Advanced Writing and College Prep English Class, fall 2010

Our Advanced Writing and College Prep English Class meets in Monrovia, CA and online and is intended to provide college bound homeschoolers with language preparation on a level rarely approached in public school. Consistent with homeschooling principles, our purpose is to achieve educational goals without rendering the subject matter distasteful. This is not always possible, but we do our best.

Grading is based upon the completion of “acceptable projects” which may take many forms including short stories, verse, dialog, reports, correspondence and many others.

It is our intent to make the class lecture visible to remote students in realtime. This technology is still a bit tenuous and unpredictable but does work well when properly functional.

Required equipment for the class:

  1. Access to an Internet-connected computer with a web browser, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and a good word processor (browser, Acrobat Reader, and word processor are all free for the download. See our recommended software page).

  2. An English Dictionary and Thesaurus.

  3. A willingness to consider difficult and unfamiliar material as more a challenge than an obstacle.

For this class we make a few basic assumptions:

  • It’s never wrong to use language well.

  • If you can write well, it’s always easy to “write down” to your readers if necessary.

  • It is an insult and a disservice to your readers to assume them always to be either uneducated in English, illiterate, or demented.

Course philosophy:

The ubiquitous admonition to “write for your audience” has often been construed to mean “dumb your writing down to a level at which it can’t possibly confuse, mislead, challenge, or inspire anyone.” The first book I wrote, a computer textbook, had had its language so thoroughly eviscerated by the editors of Dryden Press that the final product little resembled the original work. The fact that a college text must ineluctably be written as though intended for an audience of seven-year-olds, is demeaning both to author and reader, and it reflects a growing tendency, at least within the US, to abandon, suppress, and prevent the perpetuation of much that is great about the English language itself – nonetheless, such are the guidelines most publishers follow. It is therefore not in the least surprising that many ostensibly “educated” individuals rarely encounter, and scarcely ever use, more than the most basic rudiments of the English language. This is not to say that skill in sophisticated verbal expression is not needed for college nor for the SAT, TOEFL, and AP college preparatory exams, only that, in an environment of simplistic and popularized usage, such skill is hard to acquire and one must make an effort to find and study it.

In this class we will be exploring erudition as well as form, style, vocabulary, syntax and semantics. Have a dictionary handy.

Learning writing online in a supportive, collegial environment.

English writing classes, traditional and online

Writing can be an utterly jubilant activity, but a significant level of creative ecstasy is rarely encountered by highschool-aged students and is very nearly impossible to achieve in the traditional school environment.

Experience in most high school classrooms (using the mass-production educational model and presided over by often well-meaning but uninspired pedants) so often prompts one to conclude that essay writing is always something decidedly distasteful. The essay, however, can be an eye-opening opportunity for endless creativity and variation, whose flexibility and expressive potential is limited only by the writer’s ability to weave cogent content into a dazzling fabric of felicitous diction — well, perhaps it needn’t always go that far, but the point stands: essay writing is what one makes of it and the more one does, the better one gets and the easier and more enjoyable it becomes. This is the philosophy that our Writing classes espouse and implement.

A different approach to the acquisition of writing skill

It is very hard to generate enthusiasm for writing when one’s labor results only in an ephemeral entity whose sole purpose for existence is to be the subject of a cursory critical evaluation and a single mark in a grade book. Essay writing is often much more exciting and interesting when one is writing for an audience and not just for a teacher who will glance over the paper quickly, make a few red marks, and return it. Unfortunately, few alternatives to uninspired and anemic instructional mediocrity exist, though alternatives are emerging, one example being this class, in which everyone has the opportunity to write for an audience — for the class as a whole, the teacher, and ultimately, after some honing and revision, for a larger audience of fellow students and parents, for the public in web and print media, and for inclusion in individual student portfolios.

The value of an online writing class

A class grade in an accredited highschool is certainly of some value, but it becomes somewhat feeble when placed next to a portfolio of published works whose message and mastery are directly evident to the observer. Such a tangible record of student achievement is far more compelling than a simple letter on a piece of paper reflecting a perfunctory perusal and a possibly skewed evaluation by an only marginally interested and probably harried and preoccupied instructor.

An evolved didactic process

For nearly ten years, our College Preparatory English class has been held largely online, with all handouts and assignment submission taking place in an online classroom, but with a weekly traditional classroom meeting in which corrected papers, grammar, writing style, and spoken language are analyzed and discussed. Now with full online application sharing, together with full audio and video, online students may participate equally with classroom students.

Would I want to take, or have my children take, an online writing class?

Many traditional and online grammar and writing resources are at best uninspired and at worst, misleading and error ridden (See SAT grammar errors found on educational websites). We feel that polished formal standard English should dominate in the classroom, in both written and spoken examples, for emulation is one of the most powerful pedagogical devices and it is a crime to use it to propagate errors and misusages. At the same time, there is no reason for grammar and writing study to be dry and boring (see our writing skills playsheets for a taste of the classroom teaching style.) Parents are always welcome in class, space permitting. The one-room schoolhouse paradigm is used with students of multiple ages and abilities working and studying together.

  • Correct and sophisticated language study
  • Writing for personal enjoyment
  • Writing with a purpose and for an audience

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