Monday, March 27, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Literature Conversations

Book lovers dream of having deep conversations with our kids about the stories and ideas that we love - or, maybe, just I do.  It can be hard to know how to start those conversations and get kids beyond - yes, no, I liked it and other similar nondescript responses.  Today I share two (maybe three) great resources for starting "the great conversation" about what you are reading.

In classical writing there were 5 topics (or here) that helped you develop your theme.  All of these topics can easily be turned into questions to develop a conversation. They are definition, comparison, circumstance, relations and authority.  There are whole books (and curricula) written on how to use these approaches but here is a quick primer.   

Andrew Kern, of the Circe Institute, says that the best question to ask is "Should X (a character) have done Y (an action)?"  Should the ants have shared food with the grasshopper?  Should Calpurnia Tate tell her mother that she wants to go to college?  This simple question opens the door to great conversations about motivation, outcome, cause and effect and more.  There is even a process to help your child learn how to do this by themselves as they think about story and history.  Simple but effective.  

The other offering I have for you is a more organized approach that teaches you how to use Socratic questioning in the framework of the narrative arc.  Whaty what what??  Socratic questioning is a technique used to help students find the gaps in their knowledge so that they realize what they don't know and can begin to search for answers to those questions.  It is learning through thoughtful questions instead of telling children what to think. The narrative arc (scroll through - it's on the 3rd page) is the general outline that every good story goes through.  

The Center for Lit has developed an 8 hour DVD seminar about teaching classic books.  I haven't seen the seminar - I just got the workbook and have enough background to figure out how it works. There are 173 questions that can be used to help explore character, setting, scene and more from picture books to War and Peace.  This book can be used for all your children throughout their lifetime.  It can help you get more out of what you read as well.  

BONUS - Did you know that Mortimer Adler, who tried to pull together all the great works in the Great Books of the Western World through Encyclopedia Britannica, created a list of 103 themes that are found throughout literature?   There are lots of creative ways these subjects could be used, followed and discussed in the literature and history your child is reading.  I heard of one teacher (who had students for multiple years) who had the kids pick a few themes or ideas that intrigued them and asked them to follow it through the books assigned for that year.  As a parent you could do a similar thing with your middle schooler and up.  Consider encouraging your kids to have a journal of themes in what they are reading (and you can lead by example). 

Another day we can talk more about what to read.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Education in CM's Day: Classical?

This is the first in the series on education in CM's day.  I hope that this will shed light on her uniqueness and the cultural of her day.  In my introductory post I made the statement that she was clearly not classical in her day or in some of our current interpretations.  I want to further explain that assertion.  I promise, this is not the only aspect we will explore - but it is a key question for many current teachers.

1.  Classical Education had a specific meaning in her day.

In 1904, New South Wales' government created an EXTENSIVE study of the elementary and especially secondary programs in countries throughout Europe.  They were less than impressed with Britain for a number of reasons (possibly some colonial issues enter the picture).  However, they do outline what was studied.
The subject of instruction on the Classical side are usually (1) Religion (or Divinity, as it is sometimes called), (2) English, (3) Latin, (4) Greek, (5) French, (6) History, (7) Geography, (8) Arithmetic, (9) Mathematics, (10) Natural Sciences (viz., Physics, Chemistry, etc.), (11) Drawing, (12) Singing, and such other subjects as (13) German, etc., (14) Instruction in Instrumental Music and so on.  These two last subjects, viz., German and Instrumental Music, and other similar subjects, are usually optional, and extra fees are required for them.  
They show the Classical Division and the approximate time spent on each subject:

Classical Languages         16 hours
French                                 2 hours
Mathematics                       2 hours
Other Subjects                   10 hours
                           Total        30 hours

The "mathematical" track has this division of time:

Mathematics                                       10 hours
Natural Science                                    4 hours
Modern Languages                               8 hours
Extra (Natural Science or Drawing)     4 hours
Others                                                   4 hours
                                                Total    30 hours

You can clearly see the difference and the tracking that took place in education during this era. Britain was actually "behind" other nations like Germany and France because they still focused primarily on "classical education" and were not introducing as much science and modern languages as nations "on the continent" were.  Classical education in this era, was clearly about learning the Classical languages - often at the expense of many other subjects - primarily so that you could get into the University of your choice.  (This article also mentions cramming which comes up often in CM's critiques of current methods of schooling - she is not the only one who found it a faulty system).

