Wednesday, February 28, 2007

September 26, 2000 - Elements of Literature

Many stories have more than one climax, but there is usually one MAJOR high point - the point at which you can't even break away long enough to bring the popcorn up to your mouth until you find out what happens. Stories also often have many rising and falling moments - those are the things that keep the reader interested. When I introduced the elements of literature to the children, I didn't want to go into all the different examples of plots and sub-plots and examples of multiple points of rising and falling action. (It is hard enough for them to get the basic idea of each of the elements.) I tried not to go into more detail than was necessary - other than to explain that a story - OVERALL - has a general introductory section (exposition), moments of action that continue and eventually rise (rising action) to a major culmination (climax), after which the details are only leftovers from the climax (falling action) and then the final outcome (resolution). By really understanding how stories are written, your children will eventually come to really appreciate these elements as they understand exactly WHY they liked a story so much - perhaps it was FILLED with rising and falling action and the story kept their complete attention throughout, for example. They will understand why a story WASN'T good - perhaps it did not have a good exposition - or the characters were flat - and the children never really "got into" the story. Don't worry that your kids aren't picking up on this kind of thing yet - but these are some of the goals of learning the elements of literature. Then, when they go to write their own stories some day, they will have a solid understanding of what makes a good story - what will keep their reader interested, etc. You can help your kids by mentioning an element or two as you read ANY story with them "Wow - that part of the story was REALLY exciting - when the action was rising and rising until it reached the climax and the father rescued his daughter from the flooding river." Or - "I loved the resolution of that story - everything turned out right when the father brought his daughter home to the family safely." By using the terms in real ways, relating them to real stories, your children will catch on to their meanings much more quickly. We we will continue to touch on these elements from time to time throughout the year as a review (but we will not go into the detail that we have in the first weeks of the Egypt unit).

There are many high points in the story of Joseph, and one of them IS when Potiphar's wife gets Joseph thrown into prison. But in the total scheme of the story - it is not THE most important climax. Don't be too hard on yourself or your daughter - ESPECIALLY if you did not read my paragraph to her! Every sample that I include is meant to be read to your child - otherwise they will have no clue about how to proceed. There is nothing more frustrating to a child (or an adult) than not understanding what is expected. In fact, a really great learning tool - if a child still does not understand, and you know they're not faking - is to have them copy my paragraph. I am a big believer in having children copy paragraphs from books, good literature, etc. so that they will understand how to be good writers themselves. There is something about the actual "writing" of it that causes an internalization of some sort. When Ryan has difficulty memorizing something - I always have him type it out - over and over again if necessary. I would MUCH rather see a child copy my paragraph than not truly understand what they are supposed to be doing.

Learning should not be guesswork for children. I think as parents we tend to believe that if we give our kids too many examples that we are "telling them the answers." I used to do this with Ryan and then when he didn't think of his own creative answers or ideas, I would become frustrated with him! How ridiculous! Isn't that sort of like wives that won't tell their husbands what they want for Christmas, but then pout when they don't get what they want!! If we don't communicate well with our children in teaching and training them, they will NEVER KNOW WHAT IS EXPECTED! It took me awhile to figure out that the MORE I helped Ryan - giving him examples of what a good way to start a sentence might be, or suggesting a better way to structure a sentence - or offering a great way to start a story or end it - the BETTER writer he became! I HAD the tools to help him all along - BUT I WAS WITHHOLDING them! (Poor baby!) PLEEEEEEASE read my samples and examples aloud to your children - that is why they are there. If they want to "copy" parts - that's okay. Eventually, they can break away little by little.

Regarding spending too much time on one paragraph. Never make them spend more than 30 minutes on actual writing in one session. First you need to briefly talk about what they will write - make a list TOGETHER of thoughts they will include (help them and walk them through the entire list if necessary) and then have them start at the beginning of the list and just start writing about each thought they will include. If they have spent thirty minutes on it and haven't gone very far, you'll have to alter the next day's assignment (or exclude the writing assignment part) until they finish the original assignment. Remember - make my plans work FOR you and your kids - NOT against you or them. I would much rather see them copy it (or selected portions of it) - than to cause hours of tears and frustrations - NOTHING really good is accomplished in that. Some children will whip out a paragraph in a few minutes - others will take a class session - and still others will struggle on and on. The goal, of course, is for them to become more comfortable with writing, as they do it on a regular basis. Some of the younger kids, like Ashlin (what a BEAUTIFUL name), will have a hard time even understanding the concept of rising and falling action - much less writing about it - so don't worry too much about not following the plans EXACTLY. Use them to your benefit - as an introduction to the concept - when we review it later, they will remember the term and might get it a little better, and the next time we cover it, the light might "go on" for them! Remember, the elements of literature are even presented in high school, so you are getting a jump on the topic, and don't need to push for mastery level so soon. Writing about each element is only one way to apply the knowledge of what each term means - but it does give them writing practice at the same time.

Relating the elements of literature to short stories that are familiar and well-loved by your children is a GREAT way to reinforce the topic (I can't tell which of you suggested this to Kathy from the e-mail printout that John handed me.) Most of all, relax, and don't panic when your kids don't immediately master everything that we will cover this year. Remember, schools repeat concepts year after year - they know that children learn with PRACTICE. Children also learn best through modeling other people and other examples in their life, so teach them to following correct examples, and even if you have to walk them through the writing of EACH sentence at first, DO IT - you are modeling for them an example of how it should be done (both the procedure AND the outcome). That's practically what I had to do with Ryan - and in those days, I felt like he would NEVER be able to write a SIMPLE paragraph. I just had to keep positively reinforcing what little things he did write well and give him suggestions as to how to do the rest. I was frustrated with him (and I was wrong) much of that time because he wasn't making the progress I wanted to see him make. But, amazing wonder of wonders - he actually (very gradually) began suggesting some very good examples of writing. The more we read good literature together, and practiced writing - the more examples he had to draw from and eventually had a good "repertoire" of writing techniques from which to choose. Every child has to build up that repertoire of his own based on ideas and techniques he sees around him. When they first start writing, most children are literally bankrupt when it comes to writing techniques. If we have not made them write regularly, have not exposed them continually to reading and good literature, and then have not worked hand-in-hand with them, giving them examples and ideas - we cannot expect them to be successful. But when we do all these things in a spirit of love and patience (please do better with this than I did with Ryan) - we are instilling the confidence that they need to step out on their own. Enjoy this time of learning with them and don't put too much undue pressure on yourselves or them. The secret is to challenge them and get them to WANT to strive for excellence without losing your cool or their full attention. Also - hang in there - A World of Adventure is filled with all different kinds of writing assignments and activities - some kids will be better at some than at others.


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