S9 E5 | Is Your Language Arts Living? (Shiela Catanzarite)
Is your language arts living? It should be! In this episode we'll discover the origin of language and its intended purpose. We'll discuss why most language arts programs are ineffective and how they fail to produce strong thinkers and writers who know how to artfully apply the elements of language arts to their communication. We'll learn what Charlotte Mason has to say about language arts and how we can approach this beautiful subject in a life-giving way that brings joy, confidence and maturity to our children's language learning, communication and ultimately connection.
Shiela Catanzarite is an author, speaker, editor, and communication coach. She's a 20-year Charlotte Mason veteran homeschooler and has worked as Jeannie Fulbright’s editor and designer for 20 years helping develop Jeannie’s award-winning Apologia science curriculum and most recently her Charlotte Mason products published through Jeannie Fulbright Press. Shiela is the author of the newly published Living Verse Language Arts in Poetry and is finishing up her second book in the series Living Verse Language Arts in Scripture, to be released spring 2024.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a master’s degree in Christian Education from Dallas Theological Seminary, Shiela has been teaching language arts in some capacity for 40+ years. Her passion remains helping students understand the elements of language and how to use these elements artfully to communicate effectively. Shiela is currently a language communication coach, working one-on-one with students who have language learning and communication challenges. She also writes curriculum for her private middle and high school English language communication classes that focus on writing and speaking.
Both of Shiela's and her husband Bruce’s daughters attended private universities on scholarship and went on to pursue graduate studies in medicine and global business. She attributes their love for learning and academic achievement to homeschooling with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and methodology.
To get my "all things language arts" newsletter that offers weekly tips, ideas and inspiration to keep your language arts living, email me at [email protected] and I'll happily add you to the list.
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Shiela Catanzarite Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show, a show that discusses Charlotte Mason's philosophy, principles, and methods. I'm your host, Shiela Catanzarite, author of the newly published Living Verse Language Arts in Poetry, and soon to be published, Living Verse Language Arts in Scripture. I'm so thankful you joined me today, and I pray this episode deeply encourages you as you learn more of Charlotte Mason's life-giving methodologies and how to implement them to bring greater freedom, confidence, and joy to your homeschool days.
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Well hello! I am so excited to be with you again today and we are going to explore what a living language arts looks like. But before we get started, I want to let you know something I'm super excited about. I've just started sending out a weekly newsletter and it is all things language arts. So I share tips and ideas and poems, and I have a word of the week, and just ideas that you can incorporate into your language arts lessons. And one of the ideas that I had when I was thinking about the newsletter was to highlight the work of my Living Verse Language Arts in Poetry students, and our children work so hard on their writing, and often their works of writing just end up in a notebook or a spiral, just closed up and forgotten and unenjoyed by others. And I just felt like it shouldn't be that way. And so I wanted to find a way to honor the students' writing and to celebrate it. And so I have included a section in my newsletter every week highlighting a piece of poetry. I had a visual narration last week that one of my students had done, and it was just so much fun to see the work that had been put into these assignments shared with so many people through the newsletter. And I've received from the moms some amazing visual narrations and written narrations and poetry, and they're just brilliant and some are funny, and they're all based on the assignments in Living Verse Language Arts in Poetry. So it's really been a great, great thing that I've been able to incorporate into my newsletter. And I think it's really special that I would love to share my newsletter with you. And if you email me at [email protected], I will put you on the list and you'll start receiving my newsletter on Thursdays at 4:00pm. I would love to share it with you. And so again just email me, let me know you want to be added to the newsletter list and I will put you on there. And I will also have my email address in the show notes as well, so you can get it from there.
But I want to talk about living language arts today. And when we think about language arts, we should begin with its origin and remember that God is the creator of language. He was the first one to use words to speak, to bring into being all of creation. And everything that we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and understand was brought into being through God's words. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein." So everything sprung into creation in obedience to God's powerful and authoritative words. "Let there be light, and there was light....Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters....And it was so....Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear....And it was so....Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind on the earth....And it was so....Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth....And it was so....Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens....And God saw that it was good....Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth....Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds— livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds....And it was so....Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth....And God blessed them....'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth....Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.' And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.".
