Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Setting Yearly Goals for Written Narration

by Karen Glass

I did write extensively about the whole process of learning to write through written narrations in Know and Tell, but that big picture has to be broken down into individual school years, and semesters or terms, and—of course—individual weeks. What will we do about written narrations this year? What do I need to do this week?

I’m going to try to break this down into steps that you can use to evaluate your student, set realistic goals, and create a plan that will allow your child to make progress this school year—just this school year—without worrying too much about the Whole Thing. I’m assuming you understand the purpose of oral and written narration, and that you desire to make narration the foundation for a significant portion of your child’s writing instruction (there’s room for some outside resources, but that’s not what this is about). Let’s figure this out.

Okay, the first thing you need to think about is what your child is doing right now. What was the norm when you left off at the end of last school year? If you’re just getting started, the obvious place to begin is at the beginning, with one written narration per week. But maybe you’ve already been doing written narrations, and last year your child was doing two per week, or three. That’s where you start now. For the first four to six weeks of this school year, just let your child get back into the rhythm of doing what he already knows how to do. Don’t ask for anything else just yet.

As you think about this—where your child is with written narrations—there are two things to think about—how frequently the written narrations are done, and how long they are. As children make the transition from oral to written narrations, the earliest written narrations may be much, much shorter than oral narrations. Don’t worry about that. Some children can just barely write a sentence or two when they begin, while others are ready to write multiple paragraphs. No matter what your child is doing when you begin written narrations, accept what they can do.

What I never said plainly in Know and Tell, but wish I had, is that it is better to increase the frequency of written narrations first, and then work on asking for longer narrations. A child who can write three sentences will find it easier to write three sentences twice a week, and eventually every day, than to be pressed to write five sentence. Once he is writing three sentences every day (and that’s just an arbitrary example), the extra practice will be the best preparation for writing five sentences, or half a page, or five minutes longer, or whatever method you find most effective when asking for longer narrations.

Once you have determined where your child is with written narration skills, the second step is to think about where you’d like to be at the end of the school year. This is a goal that cannot be set by any arbitrary rule. You must think about your child’s age, inclination to write, and the amount of educational years still in front of you. If you are just starting written narration with a 9-year-old, begin with one per week, and maybe your goal will be three written narrations per week by the end of the school year. If you divide your school year into three terms as AmblesideOnline does, you can plan to spend the first term doing one per week, and add the second narration per week at the beginning of term two, and the third one at the beginning of term three.

Or perhaps your child is just starting written narration at age 11. You can start with one per week, but you would like your child to be writing daily by the end of the year.  Add a second narration per week within three or four weeks, and another one every eight weeks or so, so that you finish the year with a child who is doing daily written narrations.

Or maybe you finished up last year with a child who had gotten up to daily narrations, but they are still short, only 30-50 words. Your child is 12, and you’d like to finish up the year with a child writing 100-150 words per day. Maybe you’d also like to introduce editing and correcting before the year is over.  Let your child have a few weeks of writing what he is comfortable with, and bump up your expectations about 25 words at a time, every eight weeks or so. As the narrations get a little longer, introduce editing during the second semester with just one narration per week. (Just a note—my preference is to ask for a certain number of words and my children have responded well to that. You may prefer to increase length more generally—“half a page, a whole page”—, or by number of sentences, or by the amount of time spent writing. Choose the method that causes the least stress for your child.)

No one can decide what your goal should be, but you definitely want to have one for the school year, because that helps you to break down the process of getting from where you are to where you want to be into manageable increments.

The third step is to revisit your goal once or twice during the year. Maybe your child has already reached the level you were aiming for by Christmas break. That’s great, but you’ll probably want to thoughtfully move forward during the second half of the year. On the other hand, maybe your 9-year-old is still having a meltdown every time it’s written narration day. Perhaps changing the goal from “three narrations a week” to “two narrations a week” or even “one narration a week without a meltdown” is more realistic. Maybe your 11-year-old is already doing daily narrations and is ready to work on lengthening them a bit. Maybe your child needs a bit of a challenge with creative narrations or would benefit from reading a book on the craft of writing. Another thing I haven’t discussed, but which can be a part of your narration goals for the year, is mechanical correctness. Some children readily begin sentences with capital letters, and others don’t. Keep the “rules” as few as possible, but as your children grow more adept at actually getting words on paper, it’s okay to say, “Please make sure you’ve ended every sentence with a period,” or whatever rule you’re hoping to make habitual.

And that’s it! Plan your work, then work your plan, as they say. Just three things to do, and I think if you do them at the beginning of each term or semester, you’ll find that they keep you on track. Assess what your child is doing now. Set a goal and figure out the steps that will get you there. Reevaluate midway through the process to see if the goal needs to be adjusted. You're on your way! You and your child have an individualized plan that you can fold into your homeschool week, and when the school year is over, you’ll be able to see definitely what progress was made. And then next year, you can do it again, from your new starting point.

There are some charts in Know and Tell that will give you an overview of the process that you can expect to unfold across the grade levels, but they are guidelines and suggestions only. Every child is different when it comes to writing, but if you set realistic goals and work purposefully toward them, this may be your best narration year yet.