The last part of CM's life (in the 1910's to 1920's) there was a raging debate about the breadth and purpose of education.  The debate centered around the introduction of science as a field of study and the inclusion of more modern languages instead of classical languages.  Obviously, in theory we want it all, but in practice there are only so many hours in a day.  In 1917, there was a conference at Princeton University to defend the "classical" approach to teaching.  By the end of the 1920's this approach had lost - Greek and Latin were no longer entry requirements for the Ivy league schools. Eventually, the battle was lost in England as well.  Classical education, despite change and reformation over 400 years, was dealt its death blow.

One look at the course of study for CM shows that she is clearly in the "modern" education camp for her era.  She included modern languages and science.  She desired breadth in her studies - not a classical focus.  Today we consider her classical because she includes Plutarch and Latin - in her day this was seen as leaving the "classical" camp" because she didn't require Greek and included a variety of subjects in her studies - making room for science.  

I do think that she retains some of the depth of education because she advocates slow reading and often reads the same book over the course of years.  As far as I have seen this is unique to her approach.

2.  Faculties - what are they?

When we think of faculty we normally think of the teachers at a school.  In CM's day faculty had a specific understanding. The best contemporary definition that I have found of this idea is from The School World (February 1912):
The doctrine of formal discipline asserts that mental power developed in one subject is usable in any other.  The mind is conceived as consisting of unitary powers called faculties, such as memory, observation, judgement, and others, which undergo development when used upon any material requiring their use.  
If you have ever read about CM's thoughts about faculties and not understood what it meant - this is what "developing the faculties" means.  Here is a further explanation:
It is thought, for example, that constant practice in the memorising of the multiplication tables makes it possible to memorize poetry or dates with a facility equal to that acquired in the memorising of the first material.  (sic) 
Do you see how this allows you to study just a few subjects but yet feel that a child is being fully educated?  In this situation, the content is not nearly as important as these underlying "faculties". Another article by Charles Myers of the University of Cambridge in the same Journal explains that
the materials whereby the faculties are trained is of quite secondary importance
His article argues that the understanding of "faculties" is undergoing a fundamental change in this era because of the growth and development of psychology as an area of study.  CM is not alone in moving away from "the faculties" being the primary way of understanding how children are educated.

The rest of the previous The School World article is a study arguing that faculties is a faulty proposition and doesn't really reflect how children actually learn.  Memorizing Latin declensions does not transfer over to memorizing scientific processes.  There might be some general principles that can be gleaned but the subject matter - matters.  Based on his new understandings he says
An immense amount of historical and geographical minutiae must, in the elementary school, be omitted; their bulk should not be allowed to obscure those living facts which function in actual citizen life. 
Mason had very similar sentiments in her writing. Memorizing is not a faculty she wished to develop for its own sake.  This clearly counters the "neo- classical" approach to classical education which has grown out of an understanding of Dorothy Sayer's famous essay.  They support the idea of the elementary student as being a part in the poll-parrot stage where they love to learn and memorize and thus their learning should center around this faculty.

The conclusion of The School World article, which is written by a teacher trainer of the time, is very similar to the practices that CM advocates:
Physical education will receive a tremendous extension. . . express his own emotions through the medium of a store of good songs and well-memorized literature. . . understand more fully the meaning of, a modern world of steam and electricity, of telegraph and telephone . . . to do this we must enable our children to hear good music, to see good plays, to visit picture galleries, and buildings of architectural beauty, to frequent the woodland and the field.   Thus some of the beauty of the world will become the child's possession. . . 
CM's curriculum is not classical in the parlance of her era - she is very modern.  She also is not classical in her understanding of how the child learns.  Her first principle is that a child is a person - a full person. She constantly speaks against the idea of faculties because, by its nature, it limits the child and the curriculum.  She de-emphasizes the role of memorization and encourages the "science of relations" which is rooted in story and the child thinking about what they are learning - not just parroting back what they have heard.  Her conceptions are not necessarily unique for her time but they clearly are not classical - then or now.  

