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A Classical Conversation

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Why Write? Rhetoric Across the Curriculum

Posted by Kate Deddens
Kate Deddens
Kate was born overseas, attending International Baccalaureate schools in Iran, I
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on Friday, 07 March 2014
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Writing well is an undisputed goal of excellent education. However, as with all things rich in character, the process of good writing bequeaths an even greater blessing. When we study formal writing using the five canons of rhetoric, we are also teaching our students to be proficient problem solvers.

 

Writing is a way humanity truly exercises its nature as imago Dei through the talent, not just of expressing itself, but of discovering solutions to the many challenges of human existence. Problem-solving produces the creative solutions which make life better by articulating truth, grasping goodness, celebrating beauty, and improving the conditions of human life at every level from the fundamentally physical to the transcendent and spiritual.

Three Big Ideas about the Three Rs

Posted by Cara
Cara
Cara McLauchlan’s love of words began as a teen when she dreamed of becoming the
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on Monday, 03 March 2014
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Chapters Four and Five - Reading and Writing

 

Three Big Ideas about the Three Rs

 by Cara McLauchlan

 

  

“As parents and teachers, we can form intimate bonds with children by loving the books they love and listening carefully to their ideas.”

 

– Leigh Bortins, The Question (pg. 76)

 

 

Legend has it that the expression of the “Three Rs” was a cocktail party toast gone wrong. According to urban legend, Sir William Curtis, a London politician in the late 1700s, coined the expression infamously, disclosing his lack of intelligence and for which he was later painfully mocked.

 

For me, to focus on the three Rs was the very first advice I received as a homeschooler. Everyone said, “Just focus on the three Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic and that’s it.” I love that advice. That was such a relief. I might not be able to do everything well, but doing three things was definitely within my reach.

Cultivating Wisdom

Posted by Andrew Kern
Andrew Kern
Andrew Kern is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, the founding author
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on Thursday, 20 February 2014
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Revisiting Some Archived Articles that Have Not Been Lost, but May Have Been Forgotten and Are Worth a Fresh Read


Among the five paths to great writing is the “literary path,” which shows that to become a great writer one must read great writings. However, one may be wrong in one’s assessment of great writing. It takes judgment to know whether something is great or not. That is why, when we are young, we often think something is wonderful enough to change the world only then to grow up to chuckle at our younger selves.


Judgment, in turn, requires a grasp of principles. In Philippians 4, Paul gives us those principles—the standards by which we should assess what we attend to:

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A New Challenge in Teaching Formal Writing

Posted by David Bailey
David Bailey
David Bailey is the founding pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Stokesdale
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on Tuesday, 04 February 2014
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Formal writing may be a dying art. Today, written communication is so easily produced that many forms of it are disposable. In previous generations, one might jot down a list for shopping and discard it when completed. However, today’s texts, tweets, emails, and posts cause the inboxes of contemporary lives to overflow. One loses the desire to communicate with excellence when his words will soon evaporate. Consequently, writers have become lazy, using every cliché, colloquialism, and ambiguous construction heard at the mall’s food court.

 

Nearly every form of verbal communication—in print, online, in person, and broadcast—contains such folksy turns of phrase that one can scarcely find genuine formal prose. Writers use first person, second person, contractions, and questions with increasing frequency. The ubiquitous, casual use of the English language creates challenges for students and tutors of writing.

Finding Freedom in the Grammar Stage

Posted by Brandy Ferrell
Brandy Ferrell
Originally from Lawton, OK, Brandy graduated with a Bachelor's degree in enginee
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on Tuesday, 31 December 2013
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Once upon a time, I attempted to find a craft, worksheet, and online activity or video to flesh out almost every subject of every week of Foundations memory work.

