‘Composition’ comes by Nature.––In fact, lessons on ‘composition’ should follow the model of that famous essay on “Snakes in Ireland”––”There are none.”
While researching online for a talk last fall, I had revisited some notebooks belonging to Eve Anderson (1931-2004), a graduate of Mason’s teacher training college. In a box, alongside her Book of Centuries and Nature Note-Books, were notes she had kept from her college days. They kept notes? Yes! It seems they did. Another former student, Joan Fitch, said:–
“We had a lecture, principles of education or history, and then a member of staff giving this would leave the room and we had a quarter of an hour in which to write a report on this lecture. This was, in a sense, the narration method which could be done by children in writing if need be.”
She goes on to say:–
“This was never a criticism, it was a report, an account of, but in our own words, as the children, for instance, were asked to narrate a passage in their words.”
One such report in Ms. Anderson’s notebook is under the heading, ‘Composition.’ It appears within a series of lectures on the ‘History of Education’ and ‘Education in England.’ Appearing alongside a report on Exams under the general heading of ‘P.U.S.’ (Parents’ Union Schools), these two reports provide a point of comparison between traditional approaches and Mason’s method in the P.U.S.
I transcribe her report (below) as it reads in her notebook. These notes are not a polished report by any means; they are a record on paper of her impressions as allowed in the brief time allotted following a lecture.
It may be fitting to keep in mind that Eve Anderson was a student at the House of Education some thirty years after Mason’s death. Changes were afoot, especially after the Second World War. In their diaries, students observed changes at the college; changes with mixed implications. In 1948, one student remarked,–
“We had an innovation this term, a mixed dance for students who were allowed to invite any male friend they wanted.”
Another noted that by 1946 most students went home for their summer half-term break, rather than stay at Ambleside. Mason had deliberately chosen Ambleside for the location of her school, in part to impress a new way of living upon her students and to open up new avenues of pursuits. One could argue that long breaks could impact habits newly formed and paramount to her unique approach.
My purpose in this article isn’t to detail these Post-WWII changes nor to speculate on their impact but they are worth consideration as we read Ms. Anderson’s report on the teaching in her time on composition. More can be read about Mason’s ideas on composition in Home Education and School Education.
Form I. Children have oral compositions in the narration of tales.
Form II. Have compositions.
IIb. Can start compositions and if they are very slow they may narrate the rest of the composition if they have a lot to say. Choose stories from terms reading, therefore they have some knowledge on subject; they must have plenty of material to work on. Avoid abstract subjects and those that need generalization and criticism. Do not teach composition; just give the child material to work on. Teach them full-stops and capital letters after but not paragraphs. Avoid the use of slang.
Subjects. Stories from:–
- Age of Fable.
- Story about a picture they have done.
First attempt at working poetry to be done in metre of poem read.
Can sometimes have imaginary subjects by the end of 2A.
Subjects from term’s work, and current affairs.
No special lessons on composition.
They have more subject matter. Subjects should be varied. Write a scene for acting from a term’s book.
Letters of invitation or thanks or descriptive letters.
Subjects for imagination every now and then.
Topics of day
Occasionally own choice. Give them several days to think about it.
Citizenship gives scope. Paragraphs should be insisted on.
Begin to do real teaching.
Children who have read a lot will not need much teaching.
Punctuation and paragraphs.
Lessons on composition about 2 a term. Give concise description.
Compositions on Literature. Essays set on Bacon’s, Pope’s, Lamb’s etc.
There is a book to help teacher.
Tell them 5 processes in writing of essay:–
- Make an analysis of thoughts.
- Develop analysis into an outline.
- Write the essay.
- Read it through.
Must give at least 5 minutes to think first.
Give them lesson on different kinds of essays, descriptive, imaginative, concrete subject, topical subject, conversational, abstract.
Get them to suggest subjects.
An oral lesson on opening sentence to essays. Read them good opening sentences.
Criticize a little beginnings offered by one another.
Also consider endings.
Use of reported speech. __replied, shouted, whispered, hinted etc. instead of always ‘said’.
Enlarge vocabulary. Useful for conversation.
Lesson on description – e.g. an old sailor, do it aurally, a good meeting place, an outline of the conversation with sailor.
Pay attention to adjectives.
Building up of an essay—‘blood sports’—introduction on popularity, various kinds. one in particular. controversy on subject, writer’s own thoughts.
These lessons help with arrangement of ideas.
Poetry-4A. Look at metre of poems. Learn rules for metre.
Introduction to précis writing, paraphrasing.
Blank verse and sonnet encouraged.
Charlotte Mason College by J.P. Inman.
Home Education by Charlotte Mason, p. 243-247
“Notebooks from Eve Anderson” https://goo.gl/FffQKw, Box 162, Charlotte Mason Digital Collection, Redeemer University College.
School Education by Charlotte Mason, p. 178-181.
Transcript of Interview, Joan Fitch, Ambleside Oral History Group.