Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On notebook keeping and copybooks, slightly controversial here?

The ongoing Living Page discussion on Wildflowers and Marbles is up to the several kinds of notebooks that fall in between Nature Notebooks and Books of Centuries. As Jen at Wildflowers says, "many of the notebooks discussed in this section can be accurately described as themed commonplace books with a couple of exceptions."  I mentioned some thoughts on the Fortitude Notebook last week.

But many of these sorts of notebooks are most suitable for the highest grades, or for adult notebook keepers.  As many of us know from our own or our children's early attempts at "keeping," the risk with young children is either that the parent or teacher does the majority of the work, such as by providing printed forms to fill out, or that you end up with personal journals (one form of notebooking that is not part of the CM canon, at least not as part of the educational experience), or multiple drawings of pink ponies.

There are a few notebooks described in this section that would be useful for the elementary grades, including copybooks.  I agree with Laurie Bestvater that Charlotte Mason really does reach far ahead of her time here, in suggesting that students use "words that spoke to their hearts" (Bestvater, page 28).  I thought I was doing pretty well a few years ago in creating "left hand, right hand" type copybooks for my children; that is, I printed out a few words, a sentence, or a verse on the left hand page of an exercise book, and they copied it on the right hand side--just once, not multiple times.  I also used some of the make-your-own-handwriting ideas with the various fonts that our computer has been able to provide over the years--such as graying-out a font similar to manuscript or cursive, and printing it out in a size big enough for them to first trace over, then to copy.  This doesn't even take into account the various workbooks and other writing systems we have tried.  Having two lefties and another child who, though right-handed, just did not seem wired to produce beautiful handwriting, presented some challenges that we never quite overcame. 

Can we just put it that I felt like we were doing our best at the time, though we never did achieve such beautiful written work as some other homeschoolers I knew did? And that I sincerely did attempt to keep the writing practice personalized and meaningful, even if often it was my choice of text rather than the children's?  Perhaps that really is what works well for many of the youngest ones, especially those who have difficulty copying directly from a book; although Charlotte Mason does suggest that young ones be encouraged to copy out verses from their favourite poems.  But at least for those of upper elementary age and over, it seems important that they begin to choose, just as they should be choosing what to write about and draw in their nature notebooks, just as they will begin to choose what to enter in their Books of Centuries.  They may not exactly be keeping commonplace books yet, but they should begin to be given the choice of material to transcribe, even if the "choice" is limited to "from the term's play" or "from this poetry anthology."

Unhappy as this makes me to say it, that emphasis on choice pretty much rules out a lot of the other uses of copywork as we know it, and most of the commercial copybooks and penmanship programs (I mean those that go beyond teaching the formation of letters and how you connect them into words). Many of us have made much use of the Ruth Beechick methods of teaching grammar through copywork, or at least choosing copywork (even for older students) based on spelling patterns, particular forms of sentence construction, or just valuable thoughts.* It may provide great "natural" spelling practice (a term Dr. Beechick likes), it may be a good way to practice handwriting (something even my middle schooler still needs), and it does help to model great writing style and examples of character.  But here, I think, is Charlotte's point: other than demonstrating particular points of spelling or grammar, most of those benefits can be had even if the student chooses his or her own texts to transcribe.  And possibly there are some side benefits that we haven't fully realized.

Your thoughts?

*In fairness, I think Dr. Beechick does offer a good, useful method of evaluating older students' handwriting, in her book You CAN Teach.  She suggests periodically having a sort of "handwriting clinic," where the teacher/parent examines a sample of handwriting and makes suggestions of areas that could be improved; and/or a few weeks out of the year are used to focus on handwriting improvement.  That way it doesn't seem like such a never ending source of friction, but rather puts responsibility for correction on the student herself.  Rather CM there, don't you think?

Linked from The Living Page Discussion #3 at Wildflowers and Marbles.  Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, Feb. 25/14.

2 comments:

walking said...

I love how you zeroed in on the pitfalls of what passes for notebooking these days: " As many of us know from our own or our children's early attempts at "keeping," the risk with young children is either that the parent or teacher does the majority of the work, such as by providing printed forms to fill out, or that you end up with personal journals (one form of notebooking that is not part of the CM canon, at least not as part of the educational experience), or multiple drawings of pink ponies."

As the mother of a leftie whose handwriting is more neat than her rightie sibling, I have to say that legible penmanship in a leftie is an accomplishment in its own right.

One thought: we can model this by doing it ourselves. That is what I'm doing right now.

Brandy Vencel said...

I get confused when it comes to copybooks versus commonplace books. *Did* Miss Mason's students choose their own copywork for their copybooks? That is what I don't know. I know they chose their own commonplace book entries, but that happened, as you say, when they were older.

For my children, I choose their copywork until they are about 10. After that we transition to them choosing, and after that they just transition to a commonplace book...