If you know me, you know I’m incredibly, annoyingly opinionated. I usually know what I think. And having written and taught writing at the secondary level for years, I had some opinions about writing – how to teach it, what was really important, what my philosophy was and so forth.
Then something dreadful happened. I had to teach my own young children to write.
And slowly, over the course of the last three years, I’ve become more and more at sea. I honestly was at the point where I didn’t know what in the world I thought. I knew that there were some resources that we had tried or looked at that I didn’t like and a few that I did. I saw, after fighting it for ages, that copywork, narration and dictation were useful for the kids, but I couldn’t fit them into any larger philosophical framework that satisfied me. There were a lot of things I had believed that I wasn’t even sure were true anymore.
What I really wanted was a book or a curriculum that would make me feel about teaching writing the way something like Bird by Bird or If You Want to Write makes me feel about writing itself. Yet every time I tried to read anything, it either didn’t resonate with my experiences as a writer or as a writing teacher or it made me want to throw things.
And then, a little more than a week ago, I heard Julie Bogart speak. Can I just say, I think I have a little homeschool crush on her now. Julie Bogart is the author of The Writer’s Jungle, which is the foundation of the Bravewriter program. I had looked at Bravewriter before and couldn’t figure it out (more on that if you scroll down a little ways) and it’s not cheap enough to just try, so it remained something I had heard was good, not something I knew anything much about.
Practically everything Julie Bogart said in her talk and her book is either stuff I used to believe, say and do or new ideas that really resonated with me. The Writer’s Jungle is exactly that book I was looking for that would make me feel about teaching writing the way good books about writing make me feel about writing itself. It made me feel more confident in my kids, myself, and in my end goals, which are much more in keeping with Bravewriter’s goals, than any other method or curriculum with which I’ve flirted. The end goal of the Bravewriter program is to create kids who like writing, aren’t intimidated by it and have lifelong writing skills, which are not necessarily the same as academic writing skills.
I’m still such a jumble of thoughts, that I’m just going to list some of the notes I’ve jotted down as I read her book and listened to her talk.
- Create routines, not schedules (Advice I’ve always followed and given in regards to practically every other aspect of homeschooling! Why was this so hard to envision for writing and language arts?)
- Be your child’s ally and supporter for writing. Believe your child will be able to write. Make writing feel safe.
- It can all be fixed later in the teen years. (Having taught some abysmal teen writers who were able to turn around and write solid, if not award-winning, essays, I always used to believe this and somehow lost sight of it in the last three years.)
- Creating a language-rich environment by reading good books and appreciating words is more important that doing grammar lessons for making good writers.
- Writing daily isn’t important.
- Getting kids to write about what they’re passionate about is important, but giving them vague open-ended assignments isn’t the way to do it (as in, “write about your favorite…” kinds of assignments, which make kids feel at sea about what to do).
- Don’t confuse revision with editing for mechanics.
- Don’t be afraid to help kids. It’s scaffolding, not cheating!
Before I go any further, let me tell you that I had heard about Bravewriter, looked at the website, and not been able to figure out what in the world you were even buying if you purchased it. And I’ll just say from the get go that despite how much I am liking this, I don’t know that I can justify the expense at all. It’s very expensive for a program that relies on you as the parent to do so much of the planning and implementing. They support the program and Julie Bogart says she emails with parents constantly. However, other curriculum authors do the same for much, much less. It does go on sale at HSBC periodically, helping ease the price a good bit. So to help you out, here’s what I now understand are the purchasable elements that I figured out:
- The Writer’s Jungle is just a book (though bound in a big binder if you buy the hard copy) about the philosophy of the program, though it contains lots of examples, assignments and even schedules.
- The Wand is a thin supplement of mostly copywork and narration exercises for K-2nd grade. If you subscribe, they send you one for each month. There are three levels in The Wand.
- The Arrow is a thin supplement for grades 3-8 that shows how to make loose lessons around a single read aloud book. There is dictation, a literary element to discuss and a writing assignment. If you subscribe, they also send you one for each month. However, if you, like me, have already read half the books for the year, you can pick and choose back issues to buy and use instead.
- Bravewriter also offers a book about high school writing and an ever-changing slate of online courses for kids grades 3 and up.
This is absolutely not an open and go program like, well, practically any of the other writing programs out there. If you want a strong grammar program, consider Michael Clay Thomas. If you want open and go copywork and grammar, consider First Language Lessons and Writing With Ease. If you want a workbook style program consider Evan-Moor’s Six Trait Daily Writing or Winning With Writing. I could keep going suggesting other things I’ve looked at and been unsatisfied by that fall into these categories.
But if you want an approach that you tailor for your child, then this could be it. They literally call it the “Bravewriter lifestyle,” which initially kind of turned me off, but having read about it more now, I see what they’re trying to get at. It’s about making those routines instead of schedules. The most famous of these is the “Tuesday Tea and Poetry” that has gained popularity among a lot of homeschoolers, but there are others, such as designating days to do different types of writing and reading assignments.
I’m obviously still in the honeymoon phase with this. I needed something that helped me integrate these old-fashioned basics of copywork, narration and dictation along with the ideas I had formed in my writing and teaching life over the years. I’ll let you know how implementing it all goes. However, I feel more assured than I have about anything else we’ve tried with writing. I think step one in my detox will have to be stopping reading all internet discussions of the “right” way to teach writing.