I met you briefly in the summer at the conference in Victoria. I have been very much enjoying your second book, “More Charlotte Mason Education”, which you recommended since I have been homeschooling a few years. I asked you a question about dictation, regarding one-time learning and selected dictation passages. You said that dictation should be assigned at the beginning of the week and then tested at the end, therefore putting the onus on the child to know what is coming and thereby avoid repeating sentence. However, I noticed in the appendix of the book that your schedules show dictation being done 4 or 5 times per week. Does this mean you assign more than one passage per week for testing, or that some dictation periods involve unseen material, while others involve previously studied passages? I have been using your suggested method with my girls since the beginning of the school year, giving an assigned passage on Monday and testing it on Friday. However, my kids are finding it tedious and boring. We have been using bible passages, which may explain some of their frustration, because there is allot of punctuation in this writing. Should I choose prose from a favourite book, or should I let them choose their own passage? I had just surmised that if we did bible for dictation that I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. What would you recommend? My girls are in grades 5 and 7. Also, I have a daughter in grade 3 but decided that she was too young yet for dictation. At what age do you recommend starting kids with dictation? Thank you in advance for your time
I will answer these by pulling out each question individually.
#1 Why is dictation scheduled every day of the school week if the assignment is given on Monday & the testing is done on Friday?
Answer: To allow the child time, each day, to work on it. The 10 to 20 mins. allowed on the schedule not only gives them time to work on the memorization of the passage but also serves as a reminder that they are responsible to have this thing done (and done right) by Friday. I encourage each child to at least read the passage daily but I also suggest that they write it out at least one time during the week. What I am looking for on Friday is this: The ability to take the dictation from me verbally while getting every word, every comma, every semi colon, capitalization (in other words everything) correctly written. When I used the word memorization above I don’t mean that as we usually think of the word. Normally that brings recitation to mind. There is no recitation, but a successfully done dictation assignment has brought about a type of memorization. And let’s not forget the main point. Language Arts; yes, they are all being learned, well many of them are, with each successive passage. One passage may teach the capitalization of cities or names and another may teach one proper use of the semi colon.
#2 Does this mean you assign more than one passage per week for testing, or that some dictation periods involve unseen material, while others involve previously studied passages?
Answer: No to all three questions here. I only assign one passage per child per week. There is no unseen material and no, there is nothing in the way of studied passages.
#3 However, my kids are finding it tedious and boring. We have been using bible passages, which may explain some of their frustration, because there is a lot of punctuation in this writing. Should I choose prose from a favorite book, or should I let them choose their own passage? I had just surmised that if we did bible for dictation that I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. What would you recommend?
Answer: We do not want the children to find this exercise to be boring. In fact the love for learning does not allow much room for boredom. Boredom is the enemy at all costs. But the Language Arts HAVE to be taught. My children have uttered a complaint here and there about dictation over the years. I always do the same thing. I pick a textbook from the storage area and the very next week we work out of the “English” textbook. Normally, that would be either Abeka or Rod and Staff, only because that’s what I have handy. The same thing always happens, the child does NOT LIKE it at all. I then offer to return to dictation on the following Monday, this works around here and quickly takes care of complaints. It would be similar to me with a certain water faucet I have. It takes an unusually long time to “warm up” and I wind up standing there fairly unhappy each time I use it. Let’s say that for one week I had to go “out back” and fetch some water from the pump, aka well, in the dead of winter. And let’s say that I had to warm the water over the wood burning stove and wait for it to warm up before I could wash my hands. Wouldn’t I be a happy, happy girl the next week when I was able to return to indoor heated plumbing?
Now as to what kind of passages to select. It does not need to be an entertaining bit of writing. I have resisted the urge to kill two birds with one stone for a long time. I mean, if the book is at all worthy of being in your house it must have some redeeming information in it, and the child does spend much time with the passage, they will get to know it’s content. However, I do not choose according to content near as much as I analyze the passage for its Language Arts characteristics. One week I want to choose a passage with strange spellings, another I want the m-dash, or the quotation marks to be emphasized. We read the Bible daily, and it is my favorite book because it’s no ordinary book, it’s God’s Word but I NEVER use it for dictation. The structure and the grammar and the punctuation are not what I’m looking for. Neither would I choose the child’s favorite book. We don’t want to kill their esteem for that book by making them “work” in it. I do use a favorite book for penmanship however.
#4 At what age do you recommend starting kids with dictation?
Answer: They have to be able to read and write, that’s for certain. I have used “readers” as first dictation passages for children about 7 to 8 years old. Their assignment would only consist of the very few words on the page. You want the child to feel successful so you don’t want the work to be too hard for them. Also, this gives the younger child a chance to do the same work as the older sisters are doing. During dictation time the younger child also has an assignment to pull out. As the child is getting to be 10 to 13 years old the passages become longer and more challenging. In fact, by grade 8 and grade 9 more than one page can be assigned. So much is learned and that is a great thing. Only be careful to not assign things just for the sake of busy work or to have an assignment on hand. Make sure that there is some Language Arts to be learned (or reviewed) with each selection made.
I am hoping I may have been of some help. I always appreciate questions that come in after someone has read a book of mine. It helps me to know what kind of situations a person comes across as they begin to implement the Charlotte Mason methods.
Thank you for writing,