Saturday, September 29, 2012

Writing in Highschool: Plans and Realities.

This post is for the Homeschool Highschool Carnival.   Please check out this blog on Monday, October 1,when Chari and I will be hosting the 2nd Edition of the Homeschool High School Carnival.

The topic is

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"?

The writing program I have in my head is quite simple....

It looks a lot like Ambleside Online's Language Arts Scope and Sequence

This Well Trained Mind handout A Plan for Writing Well (pdf) is also sensible in my opinion.

These are both influenced by the idea of learning from the masters, and learning from real writing rather than from exercises in a workbook and programmed composition assignments.  
Both emphasize the formal or planned part of the writing curriculum, and in truth, I admire this and make my plans accordingly.

However, I have to realize somewhat reluctantly that the informal and unplanned part in my homeschool is a much more vital part of what we do, and there is where the reality comes in.

Why reluctantly?  Well, I like to plan and I like to feel like I know where I'm going.   But for our family, I often find I have to choose between my Plan and what my intuition tells me will be better, and writing is a key example of this. 

So here is..... 

The Plan

Primary Grades: (K to 3)

  • Lots of read-alouds
  • Learn to read
  • Learn handwriting
  • Move from letter formation to word formation to copywork of short phrases.
  • Oral narration and discussion
  • Dictate your own stories to Mom
  • Make lapbooks, if desired.  
  • Write notes, texts and emails to family members.

Middle Grades (4 to 8)

  • Dictation and Copywork (longer and possibly topic-oriented -- keep a commonplace book?)
  • Written narration
  • Logic (formal or informal)
  • Begin the Progymnasmata
  • Keep reading aloud + lots of opportunity for silent wide reading 
  • Write your own stories.  
  • Find a penpal or a safe message board or a story club
  • Notebook, if desired. 
  • Try the Benjamin Franklin method of improving your writing

High School (9-12 +)

  • Continue with Progymnasmata.
  • Keep a high school or college writing handbook around for reference, or use something like the Purdue OWL site.   
  •  Learn how to rock the 5-paragraph essay for the SATs
  •  (and after that, forget most of it for college-level writing)
  • Develop personal writer's voice by continuing to read great writers thoughtfully and discuss
  • Get some feedback and opportunity to "publish" on the level desired (whether an online writing course, college class, blog, Novel in a Month, newsletter -- possibilities are endless, we have done many of them, but according to the individual highschooler's preferences and style)
  • Read real writer's books and resources.
  • Intensive writing project of choice (write a novel, maintain a blog, write Latin poetry, storyboard etc -- again, details vary according to child)
+ I put the + sign because some of my kids have a "gap year" where they do other things besides proceed on to college.


So there is the Plan.  Here is.....

The Reality

Speaking widely, our reality DOES reflect my plans as stated above.   In other words, this is actually more or less a description of how we have done it.

However, some days are way MORE and other days are way LESS.   There is hardly a day where if you looked at our homeschool, you could actually see this all humming along.    And certainly, whenever I sit down and write out things like:  "Write an email to a sibling or parent" or "do copywork every day for the next year, working up to a short paragraph at a time" I am just asking to be disappointed. 

In fact, I have to say that many times, our writing journey felt like meandering through untracked forests and clearing our path as we went, not like following a well beaten trail to a specific goal.

And I suppose that makes sense, because to me, writing is a process of discovery, a making of something, not a step by step sequence.  Certainly you want to learn from those who have gone before, but to some extent that means stepping out individually, responding to those who in former times have responded to someone else.   (The Great Conversation!)

Learning some patterns for writing may be very helpful, in the way that literary analysis might help you to read books better, but it can't by itself make you a writer.

This is probably why, though I've bought and examined many writing curricula through the years, I've never settled on just one, or used just one for very long.    Either they seem to ignore what I think are the keys to writing, the writer's interior and intention and reading context, or they do emphasize those things, but in a way that to me feels either contrived or privacy-invading.   (I will add I'm sort of a stickler about writing, so I'm not here to pan standard homeschool writing resources -- many are very good and helpful, but that is a different post)

So writing is messy and intuitional, around here.   There are long pauses and hidden growths.  There are times of intensity and hard but rewarding self-chosen work.   There is rarely anything like "one report a week" or "daily written narration".   I like to PLAN those things, but when we actually get to doing them, I often tweak and change.   In fact, writing is like life in this regard. 

Also, as someone whose key refuge in childhood was reading and writing, I have a horror of making reading and writing into a chore or an ordeal.   I am not saying that this is a good thing.   I am saying that this is how it is for me, and I have to work with what I have. 

My kids tend to read avidly, play imaginatively, and then, the natural next step is to want to write their own stories.    My job is sometimes to be their pen (or typist), provide surfaces to write on and instruments to write with, sometimes provide resources like manuals or wider forums, and often be their first reader and giver of feedback.   

And there are good things about our silent, hidden writing, sporadic curriculum.   It has "worked".     My 3 kids in college and beyond all write well and have done well in college writing of varied kinds..   They all enjoy writing and write stories in their spare time, when they have any. 

And really, those were my ultimate goals for writing when I started homeschooling.  I wanted my kids to think of themselves as writers, to find writing its own reward, and to be able to write adequately for their own life purposes both public and private (and hopefully, so as not to drag down the literacy standards for future generations). 

Though I have several children still in the earlier stages of this process, I can see now, looking back, that our methods suited our goals, even though I never met my dream of having tidy notebooks full of planned writing projects.  


Scenes from the Journey......
This is a list of posts about writing from earlier blogs.    I tried to organize them a little.

Personal Experience -- Memoirs about our writing

  • Too Little, Too Much? (I was reflecting on my fourth son's public school experience of writing as opposed to our methods with my three older children)

Planning Posts  (here you can see what I planned through the years -- though these never happened the way I planned)

I did a book study on Mel Levine's Myth of Laziness and here are two posts that relate somewhat to writing.

Some quotes by writers on writing


  1. Great post! I'm coming back to this to read again and again!

    1. Good stuff Willa, like Faith will come back for more :)


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