How it’s going so far, with a focus on Literature and essay writing

It's Thanksgiving weekend, which is about 6 weeks into the new school year and seems like a good time to reflect a bit on how things are going.

We had a family meeting at the beginning of September to talk about what we wanted out of homeschooling, what Freya's goals were, and how that all might work. I talked about about the things I said here.

Mat and I wanted her to do more writing and develop her analytic skills. This is based roughly on the kind of progression that Julie talks about in the Bravewriter Help for Highschool. In service to this, I registered her for 2 Bravewriter Literary Analysis classes — American Poetry (in September) and The Great Gatsby (in November.

The American Poetry one went pretty well, I think. I am not a looking-over-the-shoulder mom so I asked her about it and we talked about it a bit but she basically got on with it. She hasn't had comments back on her essay yet.

It did raise some issues about structure, following rules and doing things according to a plan. That led to some discussions about giving things a try even when they are uncomfortable and seeing if you can figure out why someone would make you do them.

In particular, Freya had a lot of resistance to talking about rhyming patterns. She doesn't find them interesting. However, talking about the rhyming structure was one of the required things, so she did it. I tried to talk to her about the difference between doing it to say you've done it and actually trying to figure out why someone might think it was important or interesting. I pointed out that the poet probably thought a lot about the rhyming structure and it is likely that is because the poet thought it related to the meaning. She has since reluctantly admitted that she figured out that rhyming structure might be important to meaning. I'm calling that a win.

We also had a long conversation about the ways teachers communicate criticism and the difficulty of taking criticism. This was tougher.

There is an inherent problem in the pedagogical approach that encourages students to communicate thoughts by saying “there is no wrong answer”. Because even if we think there isn't ONE right answer, we do expect students to move on from their initial thoughts. Where's the learning in having your initial ideas confirmed? The problem becomes how to nudge students to develop their initial thoughts, consider other interpretations, and maybe even change their minds, without sounding like that first “there is no wrong answer” was a lie. All teachers struggle with this. And I definitely recognize Freya's reaction.

I tried to explain the difficulty and how hard it is to communicate and that teachers are only human, etc. I tried to give her strategies for seeing the useful things in the teacher comments even if the way it was said annoyed her. Since it's an online course I suggested that maybe it would be helpful to look at the teacher comments on someone else's writing and then what they did with those comments as she'd have a bit more emotional distance. My hope is that that might give her enough distance to be able to identify what's useful.

I'm not sure what she did with what I said, but she did go back and try to engage with the comments differently. And she recognized that she is learning things in the class. This is good because her initial response was to ask to pull out of the 2nd class because she doesn't like the teacher. I'm all for validating my kid's feelings and finding what works for her, but Bravewriter is one of the few curricula that feels really aligned with our educational philosophy. I can't teach literary analysis because I never really felt like I understood it. I think this is likely to be the best option for doing some of this work. I told Freya this.

All is well. We'll work on those strategies for getting the most out of a class even if it isn't perfect for you. It also turns out that she is really not keen on writing essays though she accepts that there are good reasons we want her to do this kind of work. Also, she's already read The Great Gatsby and loved it. She's seen the film. She's talked about it and tried to write about it. I pointed out that she won't need to work at understanding the book and doing the literary analysis because she knows the book. The purpose of doing the class is precisely to help her look at the book differently and write something she couldn't write without having her ideas challenged.

Being challenged is always uncomfortable but I think this is what this next phase of her education needs to include.



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