God had two purposes for language creation and communication. And I would say that there's an even deeper purpose, and that's for connection. So in the first verses of Genesis, we see God using words to bring into existence creation. And then God shifts and uses words to speak to the pinnacle of creation, mankind. So from the beginning, we see that God had a specific purpose for language to communicate with the people he created and ultimately connect with them and an eternal relationship. So the creator became a communicator through the vehicle of spoken language. Language that would in time be written down for all mankind to receive the written Holy Word of God. And because God is a communicator and because we are made in his image, we too are communicators. God created us with the ability to both express and receive language, and this was vital because God had and still has an important message for us to hear and receive. And God chose to deliver his message to mankind through words. Words intentionally and artfully combined into a structured language we call Scripture. And as we study Scripture, we observe that God is the master word artist. He breathed out his words into the hearts and minds of the authors who wrote down what God told them. And second Peter 121 tells us, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man. But men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. These men used a great variety of rich literary elements and techniques, and interesting language concepts and structures when communicating God's words. They were brilliant word artists, which makes Scripture the pinnacle source for language arts study. And this is why I wrote Living Verse Language Arts and Scripture, which is the second volume of my Language Arts series. I wanted students to learn from the original creator of language as they study how he communicated to us through the brilliant, beautiful and varied styles that we find in Scripture. And this volume is unique and special because it uses the living Word of God passages from both the old and the New Testament to teach language arts concepts. And as students are learning from these passages that are living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart, God will be speaking directly to their hearts and minds, communicating the message he has for them to receive. And I'm super excited to let you know that we are in the editing phase of Living First Language Arts and Scripture, and we plan to have the curriculum available late spring, so I will keep you up on when it's going to be ready to order and ship, but I think it's going to be really special.
So what makes language arts living? Well, I believe that language arts is living. When a student studies and learns from living book authors who spark in the student living ideas that express themselves in language that results in living communication and, ultimately, connection with other living people. So I know that's a lot. So, let me restate that more slowly. Language arts is living when a student studies and learns from living book authors who spark in the student living ideas, ideas that express themselves in language that results in living communication and, ultimately, connection with other living people. So in summary, language connects us to others. And Charlotte Mason tells us that education is a life and that this life is sustained on ideas. She says, "Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony...we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food." And our children's minds are alive and they're waiting to be fed with living ideas that delight, inspire and stir their imagination. So where did these living ideas come from? Well, mostly from living books filled with living language. Charlotte Mason tells us, "For the mind lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body." Teaching language arts outside the context of a living passage is like offering our children a meal of sawdust. It robs them of the intellectual nourishment that comes from a deeper understanding of the structure and the artistry of language. And sadly, our educational institutions have reduced language arts to a sterile academic subject that's to be endured. And most curricula teach grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and literary and language devices as separate topics to be memorized and tested, usually using fill in the blank, matching and multiple choice worksheets. And the arts of language are taken from their home, and they're isolated and taught out of context from the beautifully written literature, poems, and scripture classified as living passages. And if you open the typical language arts workbook, you'll quickly see it was written for the purpose of students producing the right answer rather than students expressing their learning. And most of the teaching passages are not written by authors that are artfully expressing living ideas and language, but rather by curriculum writers who create passages from which the student can easily extract a predetermined correct answer. And this is not a living language arts education.
Have you ever thought about the fact that punctuation doesn't have a purpose outside of writing? So we don't need a period or a question mark when we speak, only when we write. So when we teach punctuation outside of where it lives, the student doesn't gain a deeper understanding of the punctuation marks' purpose. They may be able to define what a semicolon is, but they won't see an example of how to use it artfully. And I hear all the time from my students that they don't know how or when to use a semicolon. That's just a common thing that I hear from them. So what about vocabulary? Many programs teach words and their definitions, and may even provide exercises that prompt the student to fill in the correct word, but does this teach the student how to use the word effectively in his own composition? Someone else has written a sentence for the purpose of producing the correct answer, and this is very different from teaching words for the purpose of language expression, to make the students' writing stronger and more refined.
