Friday, May 30, 2014

Copywork & Dictation

I’ve had several people ask me lately about how we use copywork and dictation in our homeschool. I'm still learning about both of these simple-yet-powerful tools, but I'm happy to share what we've done up to now and what I hope to do in the future.


Copywork is an excellent tool to teach children a whole bunch of things at once. At its most basic it is handwriting practice, and as we all know "practice makes perfect!” But it is ever so much more than just a handwriting worksheet. Good copywork passages will be taken from good sources and will include lofty thoughts and rich vocabulary. A well-crafted sentence will introduce basic punctuation, capitalization rules, and even grammar that the child will internalize as they spend time with it. The concept of copying beautiful passages of poetry and prose is immensely appealing to me. I want to sit down and fill up a journal with pretty passages! Unfortunately, Miss M is not of the same mine as I am at this stage. Charlotte Mason advocated achieving perfection in copywork, requiring perfection from her students. I fail in that regard. I accept “neat” but do not require perfect. Whether for good or for bad, I can’t bring myself to be that critical of a seven-year-old’s penmanship. Maybe when she’s 10 I’ll be meaner...?

So, what does copywork look like at Sycamore Hill Academy? Well, this year I’ve been using the printables from Mama Jenn for our Matthew memory verses, Hero Tales character qualities, and geography vocabulary. Since the passage is printed at the top of each of these sheets, that’s what Miss M copies from and onto. It also makes it easy for me to have a “do-over” if she’s too sloppy; I can just print out another copy! She is not a perfectionist the way I am, so her tendency is to do quick, sloppy work just to call it done. I am not as consistent as I should be in requiring excellent quality, but I do see improvement from last year, so something must be going right, huh? I hope to improve both of us in this area by a year from now! (Also, I seem to remember the same sort of slap-shod attitude when I was her age, so hopefully a few more years will mellow her out a little!)

I would like to see her copying from more rich passages than I find in Hero Tales and Geography from A to Z, so I’ve been creating some nice copywork pages and putting them up on CurrClick. So far she’s only used "The Rooks," but I have a few others in the works I will be giving her soon.


Now let’s talk about dictation. Honestly, I think I jumped into dictation a little too early. I’ve since learned more about what Charlotte Mason’s methods actually were and I think we would have been better served by holding off on dictation a year or two, but I’ll share what we’ve done and how it worked.

Dictation is about paying attention. That is most definitely an area Miss M could use some work on. So last year I started her on weekly dictation lessons. These were usually met with quite a bit of push-back. But, as time went on, she grew accustomed to the process and learned to listen better. I would let her look at the passage I had chosen for dictation; they mostly came from PLL but sometimes were from whatever book we had been reading. We would discuss spelling (rarely an issue for her) and punctuation in the passage. When she was ready, I would have her sit quietly with a piece of lined paper in front of her and listen for the dictation. Sometimes she would rush ahead and write things I hadn’t said yet because she knew what was coming next, which drove me nuts! But her ability to listen and reproduce what she heard did improve.

This year I’ve cut back some on our dictation and have focused more on copywork because I think it’s more appropriate for her age and development. I plan to re-introduce dictation midway through ECC, which will be the beginning of our next school year. The dictation we have done this year has been during our memorization of the passages from Matthew. I usually have her copy the passage the first day we introduce it, then write it from dictation midweek, and by the end of the week she needs to recite it to me from memory. This system has been working well for us!

Here’s how I envision dictation going forward:

  • Ask which of two sources (usually read-alouds we’ve been working on) she’d prefer her dictation from.
  • Skim a recent chapter and pick a short paragraph without quotation marks and with some new or interesting vocabulary.
  • Have her read the passage aloud to me and ask her about any words she thinks she may have trouble spelling.
  • Review punctuation marks used in the passage with, perhaps, a word or two about their purpose.
  • Sit her down with a piece of lined paper and instructions to listen and not talk. (That last bit is particularly hard for my Miss M since she is always running commentary on her life!)
  • Read aloud the passage, a few words at a time, not repeating anything.
  • Instruct her to review what she’s written, making any necessary changes.
  • Have her look at the passage and make corrections to as many errors as she can identify herself.
  • Go over it with her, pointing out any errors she missed.
  • File it away in her three-ring binder.
  • Let her sit on my lap and snuggle. (She always tells me, “Mama, I’m so glad I’m homeschooled ‘cause if I went to school I couldn’t cuddle my teacher like this!”)

If you have any thoughts on copywork pages, either passages you’d like to see made available or formats you’d like to see (I’ve had requests for copywork pages with each line written directly above the line to write on so that early writers can see the letters and words modeled directly above where they are writing), please let me know! I’d be more than happy to work with you to design just what you want/need for your kiddos!