Her curriculum honors and encourages the Western tradition - but not using the Classical curriculum or methods of her day.  She is more modern than we often give her credit for - in the best sense of the term.  Her program was much more expansive and liberal than the "classical" education of her era.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday with Words: Sowing and Reaping

I have read My Utmost for His Highest off and on for about 20 years.  Right after college I was a faithful reader, then life, but I am back again.  His devotionals challenge me every time (his biography is fascinating as well).  He packs so much into a small page.  I was reviewing the most recent ones and found March 11th about Heavenly Vision.  I am a big picture, vision type person.  I am constantly imagining what could be.  Some of his comments made me stop to think.

Wait! I don't get this.  There is a whole industry based on accomplishing your vision - charts, checklists, statements, values, etc.  Shouldn't I be working towards it? Chambers further explains,
At the beginning we saw it, but did not wait for it; we rushed off into practical work, and when the vision was fulfilled we did not see it.  Waiting for the vision that tarries is the test of our loyalty to God.  It is at the peril of our soul's welfare that we get caught up in the practical work and miss the fulfillment of the vision.  (emphasis my own)
You see - if it is God's work he will complete it.  He is the author and perfecter.  I have believed that it is my role to "do something".  Often, the time hadn't come yet, there was nothing to do but wait and pray (which seems totally impractical).  Oh, if only I had prayed more, been still, enjoyed the place where I was and allowed God to do His work in me and others instead of rushing ahead trying to make things happen on my own.   In the midst of my "practicality" I missed His pieces of the vision.  The little things I didn't have time for were the most important things I could have done.  I was inspired by the wrong things!  This makes me think of Joseph - he knew the vision and could do nothing to bring it about - NOTHING!  In fact, for 20 years it looked like he was heading the wrong direction. All he could do was be faithful to the tasks he was given.  Am I willing to do that?

Oswald recommends

Let God fling you out, and do not go until he does.  

Shouldn't I be the captain of my own destiny, the planner of my own future, the one in charge around here?  We just finished listening to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  At one point I would have cheered on the message and now I stop to pause and think and wonder how much we want to do it our way, on our terms, for our glory (or at least comfort).  Is it wrong to encourage and equip a young girl to raise a family?  Do we grow dissatisfaction in our own hearts (and theirs) by teaching them that we (or they) should fulfill all of their dreams on their terms?  Chambers reminds us

Can you wait for His vision?  Are you willing to be flung out and sown wherever he wants you to be? Do you focus on the practical work and forget to walk in the light of inspiration?   Do you miss the vision in the midst of your busy-ness?  Are you more interested in commanding your own empty pod than being sown by him and fruitful in the right season?

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Foreign Language - Spanish

I apologize for skipping everything last week.  We were sick and then my older boys and I went to Mexico with the Rohi Foundation.  It was a great experience and I think we will be annual spring breakers there.  It reminded me how crucial it is to get to know another language.  I am not going to argue that 15 minutes a week will make you fluent.  However, 15 minutes is better than nothing!  If you start at a young age it does add up.

There are lots of theories and questions about languages.
    Which one should I start with?
    Should I focus on spoken or written language?
    What if I don't speak the language?

Here are my two cents on the subject.

   Start with the one that you know or feel will be the most useful.  Especially if you are using a Romance language - once they know one - they can more easily pick up the next.  If you think that Mandarin is up and coming - go for it.  I would wait for Latin (after many attempts to do otherwise) until kids are a little bit older - 9 or 10 at least.

   You won't become fluent by spending a few minutes a week on it.  Prior to the last 30 or 40 years most often the classroom objective (often in middle and high school) was writing and reading which can be mastered in a classroom in two or three years fairly well.  There was no delusion that sitting in class was going to transform you into a fluent speaker.  My mom took French from an early age and they did it all orally until about 7th grade and then they introduced the written word.  If you have young ones - this is what I would recommend.  The younger they are the more I would focus on the oral language.

   There are TOO many resources out there to help you with pronunciation and oral input to let your personal inability be a barrier.  This is a great thing to learn (or re-learn) along with your kids.  It will help you remember just how difficult it is to learn something new - keeps you humble.

