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The Unified Approach to Language Skills: Making the Most of Your Time and Efforts
Christian homeschool families center their lives on the Bible. They make home the center of learning, fellowship and fun. Once they set these purposes, it is easier to make other decisions. Just ask, Does this activity meet our purpose? Does that include eveyone? Unity and focus are the keys. Homeschoolers use the keys for curriculum, too.
Many of us have accepted a classroom-based model for teaching that breaks subjects up into separate pieces. In our homeschool settings, we are free to choose a more effective and efficient way, especially in the teaching of language skills. Would a day of school be complete without reading, writing, or vocabulary? Most would say no. However, if you are learning about history and science, you already have an avenue for teaching language skills in a way that is natural, effective and efficient. Let's look at how you can do that.
Reading Comprehension: This really means understanding what you read. Your children can build this skill as they read textbooks or our favorites, biographies and literature that relate to history or science study. Use tools such as narrating, or retelling what has happened, predicting what will happen next and telling the story from a certain character's point of view to find out if your children understood what they read. If you didn't read the story, scan the story and ask questions about the names of characters and places you notice. Prewritten comprehension questions can be helpful, but are not the only or most natural way to measure comprehension. Discussion is an effective and enjoyable way to determine comprehension. In the classroom, teachers often require written answers to determine comprehension because of the sheer numbers of students, not because it is necessarily more effective.
Building Vocabulary: This refers to learning the meaning of new words, their context and how to use them. The usual approach to this is to just look a word up in the dictionary. A more effective way to learn new vocabulary is much simpler, and for us, more fun. Keep a stack of index cards handy. When you or your children encounter an unknown word during reading, write the word on the card. Ask the children what they think it might means and write it lightly in pencil on the card. My children would quickly search the surrounding text for clues to meaning. (This is what is known as using context clues.) At some point, you or your children (we took turns) can look the word up in the dictionary or glossary. Then report to the group what the actual meaning was, and how close your definition was. As you compare the actual meaning to what the children thought, the discussion makes the new word more memorable. This may add a step to the traditional process, but that additional step included important thinking skills. It is very encouraging for children to see that they often had a beginning in their mind to understand new words. We also played a game in our home where we all tried to use one of the new words in normal conversation sometime that day. The hoots and howls that would go up when someone worked the new word into conversation!
When children read and discuss, they also learn a lot of words that you might not notice as new words. They would learn about 3000 words per year even if you had no vocabulary lessons.
Writing: The main purpose of writing should be to help your child solidify and express understanding and meaning and it should be used in response to activity, discussion and most importantly, thinking. The key to making writing more effective and less painful then, is to change your view of writing's purpose. Initially, it is to benefit your child's ability to organize and express thoughts, not for presentation purposes. With these goals in mind, there are many natural ways to incorporate writing into your curriculum. Dialogue journals (a question is asked and both you and your children write a response, share it with each other and then write what you think of their thoughts,) are a great start. Also, ask children to briefly write, [comma added] telling what happened in a story or lesson. Words on paper is usually the hardest task, so the more the child feels knowledgeable about the topic, the more words you are likely to get. Also, they can share what they have learned by preparing charts, graphs, advertisements or brochures. The formal structures of writing (expository, persuasive, etc.) can be easily learned when students are older if they have had plenty of practice using writing to reflect their thinking and understanding.
These are just a few ways to could use a unified approach when teaching your children. Tying learning together helps increase interest and interaction as well as decrease busywork. You might want to be careful, however. On more than one occasion, this approach led my children to ask to learn more...
Author, speaker, and educator Debbie Strayer is a co-author of the Learning Language Arts Through Literature Series, co-founder of Homeschooling TodayMagazine, co-author of the Trail Guide to Learning Series and a longtime consultant to homeschool families. She has been married to husband Greg for over 30 years, homeschooled for 16 years and is mother to two homeschool graduates. Debbie encourages homeschoolers internationally and in the US, passing along the common sense approach to education that she learned from her mentor, Dr. Ruth Beechick. To read more from Debbie, go to debbiestrayer.com.