 

When we entered a year of overwhelming challenges and setbacks, I desperately struggled to keep a firm grip on my lesson plans, but our circumstances forced me to let go. At first, I wrestled with dreadful feelings of inadequacy and failure. However, during that humbling year, I made a simple yet liberating discovery: Whatever may befall us, we can simply rest in the classical method. Our children will learn without crafts, videos, and worksheets.


I discovered that as a classical educator all we need at the grammar stage are the four Rs :

A Little Cursive Story

Posted by Cara
Cara
Cara McLauchlan’s love of words began as a teen when she dreamed of becoming the
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on Tuesday, 17 December 2013
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I was so proud that day.

 

As my son and I joined my husband’s company to volunteer at a local charity, I was counting myself as blessed. In my head, I was thinking about how neat it was that we could take a random school day and turn it into a chance to make a difference. Truly, I was feeling a little puffed up as my son was the only twelve year old participating in a group of adults. To say I was letting my homeschool ego show would be an understatement.

 

For the event, we had to sign the volunteer sheet—filling in our name, address and information for name tags. As I went to sign my name after my son’s, I noticed that not only was his handwriting barely legible, but he had misspelled our last name.

Beefing Up Sixth Grade

Posted by Courtney Sanford
Courtney Sanford
Courtney Sanford has been home schooling with Classical Conversations since 2005
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on Thursday, 03 October 2013
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Timeless Thursdays: Revisiting Some Archived Articles that Have Not Been Lost, but May Have Been Forgotten and Are Worth a Fresh Read

 

 

In more and more Classical Conversations communities, sixth graders start their final year in Foundations already knowing a lot of the memory work. Many of these students began Foundations sitting on mom’s lap and soaking up the timeline cards as early as age three. How do we keep them engaged through Foundations and prepare them for Challenge A?

 

First of all, we can be glad that they know the memory work, but we can also teach them to be kind and compassionate to other students who have not yet mastered the facts. Their role can become one of mentor and helper, but only if their heart is in the right place. Shouting out the answer does demonstrate that they know the material, but it prevents other students from being able to hear the tutor and disrupts the class. So, talk to your student about avoiding prideful behavior and developing self-control. Those are important skills; be glad for the extra practice.

Words, Words, Words – And the Trouble with Them

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Wednesday, 04 September 2013
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Words are hard to use, right? I mean, I think it's hard to write stuff and say stuff because you never know how people are going to, like, take it. There's this one essayist, I like him, named Wendell Berry. He wrote this essay called "Standing by Words," which sounds like it could be good, but I don't know if I can really go along with it.

 

He says there are these three rules for using language:

 

1. It must designate its object precisely.

2. Its speaker must stand by it: must believe it, be accountable for it, be willing to act on it.

3. This relation of speaker, word, and object must be conventional; the community must know what it is.

 

Do you see what I mean, though? Every reason is a "must." I think I wanna say these are helpful, but I don't want to be bossy about what others must do. In fact, I kinda like the approach he describes of these other guys in the essay. They say that our communication should not be evaluative because evaluative communication is judgmental; it makes people respond defensively. They say we should be either descriptive or provisional, right?

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Taking a Summer Break without Taking a Brain Break

Posted by Beth Watson
Beth Watson
Beth Watson graduated from Cairn University (formerly named Philadelphia Biblica
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on Friday, 26 July 2013
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We find ourselves in the midst of summer. For us, summer offers a much-anticipated break from our usual routine. The weather begins to warm just as our endurance for schoolwork is wearing thin. We start the countdown to days full of play and rest. This year, for the first two weeks of our summer break, we did just that—we played and rested. Unscheduled downtime was just what we needed—for two weeks. Then it started to feel staid and I became a bit concerned about what we would lose if we did not continue to practice. Plus, I really believe learning is not just for our school time, but for all time. I thought about what is important to our family and I designed a simple plan to ensure our summer break was not also a brain break.