Here are some Spanish resources that I enjoy:

Salsa - This is a series of Sesame Street like episodes that are all in Spanish but use common stories like "Little Red Riding Hood."   It's free and the videos are about 20 minutes long.

Getting Started With Spanish - This is a SLOW but thorough introduction to the language.  All of the audio files are on the website so you can listen for free.

Madrigal's Key to Spanish - I took four years in high school and using this book helped me remember quite a bit.  I think it could be used with middle and high schoolers.  She also has See It and Say It in Spanish (which I own but haven't used as much) and a Conversational Course (more traditional introductory textbook for older students).  

Cathy Duffy has tons of reviews of different Spanish Courses available.  I have been tempted to get The Learnables many times but haven't done it yet.  If you want a grammar based approach for your late elementary student I think Spanish for Children is probably a solid program.  We have Song School Spanish and like it (here are coloring pages for all the words learned - I printed them four to a page and now have flashcards and could make them into matching game, etc.).

If you have young children and a bit of background yourself you can use The Bilingual Book of Rhymes, Songs, Stories and Fingerplays.  This book has it all - except a CD to help with pronunciation.   You can also just use picture books that you would use with your 2 year old if you have a background in the language - Brown Bear, Brown Bear . . . , Red Hat, Green Hat, etc.  These books use the pictures to tell the story so that kids can associate the words with the picture and NOT the English word.  It is best to avoid translation as much as possible - pictures are much better.

The best situation is if you have a native speaker who can come play, read and sing with your children at least once a week (or more if possible).  This can make a huge impact - but isn't always easy to arrange.  Even if you just learn a phrase or a few words a week you can really make strides over time.  Try to use them as you go throughout your day.

For someone else's take on teaching a foreign language at home take a listen.  The Gouin series was a popular method used to encourage conversational speaking in the early 1900's.  This is a pretty good overview of it and a modern adaptation of the method.

I know there are many more resources out there (song CDs ,videos and more).  These are ones I am familiar with that might not be as widely known as others. I'd love to hear something you have tried out in your home.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Education in CM's Day: Introduction

I have spent RIDICULOUS amounts of time culling through educational journals of the early 1900's. For a history and education geek like me it has been great fun. My husband is not as thrilled; but, I am glad to share what I have discovered with you all.

After I was convinced that Mason is not really "classical" in the traditional sense (focus on Latin and Greek and limited curriculum) or in the neo-classical sense (the trivium: three stages starting with memorization - which of course wasn't a "thing" until at least the 1940s/1980s), I began to wonder how similar her methods were to those practiced in Britain at the time.  She clearly didn't live in a vacuum - she was VERY well read, as her 6 volumes (and other works) attest to.  I knew that the early 1900's was a crucial time in educational history and I wondered about Mason's response to and role in this.

This series looks at two key questions:

1.  How does Charlotte Mason respond to the educational debates of her era? 

In her works she doesn't always articulate the debate but she clearly takes a position on issues that we may not even realize were questions.  As I have started reading, I have realized that MANY of the questions of that era continue to be debated today (the role of science, how to teach reading, approach to foreign languages, etc.).  Understanding her response can help us navigate some of these issues today.

2.  How similar or different are Charlotte Mason's methods from the "traditional" English educational system of her era?

Trying to fully implement her ideas seems very foreign to us today - handicrafts, timetables, multiple languages at a young age, etc.  I wanted to know if the shift was as difficult for mother's of that era. How revolutionary were her ideas?   If her ideas were fairly similar maybe reading other resources of the day can help us understand the common practices and mindsets of the era.  If they are truly unique, it can deepen our appreciation of the novelty of her philosophy and practices in her time and today.

Knowing history can inform the present.  I hope that this series does that for you.  Do you have questions about that era and her practices and philosophy? I can't promise to find answers to everything but I can have fun trying!  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday with Words: MLK, Jr.