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Well, what about grammar? The part of language that students dread most, and I certainly can understand why with the dry list of grammar rules that most programs require students to memorize. But again, does grammar live alone isolated from human communication? We rarely see errors in subject-verb agreement when speaking, but these errors always show up in the writing. So grammar is really a collection of language concepts to be applied and expressed and not just memorized and tested. And figurative language is a popular language arts topic. Students love learning about similes and metaphors and personification and all the others. And when figurative language is taught by definition only extracted from a whole living passage, the child misses the brilliance of how the figurative language communicates beyond the surface. If they are required to only define or recognize figurative language and not apply it to their own composition, they miss the opportunity to write with a deeper beauty and enjoyment. They miss out on all the fun. And when the child sees the reason the author structured the passage in a certain way and why the author established a certain voice through thoughtful vocabulary and sentence placement, the child's knowledge of language is deepened. And when he recognizes the effect of sentence variety and intentional punctuation, his language learning becomes internalized and he begins to perceive that language is an art, and in time he starts expressing himself artfully. And this is why it's so important that students learn language arts through whole living passages written by master authors. I call them word artists. And like the young painters who would sit before Monet's works to learn the craft of Impressionism—the usage of colors and brushstrokes—our young communicators should sit before the works of the best authors, studying their craft of choosing and ordering words, sentences, paragraphs, and whole works of poetry and literature. And this is why, in my Living First language arts curriculum, I have the students study entire poems and complete passages of Scripture so they can see how the individual elements of language arts are combined to create a beautiful, whole and living work. I'm super passionate about children learning from the best of the master word artist, and I work really hard to curate the most excellent and engaging works that I can find. And Charlotte Mason talked about children being nourished on the best thoughts of the best minds, and she told us, "Our real concern is that children should have a good and regular supply of mind-stuff to think upon; that they should have large converse with books as well as with things; that they should become intimate with great men through the books and works of art they have left us, the best part of themselves." I so agree with Charlotte Mason. Our children really do deserve to learn from the best and we need to give that to them.
And like we've talked about the elements that make up language arts—the grammar, vocabulary, the figurative language, the literature and language devices—all have a place to live and express themselves. And that is in narration and in composition. And Charlotte Mason tells us that children take pleasure in expressing what they know, which is why verbal and written narration are essential avenues for a child expressing his knowledge. There's no substitute. She says that children are able to tell what they've read or heard, not only with accuracy, but with spirit and originality. And we want that to come forth in our children, and don't we? And this is what we're aiming for in language arts. This is our end goal—expressive language that is original, brilliant and artful. We want our children's genius ideas to find their place in writing, and we want to offer this opportunity to our children each and every day. And this is why notebooking is so important, and why notebooking language arts is especially important. Notebooking creates a spirit of freedom. It draws on the personality of the child, helping him develop his voice and style of expressive language. We want the child to learn the language arts elements, then immediately apply them to his writing through notebooking assignments. And this is so important, especially for language arts. If you're studying poetry or literature and the child is learning, they need to have the opportunity to express what they've absorbed from the author that they've studied and the language elements—that opportunity to them immediately, through notebooking, express what they have learned and begin to develop their own writing. And as you employ this method of notebooking throughout your child's education and through all the subjects, but especially through language arts, the child is developing writing skills naturally. The child continues to mature in the writing, continuing to mature in vocabulary usage and advanced punctuation. It's a natural way to teach writing. And so notebooking is critical not only for our Bible and our geography and our history, but for our language arts especially.
