Yesterday, I mentioned that, when I first started my journey to learning Mason's philosophy, I didn't understand why the folk subjects were important. Today, there will be more true confessions. I didn't get copywork either.
For those who do not know me, I began my career as a public school teacher. I often tell homeschool moms who lack confidence in their own abilities that they actually have less work to do than I did to learn these ideas and methods, because I had a world of unlearning to do before I could even begin. I also did as so many new to Mason do: I just wanted to know the techniques. The ideas behind them did not really matter to me, as long as I was following the steps and doing it 'right.' But there were some methods, like copywork, dictation, and folk subjects, that I just thought were a complete waste of time. I have heard other Mason teachers echo this sentiment. What purpose could copying two lines per day possibly serve?
For a while, I just left those subjects out completely. But then I thought I would try to implement them one at a time to see if there were any noticeable benefits. When parents questioned me about my practices, I have to admit that I really didn't know what to tell them, other than, "Mason said so." Believe it or not, this statement does not always inspire confidence.
I really did not grasp the importance of copywork (though I did continue to use it) until I conducted my dissertation study on writing development. In an interview with a student who had learned at home under Mason's methods, I learned that copywork forces you to slow down and notice things that you probably missed when you were reading. It may be the spelling of a word, the correct use of a semicolon, a new word to add to your vocabulary, or the stunning beauty a particular passage. When he was young, his mom chose all of his copywork, making sure to use a variety of styles and genres. When he was a little older, he started asking to choose his own copywork. His mom allowed him to choose on alternate days so that she could make sure he was still getting that variety. Copywork was his first foray into writing. He was able to practice all of those sub-skills that I wrote about in this blog without having to also create his own content.
One thing to keep in mind about copywork is that it is most effective when the child is not copying letter-by-letter without really thinking. It is much better to help the child form the habit of really looking attentively at a word or phrase and then trying to write it without looking back. Any activity that does not require some kind of labor in the child's mind probably is a waste of time.
In her book, The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater explains that copywork eventually evolves into the keeping of a Commonplace, which is a collection of passages that mean something to the reader. This Commonplace becomes a "reading companion," so that copywork is not something separate that has to be checked off each day, but rather an integral and organic part of forming relationships with books and authors. Reading Laurie's tremendously insightful and beautifully written book helped me think about notebook-keeping in a new and deeper way. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. In fact, that might be the perfect book to curl up with today if it is also soggy and gray at your house.
Have a blessed day, and be sure to leave a comment below!