Nurturing Competent Communicators and Teaching Shakespeare to Children

Nurturing Competent Communicators and Teaching Shakespeare to Children

2014-07-14 10.49.56

Thanks to Jocelyn for pointing me to this most excellent lecture: Nurturing Competent Communicators by Andrew Pudewa. Every parent who wants their child to write well should really give it a listen. You don’t have to be a homeschooler.

In brief: If you want to make your children into good writers, you need to create in their brains a database of reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns. You do this by:

1. Reading out loud to children in greater quantity.

There is no better place that you can get sophisticated, correct language and vocabulary than by reading good books to children. But we do it far too little.

Spend as much time as you possible can reading really good books with sophisticated language. (I’d add: Don’t worry if the children don’t understand all the words. They will learn from context. My kids all love to listen to books that are well above what most people would think age appropriate.)

Second best to hours spent reading to your kid (because you know we can all get really busy) is lots and lots and lots of excellent audio books. Again, pick fun stuff but also don’t be afraid of harder stuff that stretches them.

2. The other best way to create in their brains a database of reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns is memorization. Memorization locks the information in the brain. Especially good is memorization of poetry for poetry uses more unusual words and more complicated sentence structure.

But we often do memorization wrong. Even when we do have children memorize, we often don’t do it in such a way as to get it into long term memory. For permanency you need: 1. frequency, 2. intensity, 3. duration

Pudewa suggests that you achieve this via the Suzuki method of memorization: Learn a piece. Keep reciting that piece while you learn the next piece. Repeat the first two while learning the third and so on. Repeat all the pieces every day. (Eventually you phase the first pieces to every other day and then every third day as you learn more and more pieces, but you never stop practicing them.)

* * *

I have to say that I don’t think I’m going to sell Bella and Sophie on daily recitation of poems they’ve already memorized. Bella looks at me like I’ve got two heads: “But I already know it by heart. Why should I practice it?” I think I’ll aim for once a week. I did get them to recite High Flight and Hist Whist with me. In fact, I think my best strategy is to be the bumbling parent with the bad memory. I botched my own recitation and then Bella had to come to my rescue and tell me what I left out.

I do need to pick another poem for us to memorize. Hmmm. There are so many lovely ones that I already know by heart, but I don’t think I can convincingly practice them enough when I’ve already got them down. No, I need to pick something I don’t really know yet either. I’m thinking maybe it should be Shakespeare since we’re on a Shakespeare roll. I suppose I could resort to consulting How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. Or would that be too obvious?

Now that I mention it, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is a lovely follow up for this talk. It’s a very hands-on, nuts and bolts approach. A little too much so for me. I like to pick my own passages, thank you very much. But I do like many of the suggestions he makes. And it’s a fun book to just read. Oh yes.

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  • I really enjoyed How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare too, and agree memorisation is very valuable. It feels like laying up treasure. Nursery rhymes are magic. So are singing hymns and folk songs for getting rich language near effortlessly stored in long term memory. Psalms are great as are verses from the Bible. You can play games if several of you know a bit eg “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” guess the story or finish it… The King James version of the Bible has marvellously poetic language eg Mary was ‘great with child’ in Luke Ch 2, and ‘the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him’. Waxed!
    Love the Suzuki method. By listening to the music a lot you also internalise the structure of pieces eg a theme is introduced, it plays around a bit, then it drops to a different key which creates a wistful feeling, then it reverts to first key with a show-offy bit/climax then there is the resolution. I think it translates to a sense of structure for writing.

  • Always wondered if reading a lot to children with obvious ADD has an unconscious effect. Does repetitive reading have a greater effect with such? It gets digested to some degree whether concentrated on or not!

    There is also a different mechanism of the brain used with music lyrics. Persons effected by strokes who cannot answer with speech to simple questioning can fill in the words to well known lyrics if sung to while leaving an ending or even mid lyric word out.

  • ‘If you want to make your children into good writers, you need to create in their brains a database of reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns.’

    Yes, so much! Oddly enough, I’ve just gone through my feedly for a self-self-congratulatory break from thesis drafting (am in the early optimist-enthusiast phase!) so am delighted to have my self esteem improved further, by having this long held suspicion backed up!

    I am one of those unmarried women who harbour rather romantic secret wishes about home schooling, despite any realistic prospect of it fitting into my current or likely future state of life, or any real life role models as to its realities, but I think one of the things that makes me so blithe about my abilities to do it well was that the standard set by my public school education was so very low, and the good results that I ended up achieving were I think largely attributable to having had free access to vast quantities of books at home, and my parents’ boundless enthusiasm for games of competitive ‘attribute that quote’ and ‘guess the etymology’ at mealtimes.

    And apart from the fact that learning to write well in such a painless, drill-free way, and the fact that immersed exposure to good writing is the vehicle for an education in anything else worth discovering, knowing you can express yourself well provides a self-assurance that’s being taken increasingly seriously as one of the main gifts of an expensive elite school education.