Writing

Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education, is a professor of writing and literature at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She says:

"I read through scores of incoherent, fragmented, unpunctuated papers, written by students who graduated from well-funded high schools with small classrooms and qualified teachers."


The full title of her suggestions for the best way to teach writing is The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease: Strong Fundamentals. It's a four-year, non-consumable writing guide for the elementary writer.

(I say "writer" instead of "student" because the material can be used for anyone learning to write. Bauer is so sure that this book will be an assest to older students and other poor writers that she labeled the courses "Year One" instead of "First Grade" (and so on). Since she has college students who would benefit from this kind of instruction! Older kids don't want to think they are 'as dumb as a first grader' and I'm sure they appreciate her choice of titles.)

It starts with 27 pages of Bauer's calm, confidence-inspiring way of talking to you about "Understanding the Process." This starts with 3 pages of "Why Writing Programs Fail" (writing a lot instead of learning to write); then she spends 11 pages breaking down her methods for each of the three classical stages.

Especially helpful in this section are the parts entitled "what you're not doing" and "what you're still not doing." Here she comforts and reassures those who were impacted by the recent/current methods of 'learning' writing: write, revise, repeat. She says there is definitely a time and a place for both original work and research papers, just not when most students are doing them. She doesn't want us to put the cart before the horse, as they are doing in most school settings. Here, the cart is producing written work and the horse is learning to write.

The last section of "Understanding the Process" is four page-long layouts describing how each year of instruction is going to pan out. At the bottom of each layout you are directed to the page for that year's "Mastery Evaluation," so parents can determine if their student should start in that year of lessons, or the next. It was really easy to run my oldest through the evaluation and see where she stood.

Let me quote to you from Rainbow Resource's review of the next part of Writing With Ease :

"The bulk of the text provides the weekly lessons for each level (year). Each year is divided into segments with a varying number of weeks. Each of these segments starts with a detailed lesson plan for the first week; then “tweaked” plans for the rest of the segment’s weeks (i.e. use slightly longer sentences for copywork; look for sentences that contain the proper names of days of the week and months of the year). Each year concludes with a mastery evaluation. Copywork sentences and narration excerpts are provided for each of these “first weeks” but not for the remaining weeks."

So, I didn't mention yet that along with this non-consumable text goes consumable yearly workbooks. At over $20 each, though, and four children of my own to educate, I would buy one each of the workbooks and make them copy the work on their own paper. Buying one copy and sharing it is a bargain- it's better yet than either of the other options:

-buying each student their own ($100 each kid over 4 years)

-only buying the text and finding all those passages and creating your own questions and choosing a copy sentence, etc. I'm sure for me at least that I would let it slide and end up doing a lot less than I would want to.

When I considered purchasing this book, I diligently looked at each of the pages from the table of contents that the Rainbow Resource staff put online. I was really confused how week one takes up 4 pages but weeks two and three only took up 1 page. Having the book now, I see that week one is fully scripted with a chosen passage, content questions, copywork sentences, and dicatation passages. Then, you are instructed to follow that pattern for the next few weeks on your own. To complete the full course with only the text you would have to find passages yourself, a task complicated by Bauer's suggestion to find passages that have certain requirements, such as months, capitals, abbreviations, etc.

After going through the scripted, fully prepared lessons in Writing With Ease, I am convinced that I would rather spend the money on the workbooks than look for the passages myself. How does the saying go? "You have time and money. If you have more time than money, make it. If you have more money than time, buy it."

Later, after thinking some more, I had concerns that what Susan instructs in WTM seemed to contradict her instructions in WWE. Here are my thoughts:

I remember from The Well-Trained Mind this instruction (found in her "Words, Words, Words: Spelling, Grammar, Reading, and Writing" chapter, under the section "Reading"):

"We strongly feel that "reading texts" (books with snippets of stories and poems followed by comprehension exercises) turn reading into a chore. Books, even in the early grades, ought to be sources of delight and information, not exercises to be mastered. A good classical education instills a passion for books in the student. "Reading texts" mutilate real books by pulling sections out of context and presenting them as "assignments."" (p57)

Now, when I was reading about "Writing With Ease" and the accompanying workbooks, I kept reading things like:

"Copywork and narration excerpts for each lesson are included with background information provided and comprehension questions (with possible answers) that lead the child comfortably into narration.." (from Rainbow Resource)

When I purchased the book, I saw that, as described, and against her own instruction, she has taken "snippets of stories ... followed by comprehension exercises." How do I reconcile these seemingly conflicting instructions? I have a 'brand loyalty' to Susan Wise Bauer, so it bothered me that she seemed to have created a curriculum empire that contradicted how she instructs us to teach our kids.

So these thoughts stewed for a while and here is my conclusion:

The passage from Well-Trained Mind is referring to READING.

The instruction from Writing With Ease is referring to WRITING.

Ok, stick with me. The purpose of the reading passages in a book about writing is to get the kids to narrate the summaries to the parent aloud. Why? Let me quote again, this time from WWE:

"As the young student narrates out loud, he is practicing the first part of the writing process: putting an idea into his own words. He is practicing a new and difficult skill without having to come up with original ideas first; because his narrations are always rooted in content he's just read or heard, he can concentrate on the task of expressing himself with words."(p8)

Susan thinks most teachers get the cart before the horse- they have students write and write and revise and revise. Actually, she says, the value of narration is "He is also practicing this new skill without having to worry about the second part of the writing process: putting those words down on paper."(p8)

So the questions about the passages are to help the kids be able to take information and express it in their own words. This is why she doesn't endorse kids writing essays and research papers before they can WRITE. They need to master *pre*writing skills first:

-put idea into his own words (narration)

-putting words on paper (copywork)

-visualize a written sentence in his mind (dictation)

-putting it all together

So, whew! she's not contradicting herself. Glad I don't have to stay up late nights worrying about it anymore.




Find the Writing With Ease Workbooks, Levels 1-4

EEEK! I wrote about this on my homeschooling blog... and you'll never guess...
but Susan Wise Bauer herself commented on it!! Here's the link, share my joy!

I'm so pleased you are utilizing Classical Curriculum!
Teresa (Tracy) Dear


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