And it's really important to preserve your child's notebooking and writing in the beautiful notebooks. Any original composition, whether it's a sentence from an early elementary student or a poem from a high schooler, it deserves to be honored and kept safe. Truly. Every piece of writing is special because there will never be another person on earth who will assemble words to express ideas in the way that your child did, and these works should be treated as keepsakes. It's really amazing when I teach my classes to give an assignment and each student will go around and share what they wrote or what they think about a quote or something they read, and it's the exact same assignment, but the way that the student expresses their learning is completely unique and different. And one of the reasons why I have my students go around and share their thoughts, either in writing or speaking, is so that the other students can recognize how unique and special each person's voice is. And so when the child is challenged to think and to assemble ideas, to think about the ideas, and then assemble the words in such a way to communicate the ideas through language, it's brilliant. And the unique genius that God put in our children, it comes forth. And the classes that I teach are small, so I have seven in my seventh grade class, and they're taking my writing class from middle school right now. And it's so amazing for them to hear each other and for them to hear themselves in the midst of hearing everyone else and recognize how unique they are. And it builds so much confidence. One of the things that I hear a lot is my child is so confident after taking your class. It's built- my child is confident. And I've been trying to figure out what is the root of the- why are they confident? And I finally came to realize they are confident because they're learning to express themselves fluently and confidently. They're able to express who they are through words in a way that they are proud of, and in a way that other people are encouraging them to. And it's amazing when people share my students will start clapping for each other. Maybe it was just a quote or maybe they reworded a sentence, but it's really a profound moment when that student says something and realizes, wow, I never knew I could say that or I never thought anything like that before. But there's so- God has put the genius inside our children. It's just waiting to come forth. It's waiting to come forth through the narration, through the notebook, through verbal narration, through visual narration. There's so much inside of our children, and we want to give that opportunity every single day, but we want to preserve that as well. And this is the whole idea behind the living language arts. Our children are living beings and communication is living, and it has a purpose, and it flows from them to other people in their lives and people who are around other living people. So we want to remember God's purpose for language arts when we're teaching language arts to our children. We want them to learn from living authors of living books so that they become prolific and brilliant communicators to other people in their lives and in their sphere.
And so, when we think about teaching language arts, just practically what this looks like, to teach it in a living way, an example that I have is right now I'm teaching my eighth graders—they're in a word artistry class—and I really want them to understand the craft and the structure of quality writing. And so they are reading- they have to read The Hunger Games. And so I got them all a copy of The Hunger Games. And they are studying how the author crafted the story, so they're not really reading it for reading comprehension as much as they're reading it to understand the author's craft. And so we have like five different elements that I want them to start marking in the book. And they've actually gone through a couple chapters. And so the first day we introduce, okay, we're looking for the strong verbs the author used. We're looking at the adjective, the descriptive language. We're looking for the figurative language. We're looking for literary devices. Did they use flashback? Did they use in media res? Did they use foreshadow? So we're looking for those literate. And then we're looking for language devices. Let's look at the punctuation. What about- did they use anaphora? Did they use parallelism? So those are some upper, you know, more advanced types of language devices that I teach at that age. So they have five different color, and so they created a little chart in the beginning of the book, like a little key, and it's like blue—and I gave them five different color pens and like blue for the strong verbs in orange for the figurative language. So they're going through and as they're reading, they're having to mark in the colors all of these different ways that the author assembled all of these language arts elements to create this really prolific piece of writing. This really, really brilliant word artistry is what I would call it. And so as they're going through, they're studying the language arts, and they're starting to recognize, wow, that was really powerful. The author said that, you know, as a fragment, not in a sentence. Oh, the author used, you know, repetition here and used, you know, repeated this three times in a row and it really emphasized the point. And so they're studying all of the different language elements that the author assembled in such a way to where the writing is impactful and beautiful and powerful. And as they're doing this and they come back and we talk about it, they're starting to incorporate that in their writing. They're absorbing the living language coming from the author, and they're naturally learning all the language arts because they're seeing them within the piece of writing. They're understanding, oh, okay, I see in this chapter how she introduced all the characters in the first two paragraphs, and I understand why, and I can see why she described it that way. And they're just seeing the variety of types of language elements that can be used. And as one of my students said, there's such a variety. I never realized it. But again, they haven't ever really had the opportunity to study a whole piece of living language from a whole perspective, from a whole book perspective. It's been, let's teach the language concept at school and let's take a test over it but they never saw how it was used artfully. And so that's what we're going for with our living language arts. And that's why in my curriculum we study a whole passage, an entire poem. We study, you know, an entire passage of Scripture so that they see the whole complete work and then they understand all the different parts, just like the young impressionist painters did when they study Monet's work.