I am knee deep in reading educational magazines from the early 1900's.  I am that kind of nerdy. However, that reading doesn't really tie into what I want to preserve in this thread - it is for another day.  I am also preparing an assignment on Martin Luther King, Jr.  as we look at the Civil Rights Movement in history in a few weeks.  I started reading some of his lesser known speeches and I really liked this quote from Guidelines for a Constructive Church.  Man, he was a great orator.

I have just started reading so I expect that I will find more of his work that is worth remembering. Next week is Spring Break around here and we are going on a mission trip so I am not sure if I will have a post or not.  I hope that you all have made it through February and are pressing into March.  I can't believe how fast this year has gone! 

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Nature Study

Did you know that nature study was THE elementary science curriculum at the turn of the century? Of course, science has progressed significantly in the past 100 years - but not enough that we should leave this behind.  Nature study helps children enter into the wonder of the world around them.  There are MANY surprising and fun things in nature. Instead of diving straight into manipulating it - why not enjoy it as it comes?  It also encouraged observation and often was tied with drawing and beginning painting.

You can make nature study an "event" - loading everyone in the car with sketch books and pencils and watercolors and guide books.  However, it can just be walking around the block and checking out the birds, squirrels, trees and flowers (the bluebonnets have started popping up around here).  If you take the same walk throughout the year you can help your kids notice the changes (trees, animal habits, etc.)   Just realize that walking with a 2 yo you may not get far - they stop to look at LOTS of things.  Enjoy their pace.  Often it can be helpful to take a picture if you want to identify something later or draw it at home.  I live in an urban area and I think there are at least 6 or 7 different types of trees on my block. 

Calendar of Firsts -  You can either get, make or just record on your current calendar the first time you see or hear something.  We should add our bluebonnets starting up early this year.  If you keep it for a few years you can begin to see patterns and look forward to signs of spring (and fall).  

Nature Journals - If you are so inclined you can combine nature study and drawing/art.  There are lots of resources out there for keeping a nature journal - here are a few:  

Laws Guide to Nature Journaling   (you can listen to him talk about nature here and here and his series of drawing you tube videos

Jim Arnosky has a foundational book Drawing from Nature and a series that guides you through the seasons as well.  

If you are looking for more guidance check out the Handbook of Nature Study with the Outdoor Hour Challenge.  

If you want to focus more on birding check out this website (with a whole section on songs).   

If you really want to dive in you can flip through Nature Study: A Manual for Teachers and Students. Intended for elementary teachers - it covers the reasoning behind the study, ways to do it and an 8 year course in nature study (year by year and season by season)!  

There are also many ideas for nature scavenger hunts, playing nature bingo, etc.  I prefer to just enjoy but sometimes a game can spark kids interests. 

Many poets have been inspired by nature.  There are whole volumes that focus on nature themes.  

Of course you can always get field guides to help you identify what you find.  Peterson's and Audobon's tend to be good and can often be found at thrift stores.  Just make sure you check the region they are from so that the flora and fauna included match up with what you might see in your area.  

This is an area I REALLY need to grow in.  That's one reason I am linking all of these things so that I can come back and find them.  I hope that you delight in the arrival of spring with your family this year. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday with Words: School Education, Vol. 3

I am just about through School Education, Volume 3 by Charlotte Mason.  If you want the overview - read the last 3 chapters.  Just a hint.  I did read this volume once before (I underlined it).  I think this is one of my favorite thoughts of hers

I would also do much better if I remembered this one:

I tend to follow the new and shiny instead of seeking the old ways that are tried and true.

In this volume she emphasizes the role of the teacher for children ages 9 to about 13. They are not to be lecturers or to provide oral lessons.  Instead, their key role is in selecting living books, listening to narrations and discerning if children are just sharing information or truly are acquiring knowledge as they read.  They should not be cramming facts but rather recast, condense, illustrate and narrate what they are learning. She repeats multiple times, "What a child digs for is his own possession."  My personal experience testifies to this; however, it is an act of faith and requires time for children to dig.  It is letting go of what I think is most important and allowing my kids to be their own people and finding their own way among thoughtful people.  Honestly, I love teaching because it encourages me to "dig" for those nuggets.  In some way it holds me accountable to keep learning.  I guess maybe I need to just do it for myself and not inflict it on everyone around me.

See what others are reading and thinking about at Ladydusk.