Putting the Pieces Back Together: How to Get Started with Subject Integration at Home

Posted by Courtney Sanford
Courtney Sanford
Courtney Sanford has been home schooling with Classical Conversations since 2005
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on Tuesday, 18 June 2013
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Imagine I gently place a piece of colored glass in your hand. You could study its color, texture, size, and shape. Now, imagine I place more pieces in your hand until your hand is full. After studying each piece, you may decide you like some pieces better than others, but pretty soon, you will lose interest in them and set them aside, or let them drop from your hand.

 

What if I told you each piece of glass has a special place in the most beautiful stained glass window in the most beautiful cathedral ever built? (The one pictured here is in Notre Dame, in Paris.) What if I took you to see this work of art so you could see how the colored light fills the cathedral like sunlight that dapples the forest floor and how it creates an ethereal atmosphere in the whole space and becomes a part of the worship that takes place there?

 

Those pieces of glass become meaningful if you know that they are part of something amazing.

Congratulations! You Finished Latin!

Posted by Ruth
Ruth
Ruth and Robbo, her husband of 25 years, live in a house they built in Vermont.
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on Monday, 03 June 2013
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Latin’s a dead language,

As dead as dead could be;

First it killed the Romans;

Now it’s killing me!

-Anonymous

 

Dear graduating Latin student,

 

Congratulations! A year of hard work is complete and you have turned in your final exam.

 

You know the noun declensions. You know something about adjectives, pronouns, and prepositions. You know many verb tenses. You know more about Caesar and the Gauls than you ever wanted to know.

 

This summer you may have a conversation that goes something like this:

 

Curious uncle: “So, what do you learn at Classical Conversations?”

Developing "Math Sense"

Posted by Lisa
Lisa
Lisa Bailey, a homeschooling mom from North Carolina, has served Classical Conve
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on Friday, 12 April 2013
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My daughter's first word was "book." I am sure she babbled "MaMaMa" and "Dada" early on, but her first intelligible word was definitely "book"! Perhaps this is not surprising, given that my husband and I read to her nightly, even while she was in the womb. My parents used to marvel at our willingness to sit down, wherever we happened to be, and read to her. If she said, "Read me this book," we did. You see, my husband and I are "word people"; we love to read, play with words, and share words with our girls. It is little wonder that we raised a daughter with lots of language sense.


While I have always wondered whether some of her love of language is innate, I believe that most of it is learned, not inherited. It cannot be a coincidence that all those years of reading—and all that money spent on books!—have produced a reading, writing, lover of words. We spent her early childhood reading to her and writing the stories she dictated, as her imagination far outstripped her ability to write. After her little sister was born and my hands were frequently too full of a baby to hold a pencil, we graduated to helping her sound out the words she was choosing and pen her stories herself. She wrote her first chapter book when she was eight years old, a thriller with a surprise twist at the end. My husband, an inveterate punster, made sure that she "got" all the plays on words he could devise; they still trade quips whenever she is home from college. She also developed a sure sense that out there, somewhere, is a word that means exactly what you are trying to say; rarely is "close enough" good enough when attempting to express precisely what you are thinking. We most likely stoked that fire when we used the "big words" to explain the world to her; my mom frequently scoffed that "she doesn't know what you mean" when we used precise terms. Our reasoning, however, was that we might not know when she began to understand, so we would simply begin as we meant to continue. Yes, it is a pretty sure bet that we nurtured “language sense” into our sweet girl!

 

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Add a Bit of Silliness to Your Poetry Class

Posted by Jennifer Greenholt
Jennifer Greenholt
Jen Greenholt was an early participant in the Classical Conversations Challenge
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on Thursday, 21 March 2013
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“This is just a bit of silliness, really,” says thirteen-year-old Peter Llewelyn Davies as a disclaimer to his first attempt at writing a play, in the 2004 film Finding Neverland. “I should hope so,” replies his mentor, playwright J.M. Barrie. “Go on.”

