Rhetoric is a key part of classical education. Although it is typically considered to be part and parcel of the “high school” stage, we start building the foundation for it as early as kindergarten. Two of the building blocks necessary for the foundation of writing within rhetoric are narration and dictation. Narration in Kindergarten through 1st grade is done as students practice retelling a story. As their penmanship and spelling skills improve, they can begin writing summaries. Students at Pinnacle begin developing this skill in the 3rd grade.
For the first couple months of school this year, the 3rd graders have been reading excerpts from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, Farmer Boy. We typically read the excerpt two to three times, answer a few guided questions, then develop a 3-point outline based on the answers to the guided questions. Once we develop the outline, we are ready to put together a 3-sentence summary of our excerpt.
The second building block necessary in developing good writers is dictation. One way we implement the practice of dictation is by reading a familiar sentence to the students and having the students write what they hear. Asking a student to correctly punctuate and capitalize a sentence in a typical grammar exercise is very different from asking a student to write a grammatically correct sentence that has been dictated to them. Writing a grammatically correct sentence from what has been dictated is a great beginning for budding writers.
Both the 2nd and the 3rd graders practice dictation regularly. The 3rd graders have been writing sentences dictated from Farmer Boy, which has given them good practice in using punctuation for dialogue (e.g., quotation marks). The 2nd graders are introduced to either a poem or an excerpt from a story each week. This gives them practice in identifying how poems are punctuated differently from stories (e.g., the first word of each line is capitalized even if it is not the beginning of a sentence).
Writing practice also occurs in grammar class. Recently, the students wrote their first 2-point paragraph. In preparation for writing this paragraph, we spent a couple of weeks talking about related subjects within a topic. For example, if you are writing about your trip to the zoo, it would not be correct to include a sentence about a movie you saw that same day. Although our exercise had a fairly simple topic – My Favorite Colors – the students had a good experience developing topic and supporting sentences.
So, even as the classical model sees three distinct spheres of focus in our teaching philosophy, – grammar, logic, and rhetoric – we take every opportunity to expand each student’s God-given capacities to wield the tools of learning as they grow through each stage of their development. In other words, we do not force them only to memorize the facts of each subject in grade school. Instead, we teach the whole student with the grain of God’s growing them, in order that when they graduate they will be equipped with the tools of learning for service in love to God and man.