At My Homeschool we use Charlotte Mason style homeschool dictation across our homeschool programs. We start very simply and work towards longer passages.
Well-chosen passages expose children to good literature and a variety of writing styles that help them recognise and use well-structured sentences, good grammar and correct punctuation.
The dictation method that Charlotte Mason suggests is not what most of us would remember from school. A great emphasis is placed on preparing the dictation passage before they are required to write it. This can be done using copy work, word study and careful examination of the piece to be written (more on this later). The goal is to get it right the first time.
Before dictation children should already have done a few years of copywork.
Presentation of homeschool dictation
Presentation of the work is important. Instruct the student on using a margin, indentation of paragraphs and a title for the work. Encourage the student to use self editing skills and proofread their work. If they see something wrong allow them to correct it (using an eraser or liquid paper) prior to handing it over for marking. Storage of the dictation can be in a notebook, folder or book. A well presented work will make them proud of their achievements.
How to mark homeschool dictation
Mark your child’s dictation on the spot whenever possible, getting them to erase the mistake and write the correction over it. This is a very important phase for imprinting the correct image in your student’s mind. Resist the temptation to scribble in the corrections. We want the students to be proud of their work. I use three indicators for marking: presentation, spelling and accuracy. I take a half point off for each mistake and give an overall mark.
Teach your child to study a word
Knowing how to spell is essential in getting a dictation passage correct and dictation is a useful aid for teaching correct spelling.
When you and your students are preparing a homeschool dictation passage, have the student look for words that they may find difficult and have them do a word study. This can involve: carefully copying out the word; visualizing the word in their mind with their eyes closed; practice writing the words (make sure they are practising the correct spelling).
After the word or words have been identified, allow time for the student to learn the spelling. When the student feels confident that they can spell the word correctly, begin the dictation. Look at your student’s dictation and see where the errors occur and if you think they need extra practise you can make individualised spelling lists.
The gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to “take” (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. When they have read “cat”, they must be encouraged to see the word with their eyes shut, and the same habit will enable them to image “Thermopylae”. This picturing of words upon the retina appears to be to be the only royal road to spelling; an error once made and corrected leads to fearful doubt for the rest of one’s life, as to which was the wrong way and which is the right. Most of us are haunted by some doubt as to whether “balance”, for instance, should have one “l” or two; and the doubt is born of a correction. Once the eye sees a misspelt word, that image remains; and if there is also the image of the word rightly spelt, we are perplexed as to which is which. Now we see why there could not be a more ingenious way of making bad spellers than “dictation” as it is commonly taught. Every misspelt word is in image in the child’s brain not to be obliterated by the right spelling. It becomes, therefore, the teacher’s business to prevent false spelling, and, if an error has been made, to hide it away, as it were, so that the impression may not become fixed.’