 

Even though Peter is still a child, he already believes that good writing must be serious, solemn, and important. Burdened with the perceived weightiness of his task, he is afraid to write at all. Peter’s dilemma illustrates a problem with the way creative writing, particularly poetry, is often taught. Whether the standard is creativity, self-expression, sophistication, or profundity, students struggle under the dual burden of learning form and content at the same time.

 

Should we lower our standards and not attempt to teach formal structure and style? Is every student’s poem, however rough its execution, above critique? Or, should we drill dry rhyme and meter, separating the mathematics of poetry from its artistic side as we have done to the departments of higher education? Although both of these approaches have their merits and disadvantages, I propose that we consider a third road, one based on the following principle: Sometimes, we just need to write silly poems. Sometimes, we need to teach the art of parody.

 

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What Do Employers Want Our Kids to Know?

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Friday, 08 March 2013
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Have you ever been to Monticello? If so, were you amazed that Thomas Jefferson, our third president and founder of the University of Virginia, was his own architect? Did you know that America’s first president (under the Articles of Confederation) Peyton Randolph could write in two languages at the same time, one language for each hand? Did you know that most societies throughout time have considered a person literate only if they knew three or more languages?

 

For centuries, young people were considered educated only when they had mastered a broad range of skills. These included foreign languages, music, literature, history, rhetoric, and oratory. If you read literature about schools in the 19th century, you will find that children in school are frequently called upon to recite long passages of literature and history for the townsfolk. Why was this practice viewed as necessary for rural homesteaders? In turn, what is necessary for our students today?

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Bear Fruit in Large Quantities: The Orchard Apprenticeship

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Tuesday, 05 March 2013
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What is an orchard? The easiest and most obvious answer is that it is a large field with fruit-producing trees, intentionally planted for the purpose of harvesting large quantities of fruit. The less obvious answer, however, is the one that needs to be considered.

 

Therefore, since “brevity is the soul of wit,”1 says Shakespeare’s Polonius, I will give the briefest answer first: The Orchard is an apprenticeship program for adults; it is a “Challenge program for adults.” If this is enough to satisfy your curiosity, you can stop reading at this point.

 

While brevity may be the soul of wit, it is not always thorough enough to satisfy curiosity. Therefore, I will expand upon our definition a little further. As a “Challenge program for adults,” The Orchard Apprenticeship provides Classical Conversations parents, tutors, and directors with the opportunity to get the education they never received.

 

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The Passionate Voice (How and Why We Teach Passive Voice)

Posted by Courtney Sanford
Courtney Sanford
Courtney Sanford has been home schooling with Classical Conversations since 2005
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on Friday, 01 February 2013
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During week fourteen of Essentials class, we learn about passive voice. We practice taking a sentence in active voice and making it passive, and we take some passive voice sentences and make them active voice. From this point on, Essentials students will be rewriting sentences in passive voice for homework each week. A mom met me in the hall after Essentials class, wanting to know why we teach passive voice at all. She had been taught in high school to never, ever use passive voice. It was evil. Okay, she d'dn't really say that it was evil. But like many of us, she had gotten the idea that using passive voice is always wrong and should be punished with a deduction of points. She wanted to know if we teach it only so students can avoid it.

 

What "Should" One Do?

Posted by Andrew Kern
Andrew Kern
Andrew Kern is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, the founding author
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on Tuesday, 29 January 2013
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[T]he ethical question “What should one do?”…elicits not only knowledge, but wisdom, and it draws the interest of the student into any subject, no matter how obscure or far removed from his day-to-day concerns. It challenges the imagination and makes life the laboratory it ought to be for testing the hypotheses and lessons of the classroom.

-David Hicks, Norms and Nobility1

 

Should a school of fish follow a larger fish when he tells them to ignore the water?

 

To begin examining this question, let us consider the old, hackneyed expression about how fish do not know water because it is all around them. This may be quite true for fish, but people are different. How are we different? People are different because we bear the image and likeness of God. Furthermore, because we bear His image, we can actually see the water in which we swim. In fact, we can look within ourselves and see—to continue the metaphor—not only the “water” that goes through our “gills,” but the “gills” themselves.

