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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Does using the Charlotte Mason method of teaching writing through copywork, dictation, and narration really work?

For a few years, I was concerned about whether or not my son would really learn to spell and write using the Charlotte Mason method of teaching.  It seemed like his spelling was way behind other homeschoolers who used more of a traditional method of teaching this subject.

Also, being that this was the only child I had ever homeschooled, I had no way of knowing if this method would really work.  Would dictation, narration, and copywork be enough to teach my son the writing, vocabulary, and spelling skills he needed?

Not knowing how to even begin teaching writing to a child who hated it, I held on to the hope that yes, using the Charlotte Mason method would teach my son grammar, vocabulary, writing, and yes, even spelling.

Beginning in third grade, following the example essay exam provided by, whose curriculum we have been using for the past three years, I began administering essay type tests at the end of each of my son's school terms (for a total of three exams each school year). 

It was through these tests that I finally saw my future writer.  I use the word "future" because this is what I have learned. A child at the elementary age cannot write his thoughts down as quickly as they come to him.  So when trying to write them down, much is lost or left out, often leaving the child feeling frustrated.

When you think of the word "essay" you associate it with writing.  Knowing what I just stated above how is it then that I had my son take essay exams?  This is how; instead of having my son write his responses, I had him dictate his answers into a tape recorder and then I transcribed them. 

Here are two examples taken from two of his exams, one from third grade and one from fourth.  Keep in mind that these exams were given to him at the end of the terms, not right after he completed the books:

In third grade (Term 2):

"Wanted Dead or Alive" The True Story of Harriet Tubman
Tell about the life of Harriet Tubman.  Would you consider her a hero?  If so, explain why.

Harriet Tubman was born in a slave cabin.  When she was four years old she learned how to work.  They thought she was very useful so she was sold to someone else for her to take care of a baby.  She went there and if the baby woke up and started crying, the woman would hit Harriet with a whip.

When Harriet was at the table, she saw that there was some candy, so when the mother wasn’t looking, she tried to take some.  When the mother turned and saw her, she took her back to the farm where she came from. The mother said, “She isn’t even worth a few cents a day.”

When Harriet was back at her own farm with her family, her brothers were talking about trying to run away.  The one brother said, “The slave catcher might catch us.”  The other brother said, “Don’t talk about it anymore.  You might scare the girls.”  Harriet heard about it so on the next day one of the slaves ran away and the slave catcher said, “Come back.”  He didn’t.  He kept on running.  Harriet went after him and he ran into a store and Harriet Tubman blocked the slave catcher.  The slave catcher threw a club at the slave, but it hit Harriet’s head.  It was two pounds.  She was in a log cabin and couldn’t work for weeks. No one wanted to buy her.  When she was okay, she was sold to another farm.  She was very strong.  Her owner showed her off to the other owners. 

She met a man named John and they got married.  He was a free black man.  She talked about running away but he said, “No, that’s a silly idea.”

That night she and her brothers were going to be sold.  She and her brothers ran away without saying goodbye to anyone, but then her brothers got scared and returned.  Harriet went on through the darkness.

She went to one of the houses in the Underground Railroad.  She went to Pennsylvania.  There was a place where runaway slaves went.  It was very nice there.  When the civil war started, she wasn’t safe there anymore. 

She went back and forth freeing slaves.  When she came back for her brothers, her dad was there.  She didn’t want to see her mother because Harriet was afraid that her mother would cry and wake up the slave catcher and the slave catcher would find Harriet.

The father closed his eyes because he knew the slave catcher would say, “Have you seen your children?” This way he could say “no,” because he hadn’t seen them.  He had not said one lie in his whole life.  The whole time when he talked to them, he would put a blindfold around his eyes so he wouldn’t see them.

The next day Harriet and her brothers went to Pennsylvania.  She went back and forth freeing over 300 slaves and didn’t lose one passenger. 

When she was at a railroad station, people were talking about a $1,000 reward for Harriet Tubman.  Everyone wanted to catch her.  She was dressed in wealthy clothes.  The people knew that she could not read or write so she grabbed a book and pretended to read.  They said, “That isn’t Harriet because Harriet doesn’t know how to read.”  So, she wasn’t caught.

When the Civil War started she became a spy.  When they went with the black army to attack the south, not one of her men were killed and they defeated the south.  I think Harriet Tubman is a hero because she saved over 300 slaves and she helped the army.

In fourth grade (Term 1)
Studying God’s Word
Tell two stories we read from the Bible and explain what you learned from it.

