I haven't had the chance to blog lately due to the hours I've spent at my Mother-in-law's bedside and the additional hours required to administrate our homeschool cooperative school. As a result, I've a head FULL of assorted bits of interesting things that just beg to be set in order. I remember feeling a little like this when I had a colicky baby and no time to write in my journal.
In one of my recent reads, Writing to Learn, William Zinsser makes the challenge to write about something that is intangible rather than concrete. For example, a music lesson. It is one thing to write descriptively about a work of art or a photograph~~~the reader can LOOK at what is being discussed. But to describe a musical technique requires the ability to conjure up sensory information of a different sort. In the author's own words:
"Writing about music also made me a better musician. The need to write clearly about an art form that the reader can never see or hear; one that evaporates with the playing of each note, forced me to think harder about the structure of music--about what I was trying to learn."Zinsser's approach here is related, I think, to the concept of narration. Homeschoolers, especially of the Charlotte Mason variety, are well familiar with this technique of "telling back" what has been learned. In a homeschool setting, this most often involves telling back an episode in a book. But I'm finding that this deceivingly simple exercise is valuable in other settings, too.
The music lesson is just one "non book" example. How about narrating the way in which a math problem is solved? Or describing how to do a flip on the trampoline? Have you ever tried to describe in detail an elegant meal that you enjoyed?
Oral "tellings" are perfect for young children, but writing the narrations adds a new level of learning. Even adults find it challenging! I know this because I've tried tackling some of the writing assignments I've given to my children.
Zinsser tells us that writing forces the brain to reason in a linear, sequential way and thus is ideally suited to help us tackle subjects that we might view as difficult. When we write, we must break it down into bite-sized morsels and that is far less intimidating than sorting through a huge mass of information.
I have two very excellent writers in the family. But I have noticed that when I choose the "Achilles Heel" subject as a writing assignment, the result is less-than-excellent. So I am taking Zinsser's advice which includes:
*Providing excellent models of good writing across the curriculum
*Taking the time to write across-the-board, even where symbols are commonly preferred (math, music, physics, etc.)
J. Henri Fabre, the famous French writer and entomologist, honed his incredible writing ability over a period of 20+ years by writing textbooks. His care in writing enabled him to later pen books that have been described as the "Insects' Homer". His words sing, even after being translated into different languages.
The lesson I learn from Fabre is that writing is a lifetime pursuit! I'm excited that my own learning continues to unfold as I oversee the education of my children.
Life is rich!
For more on the subject of narration, take a look at Belinda's post entitled "Narration-but With No Books!"