Tag Archives: dictation

I’m Glad We Stuck With Dictation

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We haven’t had many triumphant writing moments here lately. You know the sort of moments I’m talking about, where your kids write something so beautiful and lovely that your heart goes pitter patter. Sometimes it’s not even that well-written, it’s just that they wrote it, they wrote that poem, that paper, that one sentence, that letter to grandma, that thing you thought they couldn’t write.

Well, it’s all been a little perfunctory here lately with writing. The kids write. They don’t complain. BalletBoy is writing a fanfic mashup of Korra and Star Wars. Mushroom is working through Wordsmith because he needed to do some workbook based writing for a little while. They do an okay job of it, though sometimes I feel like we’re running in place. That’s okay.

However, I’ve been so appreciating lately that we stuck it out with dictation over the years. We’re in such a perfectly good place with dictation right now. I see how it has actually helped my kids get better at paying attention to mechanics. I see them getting faster and more fluent with getting the dictation down. I see them using dictation as a model. I feel like they’re learning from it.

I started out as a dictation non-believer. I wasn’t convinced that copywork and dictation would very good tools for teaching writing, but when nothing else was working, we started using them. Then I found Brave Writer and started to get convinced. There’s something beautiful about working on holding the passage in your head, about using good models of writing for learning, about streamlining together literature and writing by using dictation as a bridge, by taking the time to really focus on a shorter passage out of a book.

I choose our dictation passages and we do what’s sometimes called studied dictation. The kids read the passage ahead of time. I go over the vocabulary in the passage, the mechanics, the grammar. We talk about what’s going on in the passage as well as metaphors or other literary devices. Once the kids are done with the dictation, they now check their own work and make corrections, which is also a good exercise in editing. Finally, I check over it one final time. Sometimes we use a sentence or two as a model and the kids write their own sentences using the same structure. This is an exercise that is found in the Killgallon Sentence Composing series. It’s a useful one to be able to transfer to our dictation habits.

In the last year, we’ve moved to using Notability on the iPad for dictations. I record the dictation by reading it aloud. I put any questions or tricky words for spelling cues on the screen as well as any special mechanics reminders and whether or not they need to use it as a sentence model. I introduce the passage with them then let them use the recording and notes for actually doing the dictation when they’re ready. They can use headphones and put the recording on a slowed play or pause exactly when they’re ready. It has made it a lot easier for all of us. And while I like the idea of reading the passage in chunks only once, I have seen their memories improve more when they have control over the recording.

Like anything else, dictation probably isn’t perfect for all kids, but I’m glad I became a believer.


Language Arts Lately

Fourth grade has turned out to be such a funny time for language arts.  Such an in between time.  Some days, I’ll toss out an assignment and get something lovely back, such as a piece from BalletBoy last week written from the perspective of a girl in a photo from the Dust Bowl that he closed, “I cried as we walk away from our land.  My mother said we would find a new place, but I didn’t want that.”  Or this opening from a little story he did for an All About Spelling Writing Station assignment, “I dashed into the woods to get away from the wretched thing chasing me.”

Other times, we try things like the Brave Writer Keen Observations exercise and all we get is that the pineapple is yellow, sour and in a bowl.  And anything else is pulling teeth.  Or this set of sentences from Mushroom’s Writing Station, “There are edges.  There are bridges.  I am walking.”

We continue to work through grammar and spelling.  While it’s slow going for Mushroom, I’ve seen a huge improvement in his terrible spelling with All About Spelling.  Getting him to change words he has been misspelling for years, like “thay” and “reddy” has been a continuing problem, but most of the things he writes for himself are now readable and

mistakes now mostly make sense.  We also have tried out MCT Island this year, having gotten it used for a song.  We enjoyed Grammar Island, which was mostly review for us of parts of speech, which we’ve covered many other times.  But Sentence Island has turned into a slog midway through.  The writing assignments, which we’re not even doing all of, are not fun for the kids at all and produce mostly stilted, awkward writing.  We may give up on it.

Mushroom corrects my dictation.
Mushroom corrects my dictation.

Brave Writer continues to be the heart of what we do for language arts.  While we don’t get to it as often as I might like, poetry teas and movie nights continue at the Rowhouse.  We freewrite in various ways most weeks.  We use narrations for history and science.  We also do dictation from whatever read aloud we’re working through.  Every few weeks, though, I’ve been giving them a “break” from our read aloud dictation and letting them instead pick a passage from their chosen required reading book.  They copy the passage then teach it to me as if I’m the student and they’re the teacher, making sure to ask good questions about the meaning of the passage and pointing out all the spelling, grammar and punctuation I, the student, will need to remember.  They then dictate it to me and correct my dictation (I always get a few things wrong for them to find).

The kids' lapbooks about The Odyssey and Hercules.
The kids’ lapbooks about The Odyssey and Hercules.

Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing has continued to be fun.  To go along with our preparation fro the National Mythology Exam, we did the Greek myth lapbook project.  I’m still not swayed that lapbooks are particularly great (loyal blog readers will probably remember that lapbooks were on my list of homeschool things I really don’t get) but the kids did a decent job with them.  Mushroom made a maze for Odysseus to go home through in his and BalletBoy made a fake “Twelve Labors” board game on his for Hercules.  We’re going to tackle the imaginary continent or island chain in February and March.

As always, it’s difficult not to be constantly second guessing about something like writing, but I see how they are getting more and more fluent.  As I glanced back through the last several dictations we did, I saw full comp pages of writing with “Great Dictation!” and “Nearly perfect!” scrawled by me across the top.  It feels very much like we’re moving forward and I can see how a couple of years from now, we will be ready to start tackling essays and and more purposefully organized writing.