Sunday, July 18, 2010

Brave Writer Review

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

I have an enthusiastic writer and a reluctant writer and I really want to encourage both of them in their individual learning journeys.

I chanced upon Brave Writer when I was in search of some inspiration to help me teach my kids how to write. What I found was not a curriculum but an approach to writing that started to help me formulate a clearer view of what I wanted for my kids.

This is what I hope for my kids:

1. I would like for them to love or at least, enjoy writing i.e. the process of putting their own creative ideas and thoughts down on paper and to have a desire to develop it and see it through into a finished piece they can be proud of.

2. I would aim for them to write well - not just grammatically accurate sentences but arguments that are logical, meaningful, well thought out and put together, as well as stories that are inspiring and beautiful, most importantly - wholly in their own voice.

Can a writing programme do that? Can I teach them that?

The Brave Writer approach is about teaching children to write as a writer would learn rather than learning the mechanics or formulae for good sentence structure or the three rules to writing a novel. It seems to me to be centred around helping kids to discover their voice, to enjoy the process of writing about the things they feel passionate or knowledgeable about.

Brave Writer is run by Julie Bogart, a homeschooler, writer and editor and she offers an online writing and language arts programme in the form of  "The Writers Jungle" and "Help for High School" Home Study courses, online classes, and a downloadable language arts programme that covers dictation, copywork and literary analysis. She also enables direct access to the herself and the other Brave Writer teachers through their forum and classes.

The centrepiece of the programme is "The Writers Jungle". It is a manual for parents. Julie offers to hold your hand on this writing journey through this book as well as through her forums. It provides a full explanation of her approach and then many examples, activities and exercises to try out on your kids. There are no lesson plans but it is structured in a way so that you and your kids go on a journey together - where parents learn to teach and encourage their kids to write without killing their passion.

On her website she writes "Once kids realize that paper is a safe place for thought exploration, they can learn how to craft their writing into satisfying finished products that use all kinds of writing devices. Writing becomes a safe playground instead of an intimidating foreign country. Brave Writer works through all the steps from thought-origination to published work of writing."

You can get a fuller description of The Writers Jungle and read the introduction and table of contents by clicking here.

I have signed up for numerous online classes and am considering more! They are not cheap but we've learnt so much and had lots of fun in these classes. I keep going back for more so it must be worth it. :-)

The kids and parents interact in a forum and the teacher will give exercises, assignments and feedback to each child's work. It is indispensable for the parent as we are being coached in the best way to help our budding writers.

The classes I've done to date:

Kidswrite basic- The Writers Jungle grew out of these classes (although the book contains much more). My eldest daughter and I did it together and we both enjoyed it very much. Our first assignment was to play a communication game which illustrated the importance of using the right words and images to convey what you see your mind and how to convey that to another person accurately. This was followed the Keen Observation exercise which forced us to take time to really observe an object of our choosing and take time to find words to describe it. We were encouraged to use all our senses - sight, smell, sounds, taste and touch. I really enjoyed this as it made us move beyond the basic descriptions of colour and shape and think about the object in unusual and creative ways. We then were given a  freewriting exercise which is designed to give children freedom to write without concern for spelling, punctuation or grammar. It is about writing without stopping for a specific period putting down whatever comes to mind based on a topic or suggestion. Armed with some of my daughter's freewriting we could then go through the process of drawing out the interesting things from the freewrite. We were modelled different techniques to use to help them expand and edit their work. Before long we came out with a finished piece of writing and I was given a model of how to coach my child to deliver a piece of writing that was theirs alone.

The other two classes we signed up for were the Grammar and Poetry class which we loved! My reluctant writer declared that she wanted to be a poet by the end of the poetry class. They got to try their hand at writing all styles of poetry from Haiku, Cinquains, Shape Poems and Free verse, as well as learn to analyse song lyrics, recognise various literary devices and generally meet with lots of different types of poetry. There was a lot of positive feedback from their teacher and they were able to showcase their poems on the forum and read the work of other kids too. 

Grammar was enjoyable too because our teacher deconstructed the whole idea and got us to play with words by getting us to collect all sorts of interesting words, and then we played with them, moved them around and got to see how they might work in different contexts, we built word sculptures, created our own words and phrases and started a dictionary of these words. We then went through an excercise of trying to categorise our collected words and began to understand how words can take on different functions in a sentence. Finally, we read and analysed "The Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll and then we were asked to write an original poem using our own nonsense words and using The Jabberwocky as a jumping off point. I think we all came out with a better sense of the value and function of a word when placed in different parts of a sentence. This was a grammar lesson unlike any other grammar lesson I had ever seen.

Brave Writer also provides a language arts programme that helps you to teach or at least to stay consistent with copywork, dictation and explain literary elements to your child. For example, Arrows is produced once a month and offers copywork and dictation based on a selected book. What I personally like about this is that Julie will also highlight literary elements in the passages and explain what makes the passage compelling or surprising. You can get a free sample here. I really like them but have to say I am reluctant to pay the monthly US$ 9.95 per month subscription fee. If you subscribe for a whole year - you pay a reduced rate of US$79. You can also purchase individual issues as well - check out the backlist here.

Finally, Julie talks about the Brave Writer lifestyle which is really about making writing, words and books a part of every day life - from watching and discussing movies together, reading aloud, copywork, making time one on one to talk to your kids and establishing  a regular tea time where you relax and read poetry and a good book together. I love tea-time. It was the first thing I implemented after discovering Brave Writer and it has become part of a precious family ritual.

How are my kids doing in writing? My eldest has had a very positive experience and she loves to write. My reluctant writer still does not enjoy the mechanics of writing or spelling but in the classes, I noticed she was much more willing to write because she was enjoying the creative process so much. I also know that there is a creative writer in there who just has to overcome her particular issues about the act of writing. 

Bravewriter is a wonderful programme and I certainly plan on signing up for more classes.

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