History of English — It’s Chaucer Week!

When better than the first week of April, “whan,” as all English majors know,

longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.

Last week we focused on Latins and Normans — below is an example of a worksheet from one of our readings. The reading is tough, no question, and I like to give her a chance to go back and reflect, with the worksheet as a support.

1.Where did the people called the Vikings or Norsemen originally come from, and where else did they settle on their way to England?
2. Who was Alfred the Great and how did he contribute to the history of English?
3.How did the arrival of the Norsemen make English simpler? What was the grammatical change, and why did it occur?
4. Old Norse and Old English were very similar. Give some examples of similar word pairs and their meanings.
Old Norse mythology is a source for the famous fantasy series Lord of the Rings. Visit the following website, then write a short paragraph about the author J. R. R. Tolkien and how he used his knowledge of the history of the English language in writing his book.

A side note: You may ask yourself, why don’t Shaun and Violet just have a conversation about the reading, rather than some forced worksheet thing? At least, I have asked myself that, as I often ask myself similar questions in the course of home educating this particular child. I have two answers.

First, she hates that! Violet and I are quite alike in being very intense introverts — that is, we can be big and intense presences in a group, but we are also introverted. We might like to talk over something that we read last week (or in the case of Violet, anytime in the last 6 years), but she is uncomfortable giving an instant response. Her perfectionist nature (and intense, critical parents) make her worry about getting it right. Not unlike her father, she sometimes prefers to conduct her conversations in writing. And why not?

Second, though Violet is clearly excited and motivated to learn this subject, the reading is a big step above what she is used to. The worksheets provide a scaffolding for her, to help her make sense of what she’s reading. From our experience so far, I really believe that if we keep this up her ability to comprehend adult academic language will grow to match her desire for depth and complexity in what she’s learning. It’s just a damn good thing she’s interested in something I have my PhD in!

In any case, this week we move from Old English to Middle English. I’m hoping to encourage her to record herself reading the prologue of the Canterbury Tales (ll. 1-18). I’ve found a decent YouTube recording, and I’m looking to find a phonetic rendering — probably I should consult my dusty Riverside Chaucer.

We’re in luck, too. In planning I left the first week of April blank, a fluke of the turn of the calendar page. So we can spend a little extra time on Chaucer and on the Great Vowel Shift. One of Violet’s chief interests is how English has come to sound so different in different places, and when this happened. The GVS should be interesting to her, and make a nice bridge from Chaucer to Shakespeare to boot.



Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Learning Styles, Schoolday Doings, unit study -- history of english, Why Homeschool?

6 responses to “History of English — It’s Chaucer Week!

  1. Chaucer is oodles of fun, especially when you read it aloud. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful study of the English language. Isnt it a shame when we feel we ought to explain/defend our choices in teaching methods?

  2. What you are doing sounds great and the way you are doing it makes sense. I wish I could come for classes.

  3. When folks complain about worksheets, it is usually ones with meaningless questions and drills on them. Your questions are, as you say, scaffolding to support her comprehension of difficult texts. I can see how working on those questions in writing would help her be able to discuss them later.

    And I like your goal — to help her read the adult language that will enable her to get the depth she desires in subjects of interest.

  4. Oh, I am one of those English majors and your post made me start thinking of how I could fit a Chaucer interlude into my 12 year old’s medieval English history studies. I like the way you describe it and particularly your insight into why you do things in a way that might seem “schooly” but in fact makes sense for you and your daughter.

  5. There’s a Prologue video on YouTube? Now I’ve heard everything! This all sounds quite gripping, and I mean that sincerely, although I still sweat (mildly) at the memory of having to recite the Prologue at university.

    Now I’m off to check out that Great Vowel Shift site.

  6. My daughter (almost 12) enjoyed reading through the Geraldine McCaughrean version of Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. She is also named “Violet” at my blog as an alias, it’s a beautiful name! I also like what JoVe says about reading through the adult language to get some depth, we’re doing that with Ivanhoe right now, it’s hysterical! Blessings!

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