Saturday, June 14, 2008

The importance of writing, grammar and vocabulary.

A few months ago I discovered, The Royal Fireworks Press. I felt like a kid in a candy store as I have seldom found a selection of books and curricula that fits my philosophy of education as well as those I found on this website.

My biggest find, was the language arts curriculum by Michael Clay Thompson.

Here's a man after my own heart. He is adamant that children need to develop a strong and varied vocabulary. He's a strong proponent of teaching vocabulary through the classics and through the study of word roots.

Verbal talent is developed by new verbal experience. It will not develop on its own, and
it will not develop if the only experiences a child has are within the child’s existing
range of verbal experience. More of the same experience will not develop anything. Ver-
bal talent will develop when a child is thrown into verbal situations that he or she can’t
do, doesn’t understand, hasn’t seen before, forcing the child to stop, think, listen, pay attention, reread, study,
change. When new verbal experience lies beyond the known range, the child must learn new things in order to un-
derstand. It is then the child who develops his or her own verbal talent in order to accommodate an encounter with
verbal phenomena that are new and challenging. Only verbal experience that changes a child develops a child.

If this seems too obvious, we must recall that it flies in the mass face of an educational culture that avoids the
shock of difficulty in the name of self-esteem; giving students things they can do, the theory is, builds their self-
esteem. Developing verbal talent in gifted children doesn’t work that way, but provides a model in which self-
esteem is the accomplishment the student feels after successfully struggling for intellectual growth. In order to de-
velop verbal talent, we don’t give kids things they can do; we give them things they cannot do, yet.


We've seen the benefit of having the children listen and read to literature that is "hard". From around the time Ben and Shira were 3 years old, they've listened to audiobooks. We never gave them audiobooks that were age appropriate, instead, we fed them a steady diet of British children's classics and recordings by Naxos Audiobooks.

A magnificent thing happened along way. Ben and Shira developed listening skills that exceed those you would expect for their age as well as rich vocabulary that they are not shy of using.

I developed my vocabulary by reading, which means I am sometimes faced with wanting to use a word that I know in print but have no idea how to pronounce. I'm hoping that Ben and Shira will avoid this pitfall by using a combination of good audiobooks, reading and the study of vocabulary with me.

He goes on to say:
Another reason to provide gifted children with a rich exposure to the classics is the rich vocabulary that they
nearly always contain. Guess, for example, what book these words come from:
diffidence, placid, adhere, quietus, miscreant, quixotic, reproof, condescend, somber, enigma, phlegmatic,
undulate, sublime, resolute, strident, din, amicable, amorous, raconteur, profound, dejection, placid, amiably,
tedious, mea culpa, perplex, impede, interpose, incisive, impassive, admonish, aperture, avidly, perfidious,
miasma, abject, portal, fain, sanguinary, retort, imperiously, hauteur, patronize, aloof, blithe, boon, cypher,
wince, defray, genial, cadaverous, remonstrate, nether, upbraid, solicitous, conveyance, mauve, hitherto, suc-
culent, artifice, proffer, ardent, tremulous, recriminate, assail, virulent, insinuate.


Could these words come from a book by Thomas Hardy? Nathaniel Hawthorne? The answer may surprise
you; these words come from James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the story of Never Never Land, Pirate Smee, Captain
Hook, Wendy, and the boys who would never grow up (Thompson, 1990, p. 9). In Peter Pan, Peter lost his shadow,
and Mrs. Darling picked it up, folded it, and put it in a drawer. Hook told Smee to kill Wendy, and Smee said to
Wendy, “I have to kill you, but I’ll save you if you’ll be my mother.” She refused. It is a children’s book, but look at
the vocabulary. Because such diction is stripped from today’s dumbed-down literature anthologies, and because
modern publishing houses usually require authors to avoid such words in children’s stories, the classics have become
an increasingly precious source of good vocabulary in children’s literature.


In this video that was recorded at the College of William and Mary, he talks about the importance of children encountering serious, academic type words early on in elementary school and of them learning scientific Latin and Greek based words. Apparently, if you understand the 100 most common English language stems, prefixes, suffixes and roots , you'll understand 5,000 additional English words.


I greatly appreciate his list of top 100 words that
appear even in so- called children’s classics, such as Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, and The Call of the Wild.. Shira is busy reading "White Fang" and I found it useful to go through this list of words with her before she started reading the book.

Here he is talking about the importance of teaching grammar to our school children.


Ben and Shira aren't at the level where they need to learn how to write academic papers, but nonetheless, it's worthwhile watching Thompson talking about the importance of teaching formal academic writing. What I took away from this talk, is that if I want Ben and Shira to be able to write rigorous academic papers when they are older, I need to look to teaching them a rigorous, formal language program from this early age that includes vocabulary, grammar and writing components that work hand in hand with each other.


Hear Michael Clay Thompson read the "amazing" opening paragraph of The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He then explains away some of the myths about teaching students how to write.


This summer, we are working through Thompson's book on teaching poetry to children, Music of the Hemispheres. Poetry was not my strong point at school and I can't say that I've ever sat down and read poetry for love. However, Shira is transfixed by poetry and is always writing some sort of poem or the other. Thompson's book is perfect for a mom who dislikes the art and a daughter who loves it. His teaching style is humorous and at the same time, very rigorous. Ben and Shira are having a ball and are not realizing that they are learning good skills. We're also working through, Building Language to start learning the most common stems in the English language. We're combining it with English from the Roots Up. The two books could not be more different. Building Language is engaging and fun, while English from the Roots Up is as dull as dishwater. However, I've taken the word lists from English from the Roots Up and turned them into a fun game for the kids.

Thompson shows the close association between Latin, Spanish and English and I am hoping that once we've done all four books in his elementary school program, plus a year of Latin for Children that learning Spanish will be relatively easy.

3 comments:

leah said...

This is so true!
And I'm definitely going over to Royal Fireworks Press to have a look at their books.

I didn't even know there existed such a thing as the language arts curriculum, but I developed one for my own children myself. :)

I've always been an avid reader, and so has Lizzy, but Fran not so much until... she started reading my own stories.
( http://simtales.net/leah.html )
Stories about adults, dealing with adult problems and using adult words.
I do censor some of the content, because I don't think she could handle that emotionally - but even so.
I never thought my writing would help my daughter finding joy in reading. And now she wants to be a writer too!

CaliforniaOnlineHS said...

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College Paper Writing said...

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