|Esbjorn Doing His Homework by Carl Larsson 1912|
“I do not think I should ask a child to imitate a particular style, but I should like him to be so far steeped in the works of as many good writers as possible, that he would be able to recognize the author in an extract he had never heard before, just as he should know an unnamed picture of Raphael, Titian, or Botticelli from his knowledge of the painters’ characteristics.” – H.H. Dyke
I want to share this pretty amazing article about composition with you. It was presented by H.H. Dyke at the Ambleside Conference in 1911 and later published in the L’Umile Pianta, the alumni magazine. I love reading about composition and digging around to see what Mason prescribed for her students. This lengthy article does not disappoint. In fact, it would be interesting to have a discussion about it, just as the attendees at this conference did. And just as I already have had with a few fellow teachers and parents.
Note that the author grounds the topic squarely in the Great Recognition, a fact of no small importance and perhaps the most distinguishing attribute of a Charlotte Mason education. It’s also interesting to read about the problems the teachers ran across in the reality of the classroom. (See this article which discusses when dictation isn’t working well as a tool for spelling for some students.)
You will find all sorts of valuable exercises in this article. I like this one –
“Take an essay by some good author – for instance, one of Macaulay’s essays. Let the child read a paragraph and then express the essence of its contents in one sentence. This is specially valuable as a training in that quickness in seizing a point, which we value highly in other people, and by which, perhaps more than by any other way, intelligence may be tested.”
I hope you enjoy it.
Admiration, Hope and Love!
Following close on the theory of paragraphs and sentences comes the art of punctuation, which, although it is simple, and perhaps because a certain amount of license is allowed, so many people do not understand. How many people never make use, for instance, of the colon or semi-colon; yet their right use adds immensely to effectiveness of style. Perhaps the only effectual way of learning to punctuate is by careful observation when reading; but the Dictation lesson can give practice also.
Write a story for which the following words of Benjamin Franklin would serve as a fit motto: “A little neglect may breed mischief; for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost.” And: “A French boy asks why you are proud of being English. You reply in a letter.” I quote these examples to show how very varied in form a composition may be, and how much scope there is for ingenuity on the part of the teacher in order that interest may not flag.
into the parapet, and there for a moment he stood, holding it tight and taking breath. Then he was shot dead; but his small hands, still clasping the flagstaff, drew it down along with him, and the crimson silk lay covering the boy with its folds; but only for a moment, because William Evans, a swift-footed soldier, ran forward, gathered up the flag, and raising it proudly made claim to the Great Redoubt on behalf of the Royal Welsh. The colours, floating high in the air, and seen by our people far and near, kindled in them a raging love for the ground where it stood. . . . Our soldiery were up, and in a minute they flooded in over the parapet, hurrahing, jumping over, hurrahing, a joyful English crowd.”
Is Blank Verse helpful in teaching Composition?
Is it advisable, in order to produce a good style, to analyse extracts culled from masters of clear, good English?
Should letter writing be taught?
Some students said they found Blank Verse hindered clear expression, and the proper accenting of the syllables often failed; whilst others felt that the limited and definite number of syllables helped the children to find fitting and simple words. Most declared Blank Verse to be a favourite lesson, and were of one mind that it should not be taken out of the Programme.
The second question discussed called forth the unanimous opinion that there was too little time on the Programme to use extracts and analyse them; and also that the right use of the books set for each Class, as well as wider reading of the best literature, must in itself help greatly to the formation of a good style in Composition. Instances were cited of children’s use of simple clear English when narrating a passage read either from the Bible or elsewhere.
The students generally agreed that letter writing should not be taught, as it would spoil the naturalness of the style and make it too stereotyped. All felt most grateful to Miss Dyke for raising this discussion, and thanked her for her splendid paper.
You can find the original article here.
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