Learning to write well - and learning to speak well - is learning to think logically and to put those thoughts into intelligible, interesting words in a beautiful, grammatically correct way. One can learn these things through reading great books, but not everyone picks them up at the same pace. One can learn them systematically through the Lost Tools of Writing Program that we have decided to adopt at St. Anthonys, but it is still true that every student is different and will learn best in her own time and manner. We have chosen to offer a self-paced writing program out of our desire to respect the dignity and uniqueness of each student, to help students gain confidence and mastery, and to help to prevent debilitating discouragement for students who struggle with Dyslexia.
The Lost Tools of Writing program, which is essentially a return to the classical Trivium (Grammar, Logic, & Rhetoric), lends itself to promoting the dignity and unique development of each student. About once a week, we will have a lesson presented and a group brainstorming session. If a student has already had this lesson privately, he can still participate, practice, and help his classmates through his experience and example. For students who are working on mastery of a previous tool, because the new lesson repeats (and builds on) the tools learned in all earlier lessons, the student may practice those tools he has already learned and gain exposure to the new tool, making it familiar and more accessible to him before he receives a private lesson on it. Aside from the group lesson, each student will work privately on her own work plan, practicing, mastering, and employing each of the tools as they build on each other. In this way, the unique pace of learning and the dignity of each student is respected.
The repetition of the tools and the ability to practice them as needed, as well as the individualized attention of the Oxford style tutorial method, allows for true mastery of each tool. This mastery will yield confidence. Rather than whisking all the students along, with some feeling bored and some getting lost in the race to finish a particular lesson by a particular date, each student can focus on mastering a tool before moving on to incorporate the next.
The self-paced tutorial program is also beneficial for any students struggling with Dyslexia. When students with Dyslexia perform at a different pace and in a different way from the rest of the students, they often begin to believe that they are unintelligent and lacking. In her article “How Dyslexia Impacts Writing Skills,” Eileen Baily, an education expert with a focus on learning disabilities, tells us that Dyslexic students often have “difficulties in organizing and sequencing information,” and that “They may jump around when writing, with events occurring out of sequence.” We have seen firsthand the paralyzing discouragement that occurs when a student who struggles with Dyslexia faces the task of writing a sentence, much less an essay. Baily informs us, “to write effectively, a child must be able to organize the information into a logical sequence in order for it to make sense to other people.” The Lost Tools of Writing, which teaches logical thinking foremost, enables us to curtail the lie of being less-than, allowing for a greater focus on oral rhetorical development and building confidence in the abilities of Dyslexic students to think well. The repetition of the LTW and our self-paced program serve us well here, giving “students time to practice and master [one or two] skills before moving on to additional skills,” as Baily recommends.
These are just a few of the reasons that we have chosen to offer a self-paced writing program at St. Anthonys. We believe, as did Montessori, in the dignity and uniqueness of each student as he or she strives for confidence and mastery, including those who struggle with learning differences.