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    Progym: A Sample Week + Judging an Outline

    September 7, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    Think now. If you took your watch to pieces, you would probably spoil it for ever; you would have perhaps broken, and certainly mislaid, some of the bits; and not even a watchmaker could put it together again. You would have analysed the watch wrongly. But if a watchmaker took it to pieces then any other watchmaker could put it together again to go as well as ever, because they both understand the works, how they fit into each other, and what the use and the power of each is. Its being put together again rightly would be a proof that it had been taken to pieces rightly.

    And so with Master Analysis. If he can take a thing to pieces so that his brother Synthesis can put it together again, you may be sure that he has done his work rightly.

    -Charles Kingsley in Madam How and Lady Why

    What week of school is this? The third already? Fourth? I can’t quite remember, but either way, time is flying by. I’ve been getting emails about this progymnasmata thing as to how the implementation is going, so I thought I’d post something else before I get distracted by a book or something. I’ll trace this past week, which was only his second week of being self-directed, and give examples of his work.

    Day 1: Read, Narrate, Discuss

    This is how we start off each week. This week’s fable was The Fox and the Grapes:

    One hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the things to quench my thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.”

    The reading and narration went fine {he is one of those children who seems to memorize most of what he read or heard}, but the discussion was interesting. When I asked him to guess the moral,  he guessed something along the lines of it is not worth trying to do something that can’t be done. It was so sad! Si was in the room and we both groaned. So we talked a little bit about how easy it is to try to despise something that we want but can’t have.

    And then Si encouraged Son E. not to assume that something can’t be done!

    Day 2: Outline

    I already wrote about our Blocking step, so here I’ll just show what he came up with. It was hard to decide whether to divide it into three parts, or four parts, so we appealed to the book, which said four, and that is what he went with. Here’s the outline {complete with errors}:

    I. Fox
         A. Hot summer day
         B. Was walking through an orchard
    II. Grapes
         A. Just ripening
         B. On a vine
         C. Trained over a high branch
         D. A good food for a hot day, he said.
    III. Trying to get the grapes
         A. He took a run and a jump but missed
         B. He tryed again but missed
         C. He tryed a few more times but missed
    IIII. Gave up
         A. Had to give up
         B. Walked away with his nose in the air
         C. I am sure they are sour, he said.

    You know, I didn’t catch that Roman numeral error until I typed this up. I’ll have to remind him that point four ought to be IV.

    Day 3: Write it Shorter

    Writing it shorter is all based upon the outline rather than the original fable. I am trying to train him to look through the outline and decide which details are essential to the plot and which are not. For instance, in The Ant and the Grasshopper the detail that something happened on a summer’s day is important because it is later contrasted with what happens in the winter. But in this fable, the same phrase, on a hot summer day, can be disposed of. The goal is to learn the art of concision: the bare bones, but without sacrificing plot.

    One day a fox found some grapes, in a orcherd.

    It was high above him.

    The fox thought that it would be the perfect food for him.

    He tried again and again but missed each time. He gave up and said “I’m sure they are sour.”

    {Yes, I have taught him the rules concerning a/an.} I found it interesting that he chose to do a “paragraph” for each point in the outline. That is definitely a good way to make sure you hit all points in the sequence; I hadn’t taught him that.

    Day 4: Choose a Variation

    This week, he chose to write it longer. The two easiest ways to write a fable longer are to add descriptions of the landscape and the characters. Remember, this is the rough draft.

    On a hot summer day in a orcherd, were the trees were loaded with rich fruit. All the fruit was just ripening and full of rich juice.

    On one end of the orchard all different types of grapes were trained over lofty branches. They were all almost bursting with juice.

    On all the branches birds were twittering to each other.

    A fox was strolling along in the orcherd.

    His coat was bright orange/red color. His tail was tipped with white, and his nose was very sharp.

    When he saw the grapes he said “ah, the perfect food for a hot day.”

    He walked back a few paces and took a running jump, but missed. He tried again and again, but still in vain.

    At he gave up and walked off with a scornfull air a said “I am sure they are sour.”

    Success at this stage {as well as the Day 3 stage}–at putting the pieces from the outline back together again rightly–is proof to me that the outline was done correctly.

    Day 5: Final Draft

    We only write a final draft based upon Day 4. We don’t rewrite the short version, though we do talk through any errors. As you can see above, my child cannot spell the word orchard. He also left out a few words. I find that a number of those issues are best edited by having him read his work aloud. He even asked me how to spell orchard. Just so you know, I’m not very picky {especially compared to my husband, Grammar Guy}, so there may be changes you would have required of your student that I didn’t. I try not to over-coach. With a more experienced student, I would have, for example, addressed the overuse of the word “all” in the beginning of the fable, but that sort of issue wasn’t my focus this week.

    On a hot summer day in an orchard, the trees were loaded with rich fruit. All the fruit was just ripening and full of rich juice.

    On one end of the orchard all different types of grapes were trained over lofty branches. They were all almost bursting with juice.

    On all the branches birds were twittering to each other.

    A fox was strolling along in the orchard. His coat was a bright orange-red color. His tail was tipped with white, and his nose was very sharp.

    When he saw the grapes he said, “Ah, the perfect food for a hot day.”

    He walked back a few paces and took a running jump, but missed. He tried again and again, but still in vain.

    At last, he gave up and walked off with a scornful air and said, “I am sure they are sour.”

    I was very pleased with his work. He did so much of it all on his own. His descriptions made me happy. Of course, I am a bit biased.

    The Progym and Charlotte Mason

    I think that if someone did not want to do the progym specifically, there would be a very CM way to implement something similar. I have heard of using something called a “narration cube” for oral narration. I would think a similar cube could be made for written narrations. The sides could be labeled as

    1. Write a plain written narration
    2. Write it shorter
    3. Write it longer
    4. Write it with the sequence of events inverted
    5. Write it from the perspective of one of the characters in the story
    6. Write the same plot, but in a different setting and with different characters
    You may be unaware that Charlotte Mason allowed–and even encouraged–all sorts of “creative” narrations, such as poems, writing about an incident as a reporter would write an article for a magazine or newspaper, and so on.

    This would have a similar impact on writing and thinking, in my opinion, without doing a separate curriculum. Personally, I like that he is learning to outline {I don’t know when else I’d teach it} and I also think the fables are very easy to work with. But I know that not everyone feels they can add something on top of Ambleside Online, so this is a way that the progymnasmata could be adapted within AO instead.

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    2 Comments

  • Reply Mystie September 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I think Barbara Cooney’s Chanticleer fox has a tail “tipped with white.” I love the proof that such phrases unconsciously come back when needed. 🙂

    So far CW/progym is pretty much like IEW, except IEW only has them rewrite the fable without specifying longer or shorter (lengthening it is a later unit). I think writing it shorter is a good exercise, though most boys I taught did write it shorter – doing the bare minimum they could. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 8, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      That is so funny about Chanticleer! I kept thinking it rang a bell, but I couldn’t place it. But we’ve read that book over and over since we got it when he was five–half of his life!–surely that is where it came from.

      I think if I had a boy who was already concise, I’d just skip that step and have him choose a variation. This particular child always remembers EVERYTHING, though. With a fable, that isn’t a big deal, but as we get into longer and longer readings, I want to listen to his narrations, but some would run 20 minutes if I allowed it! I’m hoping this “skill” of concision will transfer to other such areas where it is needed. He seems to have all of my flaws, including not always being able to identify what is important and what isn’t. {Isn’t *everything* important?? 🙂 }

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