This post continues the discussion of Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn along with the Classical Mamas Read group led by Amy at Living and Learning at Home.
Chapter 7 – Teaching Rhetoric
In classical education we talk about rhetoric as the final stage of education. It is the stage where students make connections between subjects and content and then express those thoughts in a unique and creative way. There, however, is a formal subject called rhetoric, which includes topics such as persuasive composition and public speaking. In years past these skills were revered, but in today’s society of texting and tweeting they have mostly gone by the wayside. Yet, the ability to speak eloquently is still powerful. Consider President Obama as an example. You may not agree with what he is saying, but a great part of his power as a presidential candidate (both times) came from his skills as an orator. He sounded presidential.
So, how can we attempt to overcome society’s assault against rhetoric and develop our children’s abilities to communicate effectively? The Bluedorns have the following suggestions:
1. Establish a strong foundation in reading, spelling, and grammar.
2. Develop a love for learning and nurture creativity. Don’t use baby talk. Read good literature.
3. Utilize copywork, dictation, simple outlining, summarizing, and written narration in your lesson plans.
4. Provide children with opportunities to practice oral narration, oral recitation from memory, and oral interpretation.
5. Introduce children to letter writing and journal writing, both of which have become lost arts. Eventually children will be ready to create newsletters, write articles, or enter writing contests.
6. Introduce students to live speeches and debate tournaments where possible.
7. Do not introduce keyboarding until the child has mastered the skill of handwriting.
8. Don’t neglect the study of logic.
Before age 10, the Bluedorns suggest that the focus of rhetoric should be on building a working vocabulary because it will drive writing, spelling, and grammar in later years. Vocabulary should come from formal study of vocabulary as well as through conversation and literature. Between ages 10 and 12 the focus should move towards spelling and structured grammar. Keyboarding may be introduced as the child masters spelling. Ages 13-15 are devoted to writing projects and formal development of public speaking. In the final stage from ages 16 to 18, students work to master research and debate.
Both my 10 year-old and 7 year-old have taken acting classes where they learned to speak loudly and clearly in front of an audience. They have had practice performing on stage and reading as participants in mass. I cannot say enough good things about how acting class and these experiences have helped them with public speaking. Right now I am only homeschooling B (age 10). We don’t do any formal vocabulary study, but I encourage her to build her vocabulary through our literature choices and through our study of Latin. Our focus is on spelling and grammar. We spend time diagramming sentences (even though she hates it). She is starting to learn keyboarding using Disney: Mickey’s Typing Adventure [Download]. Next year when my soon to be 8 year-old comes home I plan to spend a lot of time working on grammar, vocabulary, and handwriting with him. How do you go about teaching these rhetoric skills in your homeschool?