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    Organic Grammar

    August 25, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    So many of the books I have studied extol the virtues of doing grammar lessons as we walk along the way, so to speak. Charlotte Mason, for instance, rued the fact that teachers in her day were teaching grammar without the children first having “knowledge of sentences.” Others–like Comenius and Andrew Kern and Cindy of Ordo Amoris–have made similar statements. The idea seems to be not a rejection of formal grammar, but a right ordering of the lessons.

    My problem is that I don’t have a deep knowledge of grammar. Most of my grammar is intuitive, which might work fine for my own writing most of the time, but doesn’t give me what I need when it comes to teaching and offering correction to my own children.

    However, comma.

    I began “formal” grammar in the second half of year two with my oldest, and I found it to be a mostly pointless endeavor. Using Harvey’s Elementary Grammar and Composition, we did fine through the first handful of lessons, and after that, he just didn’t connect with it. I’m not one to waste time, so I dropped it, and began thinking about how to do a better job this coming year.

    And now the coming year is here.

    I decided that, in order to learn to write, he really needed to be writing. Then, we’d have something to work with. So, he has an almost-daily written narration. I gave him a spiral-bound notebook to serve as his “narration notebook,” and on the first page, I wrote up an example format. I want to be able to track his progress, so I had him put the date in a certain place, and cite the name of the book and the page or chapter numbers in a certain way and in a certain location.

    At the same time, in addition to studying Harvey’s on my own time, I got myself a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves that I’ll be beginning shortly. Hopefully, I will build my own grammar knowledge faster than he needs me to have it, and I’ll be prepared for my younger students when they get here, too.

    We are now on Day 3.

    Every afternoon, we have a meeting, and during the meeting I go over his narration with him. I told him that in addition to serving as a narration, we were going to learn to write better, and he seemed pretty excited about that. Somewhere, someone wrote that it was dangerous to tackle too much at once when using this approach, so I’m trying to be careful and not correct every single mistake on every single page.

    On the first day, then, I only corrected the format. He didn’t properly capitalize the title of the book, and he wrote the date incorrectly. I gave him as a goal for the next day (in addition to trying to write a worthy narration, which was our general goal) to make sure he got the format correct. The next day, it was almost perfect (the date was missing a comma), so I decided to attach the next problem: the rules of sentences. We went over this in our Harvey’s lessons last year, but he has forgotten over the summer. I think it’ll stick better now that he’s seeing it in action in his own writing.

    Here is where I’m excited: I don’t think I need to entirely give up the formal lessons. Instead, Harvey’s (and The Mother Tongue, another grammar textbook I have) will be our reference. Yesterday, I reminded him of the basic sentence form: capitalize the beginning letter, and end with a period. His goal for today, then, is to (1) get the format correct and (2) follow the basic sentence rule I reminded him of yesterday. I’ll be satisfied, even if there are other problems, like comma problems.

    And so it goes.

    This actually feels a lot more manageable to me than when I was going to “teach” grammar in a daily or weekly lesson. Instead, I feel like a coach–his will is enlisted, he wants to do well, and I am going to help him do a little better each day.

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  • Reply Samara April 22, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Brandy! Idk if you look at old posts or not butβ€”- I am so confused about grammar! My 9.5 yo is going into Y4 this September. I see that AO schedules Grammar and recommends KISS. Do I start KISS and just keep at it till Y7 or 8 when AO schedules a more comprehensive grammar? I see many people starting in 3rd grade. Oh the dread of being behind!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts August 25, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you for your advice on commas! Seriously, I was wondering about that. I noticed that he seems to naturally do well with commas, but I wasn’t sure about saying anything anytime soon.

    One reason I like keeping my Harvey’s by my side is that it’ll help me know what to look for next. πŸ™‚

    I tend to like British humor in books. I still don’t get those Monty Python moves. πŸ˜‰

    ps. I will email you if I get in over my head in this grammar thing. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Mystie August 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    That sounds great, Brandy! Coaching & tutoring specific writing is the best way to improve writing.

    My advice, for what it’s worth, would be to not really worry about commas at all (except to delete them if he starts being comma-happy) until even 5th-6th grade. To really understand commas you have to first understand independent & dependent clauses.

    Eats, Shoots, & Leaves is hilarious as long as slightly vulgar Brit humour doesn’t bother you. πŸ™‚

    Ok, time for me to start filing away ideas for third grade…. πŸ™‚

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