Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Autonomous English?

R is currently working through the Jolly Grammar program, and has about a year and a half left before he completes the curriculum. He also does writing activities each week and reads fluently. So I got to thinking about teaching English in the near future. I've looked around at lots of teachers guides and student workbooks for English and my conclusion is; BORING! How the writers of these materials have made them so exceptionally dull is beyond me. I myself hated English at school. Spending weeks reading and analysing a book at the slowest pace possible, writing pointless essays and doing boring comprehension exercises.

So my question  is this: English - do we really need a formal curriculum?

Thinking about what R (and L) have already learnt it seems to me that autonomous education (natural learning or unschooling) has already done an amazing job for the subject of English language. For example, the children were never formally taught how to speak or the grammar conventions of conversation. After a minimum instruction in the basics R has taught himself to read fluently. R has decided himself on occasions to do joined up handwriting despite no formal instruction. Just the other day R used an apostrophe (to show belonging) in his written work. We have not covered this yet. When I asked him how he knew about using apostrophes he said he had noticed it in his reading. We don't need boring comprehension worksheet to find out if the children have understood their reading, we just talk about it or do a narration.

So what about writing? Well our Jolly Grammar and Jolly Phonics programs are covering the basics of spelling and grammar nicely. I don't see the need to do endless complex grammar exercises. After all, as an adult, most of us don't analyse the grammar of what we are writing, we just think about whether it sounds right or not, a skill easily picked up by reading widely. How many of us write text which serves us no purpose; but that is what we ask of children all the time? What exactly is the point of writing a book review you couldn't care less about, or a story that you don't want to tell? I try to provide writing experiences for R which serve a real purpose. He may write a shopping list that we actually use, a birthday card for a friend, a letter or postcard to send to relatives, a love note to Mum or Dad.

What about poetry and creative writing?  I remember as a teacher asking my supervisor why I had to teach a lesson every week on story writing, were these children expected to become authors? What was the point? I don't think I ever found out! You can't force someone to write a story, poem or other creative piece (never mind a good one!) unless they are inspired and willing.  I believe you can show them the basics (spelling, grammar, layout etc.) and let them read many examples but only they will know when they wish to write, if ever. I think there is too much emphasis on creative writing, and fake "writing experiences" (eg. write an advertisement, menu, instruction etc) in most curricula. Writing must have a purpose.

So how am I going to teach all the types of writing without making up fake experiences or using boring workbooks? Well I have some ideas but I'm open to more! I would like R to start a family newsletter (or maybe R's own blog) to tell our family and friends around the world what we have been doing. This will be a real newsletter, actually sent out in the post/email. R will continue to write usable lists, labels, cards, letters and so on as the need arises. We have tried some poetry and R is enthusiastic to write more so we will as long as the enthusiasm lasts.

Howt about drama? In the past we have attended group drama sessions. They weren't really R's thing. At primary age I feel formal drama sessions are not needed, after all drama is pretending, something children of that age do naturally anyway. I hated drama at secondary school (as did Dad). We felt it was all a bit pointless and frankly embarrassing. I think skills like assertiveness, debating and public speaking are more useful so that's what we will concentrate on.

So, for the future, I'm hoping that English "lessons" will become more autonomous once the basics have been mastered. I would like to see the children using their English skills for real purposes and also creatively, for pleasure, if they wish to do so.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, a very thought provoking post. I absolutely see where you are coming from. I often wonder why it is assumed that a child must be able to write so many different {and in several cases useless} genres. Admittedly I tend to focus a lot on drilling the basics... Maybe exposure is the key and encouragement where there is interest. Great post :)