each day, we usually only do one line at a time, unless she is really keen to do more.  Charlotte emphasized quality over quantity and maintained that it was better for a child to do one letter perfectly than a whole page sloppily.   We are making good progress.  Once she has learned all the letter forms, we will transition slowly into doing all of her written work in cursive.
 In the meantime, we continue to do copywork in print several times each week.  Copywork is so much more than handwriting practice!   Not only is the child gaining practice in the mechanical art of writing, she is also internalizing good spelling, good style, good sentence structure, grammar conventions, etc.  Michelle usually copies 1-2 sentences at a time, depending on length.  Sometimes she chooses something from a books she has enjoyed and other times I choose.   At this point we do copywork 2-3 times per week, but when we are done with the cursive instruction phase, we will bring it back up to daily.

Michelle is already reading well (2nd grade level books pretty easily), so we are no longer doing formal reading/phonics lessons.    We learned to read with a combination of phonics and sight words which served us well (but is a whole other post for a whole other day….maybe soon since I get asked about it a lot.  We shall see.)   So for now, I encourage her to read out loud to me (or to her Papa) regularly – from her readers, from our God’s World News magazine, and we buddy read from the Bible.  This keeps me abreast of her progress and allows me to spot teach on any words or sounds that still cause her difficulty.   She is also starting to choose to read independently more and more.

This is the one thing that we personally do that isn’t really purely CM.  Charlotte didn’t teach spelling directly, arguing instead that a child who has had a steady diet of good books and copywork taken from good books will internalize correct spelling.   Older children (perhaps from 4th or 5th grade on up) in Charlotte’s school’s did dictation exercises.  I agree with the premise that children who have read widely are more likely to be naturally good spellers.  BUT…I also believe firmly in giving a child the tools she needs to figure out how to spell for herself.  I saw too many kids in my classroom teaching days that just couldn’t spell, and didn’t hardly know where to begin.   When Michelle started wanting to write more on her own and was asking me how to spell this and that every time I turned around, I knew it was time to start giving her these tools.   We use All About Spelling which is a phonics-based, mastery-based, multi-sensory program (in contrast to the ‘memorize these words for the test and forget them’ approach.)  I’ve been pleased with her increased confidence in both writing and reading since we’ve started using this program.   We will continue this up until 4th or 5th grade, as long as it seems beneficial to her, and then switch over to CM’s dictation approach for the middle grades.

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