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22 March 2018

The Importance of Models in Copywork

Miss Mason was wise to insist on frequent models in copywork.

 We use the traditional copywork method as our primary handwriting method; the kids first write letters, then phrases or sentences, and then longer passages, as their ability matures. In the beginning, especially, the amount of writing actually done is relatively small; handwriting sheets from outside of the Classical education philosophy typically are too long for the beginner. More importantly, they have too few models for the student to look at.

Set good copies before him, and see that he imitates his model dutifully: the writing lesson being not so many lines, or 'a copy'––that is, a page of writing––but a single line which is as exactly as possible a copy of the characters set.
-Charlotte Mason, 1:235

As adults, we have been writing so much and for so long that most of us no longer have to think about the physical act of writing: how long should the first stroke be, where does the next one start, how high should the dot be above the letter... These are all things that I never, ever think about anymore. I love to write, love the feel of the pen slipping across the paper, leaving a trail of thought behind it. I don't think about how round a letter C needs to be, not anymore. So it's easy to forget how important it is to make regular models for beginners.

Tonight, I was reminded.

Recently, I discovered an Instagram account that teaches how to write Japanese kanji beautifully. Tonight, I sat down with my notebook (the special one my husband brought me from Japan), and worked on practicing a few of my Japanese letters. Ones where I'm new, ones that seldom look quite right. Because I originally found this account on Pinterest, my Pinterest is now bringing more about Japanese calligraphy. It's delightful; tonight it brought me these letters, helpfully annotated with details to pay attention to:

That top one has always been troublesome, and I started to work on it. I'd look carefully at the model, then I drew one.

Miss Mason was wise to insist on frequent models in copywork. Look. Write.
Look. Write.

I began to gain confidence.

Look. Write. Write.

Oops. I could tell immediately the difference between the one where I had carefully looked and observed the letter written correctly by someone that knows what they're doing, and the one that I'd drawn without glancing at the model first (it's second from the bottom on the left). I could feel the greater difficulty of the task when writing the second without looking, and I'm not actually a beginner; I'm just trying to clean up my handwriting.

To experience, in working with foreign writing system, what it is to learn to write, to even partially experience it, brought home to me the importance of having a good model for children to copy from: to start them out with a model for every other letter is not too much, and if, as they begin to gain fluency in doing their letters, you find that the quality is falling off after a couple repetitions, then go back to frequent models.

Copywork trains letter formation, introduces spelling, grammar, and a host of other mechanics; but you are also training the ascetic sense: the artistic eye. You are training attention to detail. You're teaching persistence at a task that feels endless; life is full of those. There is so much more going in here than just teaching letters. Give them plenty of models, and sit next to them, and help them to observe the small details. I'm really missing having someone available to give me feedback, to tell me what's good, and what still needs a tweak. Put stars next to their best work; focus on what is correct.

I was reminded tonight: give them very frequent models.
It really does make a difference.

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