 

In the realm of education today, the “big fish,”—conventional educators—want us to ignore both the water and our gills. In fact, they want to teach fish through the process of lifting them from the water and then clipping their gills. It is obvious that this does not—in fact it cannot—nurture healthy fish.


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Writing Your Way Out of Writing-Based Anxiety

Posted by Jennifer Greenholt
Jennifer Greenholt
Jen Greenholt was an early participant in the Classical Conversations Challenge
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on Friday, 25 January 2013
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“How many words can you write in a minute?” is not a question I often hear, even as someone who writes as a vocation.  However, today while researching for the next set of books in the PreScripts series, I came across a quote that made me ponder this very question. A nineteenth-century book on handwriting contains these interesting observations:

 

A rapid penman can write thirty words in a minute. To do this he must draw his pen through the space of a rod, sixteen and one-half feet. In forty minutes his pen travels a furlong [an eighth of a mile]. We make, on an average, sixteen curves or turns of the pen in writing each word. Writing thirty words in a minute, we must make 480 turns to each minute; in an hour, 28,800; in a day of only five hours, 144,000; in a year of 300 such days, 43,200,000. …Here we have, in the aggregate, a mark 300 miles long to be traced on paper by such a writer in a year.1

 

After reading this passage, I was curious. How many words can I write in a minute? This is a fun challenge to try alongside your middle school and high school students.

 

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The Persuasive Essay

Posted by Andrew Kern
Andrew Kern
Andrew Kern is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, the founding author
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on Wednesday, 09 January 2013
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When you start teaching The Lost Tools of Writing™, you notice early that almost all of level one is devoted to teaching the persuasive essay. You might think this rather odd—even boring. After all, aren’t students much more interested in writing stories and exploring their own ideas than they are in writing about irrelevant things like whether the Roman senate should have assassinated Julius Caesar or whether Scout should have crawled under her neighbor’s fence?

 

Well, maybe. But writing isn’t that simple. When you teach a child to write, you aren’t trying to get him excited; you are trying to help him write well. Excitement follows. Writing is a skill, and a stunningly complex skill at that. Nobody has yet plumbed the depths of what makes a person a good writer or even a good teacher of writing.

 

But we have discovered one thing over the centuries: many students are intimidated by writing, and those that aren’t should be. Both groups, the fearful and the fearless, need to learn something fundamental about writing: when you write, what matters first is the point you are trying to make, not how you or your audience feel about it.

 

In fact, the ultimate point of writing is the same as the first: when you write, what matters first and last is the idea you are trying to reveal.

 

Language Arts, Spelling, Handwriting, and the Brain

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Friday, 09 November 2012
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This article is based on a recent interview: Leigh! @ Lunch with Andrew Pudewa. In the interview, Andrew Pudewa and I discussed many things, but the following information really stood out as good, practical thoughts about language arts, spelling, handwriting, and the human brain.

 

I want to know why a third grade student, for example, is able to master spelling tests, but unable to transfer that to writing? Why does he freeze as he tries to write spelling words that he had mastered? Andrew Pudewa responds:

 

That is not uncommon at all. It’s not something to be too seriously concerned about, and the reason is—I’ve studied this for years—spelling is not actually a language function of the brain. We tend to think of spelling as one of the language arts. But, as far as the brain is concerned, language is about forming an idea, translating that idea into words you do know, putting those words into a grammatical sequence, and putting grammatically correct sentences or ideas into a logical order. That’s what the brain does in the language area of the brain. Spelling, on the other hand, really has nothing at all to do with any of that. Spelling is the correct retrieval of sequentially stored information: You learn a word, you learn the letters, you put them in the right order, you drill yourself—either verbally, on paper, or through some form of practice—so that you memorize the sequence.


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