Gideon was pitching hay and an angel came to him. The angel said to him, “You are going to defeat the Midianites.”  Gideon was very surprised at what the angel said.  He said, “Why don’t you choose somebody stronger than me?  I’m the poorest tribe in Israel and one of the lowest in my family.  Why would you choose me?” 

God spoke to Gideon and said, “I will be with you when you defeat the Midianites.”  Gideon started questioning God.  He said, “If I put this fleece on the ground and if it’s wet and the ground is dry, I will know you are with me.” 

When he woke up in the morning he saw that the fleece was wet and the ground was dry.  He asked God again, “Make the ground wet and the fleece dry.”  When he woke up in the morning it was just like he said. 

The people of Israel were worshiping other gods.  God told Gideon to knock down the god and knock down the pole.  So he and some other men did so in the middle of the night.

When the people found out, they wanted to kill Gideon, but his father said, “Whoever wants to kill my son will die by the next day.”  So everyone let Gideon live and they started worshiping the true God. 

Gideon went to defeat the Midianites.  He had 2,200 people with him, but God said there were too many.  Gideon told the soldiers, “Whoever is scared can go home.”  So the people went home.  There were very few people left.  God said, “There is still too many.  Take them to the river and I will tell you what to do.” 

They went to the river and God said, “Whoever cups their hand to drink from the river will go in one group.  The ones who lap it up like a dog will go in another group.”  So all those who lapped the water stayed in the army and all of the other people left.

God said, “Now you can go and fight them.”  Gideon attacked the Midianites and he was victorious over them. 

What Did I Learn

God can help us in the time of great need.

So could my son have written all of this had I asked him to write his answers?  Most definitely, not.  Does the fact that he dictated it instead of writing it make his knowledge any less valuable, absolutely not.

My son is now in fifth grade and I have seen a tremendous improvement not only in his spelling, but in his writing as well.  His vocabulary amazes me; there are moments during our reading where I'll ask him if he knows what a certain word means and he tells me the meaning, not simple, ordinary words, but words that I'm sure I wouldn't have known the meaning of at his age.

I'm no longer fearful that my son won't learn how to write and through my son's experience, I now know that the Charlotte Mason method of teaching writing does work.  This year he will transition to writing some of the answers to his exam, and I can definitely tell you, I am looking forward to reading them.

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  1. Very encouraging, Clara! That's also special that you have the term exam recorded. He could not have summed up the story any better then that! I am always amazed at how much detail kids remember. Keep up the good work with your boys!

  2. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 6, 2011 at 10:30 PM

    I, too, have my son do his copywork in cursive. It's the only time he writes in cursive. :-)

  3. Glad to know it really works, because it seems so simple!

  4. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 7, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    Yes it is!

  5. my girl dislike writing, I haven't start home schooling yet, she is in Montessori Preschool at the moment. I'm glad is work out for your son. :)

  6. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 8, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    My oldest didn't care for writing when he was in preschool or Kindergarten. My 5-year-old shows more of an interest but that didn't happen until he was closer to five. Come back and visit me, as I'll be posting about my 5-year-old's "pudding writing" next. :-)

  7. NancyfromSageParnassusOctober 25, 2011 at 6:13 PM

    This is a wonderful example of composition, a la Mason! Your son has an extremely strong foundation for future writing assignments.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Admiration, Hope and Love,


  8. How wonderful. Thanks for the story.

  9. My experience with the CM method of teaching writing has been very similar to yours. She is now in 6th grade and types her own narrations. I am always impressed with what she recalls, and what she draws out of the readings. Teaching her to type before requiring her to write her narrations really helped, because she can type as fast as she can think it out rather than laboring over handwriting. :~)

  10. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 25, 2011 at 9:55 PM

    Thank you for stopping by.

  11. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 25, 2011 at 9:55 PM

    Thank you.

  12. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 25, 2011 at 9:55 PM

    Thanks for stopping by.

  13. That is impressive. Thank you for sharing these it encourages me to hold to the hope too!

  14. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 27, 2011 at 12:16 AM

    Thanks for stopping by.

  15. Wow! Wonderful to see real life examples that show that these methods work. Thanks for sharing this with the carnival. I am going to share your link with my readers!

  16. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 27, 2011 at 8:42 PM

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you!

  17. Traci's Teaching TimesOctober 28, 2011 at 12:54 AM

    Just today I gave my children essays/narrations to write on the study we have been studying for history. My DS's paper was so detailed, I questioned my DD to see if he had used the book to write his paper. She said he did not. I say, 'Charlotte Mason's methods work. The narrations prove exactly what our children have retained."

  18. ASliceofHomeschoolPieOctober 28, 2011 at 1:10 AM

    Absolutely! Thanks for commenting.


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