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Learning By Breaking It Down

When learning how to do something, it helps to break it down to irreducible subtasks.

As an example, we homeschool our kids; my eldest daughter Kaija is 5th-grade age.  We want her to practice writing simple paragraphs as a stepping stone to essays.  But asking her to just “write a paragraph” can be overwhelming, because in order to “write a paragraph” you have to do all the following subtasks:

  1. choose a topic
  2. structure your thoughts into coherent sentences
  3. write the sentences down
  4. proofread and edit
  5. make a fair copy

So following the advice of Susan Wise Bauer, we try to create opportunities for her to practice these subtasks in isolation.

Today we did #2, structure your thoughts.  I chose a topic: I said “tell me something about William the Silent.”  Kaija told me what to write and I wrote it down, so:

William the Silent was born in Germany.  He was brought to Spain to learn royal manners.  He was born a Protestant, so the king of Spain was worried he would not be loyal.  In Spain William learned how to be a Catholic.

When William grew up, he was given control of he Netherlands, which still belonged to Spain at that time.  Philip, the King of Spain, wanted to destroy Protestantism in the Netherlands.  William and the Dutch people waged a war for independence.  William became the first king of the Netherlands.


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