Learning to write…..lessons from Muhr

Laura Sandefer

February 16, 2018

My grandmother Sara Camilla Collins Emerick (we called her Muhr) was an English teacher turned real estate entrepreneur.  She was classy and elegant.   The thing I remember most about Muhr is that she never complained.  She lived through the great depression, cancer, death of loved ones, and the difficulties of aging.  She faced hard times with courage and determination.   I smile when I recall how she could quote Shakespeare’s Beowulf  in her late 90’s.   Her love of writing and appreciation for great literature inspires me.  My daughter Sara is named after my grandmother.

As part of our homeschool curriculum, we went to Muhr’s house for English classes.  I still remember diagramming sentences with her.  She frequently explained the difference between lie, lay, laid, and lain.  Muhr loved writing!  She published a few different books including her largest book, Legacy of Sacrifice, which chronicled her life.   Reading this book stirs up raw emotions of joy and deep sadness.  I am reminded that words can pass on for generations.  When you look at great literary works from the Bible to modern day classics, I am reminded that words have power to transform the world.

One of my deepest desires for our students is that they possess the skills and confidence to share their ideas in writing.  Having the ability to articulate their point can help them on their Hero’s Journey.  Writing well can open doors that would otherwise have been shut.  Our children can change the world through the written word.  Whether our students write an epic novel, grant, thesis paper, children’s book, resume, letter, business advertisement, or speech I want them to write with confidence.

This past semester I struggled with the writing process at Acton.  I learned to write by having my mom and grandmother red line every single paper I wrote.  The Acton philosophy of peer reviews and learning by practice versus teacher led lecture and grammar lessons was a huge adjustment for me!   I was very much used to having someone critique my work as a student and get input from a teacher on grammar and composition.   Giving the children space to enjoy the creative process such as font selection, layout, inserting photos, and writing unique stories was a good start.   However, I felt like some structure was missing.  This next semester we will outline in a more detailed manor how many points/eagle dollars will be awarded per each writing project.  We will outline what font size and story length is required to obtain maximum points.  We will further outline presentation requirements (you must run spellcheck prior to submitting, you can’t copy someone else’s work on line and submit as a report, and Wikipedia isn’t necessarily a valid source). 🙂

Our new process will still be very much student led; however, we will outline the rules of engagement prior to issuing the assignment.  Jeff Sandefer told me during training that for Socratic teaching to work, the students must have rules of engagement so they know the parameters they must work within.  I feel we could have done a better job with this aspect of the writing projects.

Over the break, I spent a lot of time researching different writing programs.  I wanted to keep within the Acton model of learn by doing and student led but still give students a framework and skill set to jump from.   I learned about Institute for Excellence in Writing after reading several great reviews about this program.   We purchased the program for our 2-6 grade students.  Our guides will use modeling and group discussions to create an environment where growth in writing will occur.  We will address grammar issues through their Fix It class.  I believe this program provides valuable tools for students without becoming a teacher led class.  I encourage you to watch this video to learn more about IEW.   For students who struggle with writing, I feel this program will give them step by step processes to get their ideas down on paper.

Reading good literature compliments learning to write beautifully!   Our reading badges will require students to read from a list of classic books that are grade/skill appropriate.  Students will journal about what they read.

Words have power!   Check out this list of famous speeches and how they changed the world!

Best Regards,


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