And so going back to kind of sum up, how do you make language arts come alive? I think when you introduce a child to a living passage that you've carefully chosen, helping him see the language elements the author used, then asking him to model the passage using his own words and the language elements that he studied to express his unique living ideas, when you do that, you've just made language arts come alive, and you've taught it with the original purpose in mind—using language to communicate to others for the end goal of connecting with them in a meaningful way. And this is God's original intent for language arts, and I think we see it. The books that we love, the songs that we love, the Scripture that we loved, connect with us in a really powerful way. It's like another person communicating his or her ideas in a powerful way that connects with us, that changes us, that transforms us. And so when we teach language arts, we need to remember that language is living and is communicated to living people. And so we want to help our children understand the variety of language elements that are available to them, the variety of vocabulary, all the literary devices, the types of punctuation, all the different types of language concepts that are available, a whole- just a plethora of tools available for our children so that they can begin to create language that is artful and impactful and intentional. Not just to learn them, to memorize them for a test, but to learn them to be applied, to make them brilliant thinkers and brilliant communicators and people who connect and impact the lives of others. So if we have this vision in mind that the end goal is connection, that's going to translate to every single area of their life. And if you start teaching language arts this way, and if you give your children a vision that we are wanting to communicate with other people in a really impactful way—God made us to do that, we're in his image, he made us to do that—if we can give our children that vision, they will start to write with intentionality. And if you shared as a family, and if you do your language arts together as a family and everyone shares what they wrote or what they think, even verbally or sharing in a visual narration, there's a connection that happens in the family. There's a unity. There's a bond that gets created. And I've heard this from different moms that, oh, we wrote the poem together or my child did this and we all laughed and we couldn't believe the five-year-old even could think that way. You know, our children are brilliant. They are geniuses that God has put in them, and we have to give them the opportunity to interact with living books and living authors that can draw that out, that can model for them writing and speaking artfully. We want to give that to them. And if you start when they're young and you continue to to think of language arts education in terms of the application of it, if you begin notebooking and keep them writing every day, notebook all of your subjects in there, they're going to absorb everything. And they're going to just become very natural and very, very strong writers. And then you won't need a separate writing curriculum that's based on a formula. They're going to naturally know how to write, and they're going to naturally know how to use all the different elements of language available to them. And that's what we're going for. That's the end goal.
Well, I hope you've enjoyed this episode. I certainly have enjoyed sharing it with you. And I hope that you have inspiration and ideas that you can apply to make your children's language arts study living and life-giving. And I would love to continue to offer helpful tips and ideas for all things language arts through my weekly newsletter. You can simply email me, again, at [email protected] and let me know that you want to be added to my list. And again, my email address will be in the show notes, but I would love to continue to offer all the tips and ideas, something every week that you can immediately use with your children to help your language arts come alive. And I look forward to seeing you next week. Have a blessed day!
Thank you for tuning in to the Charlotte Mason Show. If you want to learn more about Charlotte Mason and discover a beautiful Language Arts curriculum that uses her methodologies, go to my website at ShielaCatanzarite.com. There you can find my new blog where I discuss Charlotte Mason's principles for Language Arts, and how to implement her philosophy in your homeschool. Please enjoy my free resource on how to mark a poem. Simply provide your email address and I'll send you the free PDF that teaches a simple, hands-on, Charlotte-Mason-inspired way to bring poetry into your homeschool. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast. And while you're there, leave us a review. Tell us what you love about the show. This will help other homeschooling parents like you get connected to our community. And finally, tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode.
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