Thursday, January 22, 2015

Contemplation, Conversation, and the ANI Chart ~ Part 1

Or “Lost Tools of Writing, the ‘How to Talk with Your Teenager’ Program”

Contemplation and Conversation

After Levi expressed his frustration over his Lost Tools of Writing assignments, I promised him that we’ll do that subject together, every day, first thing in the morning.

We had our community day for Challenge A on Monday, but Tuesday morning he remembered. “Mom, you said you would do Lost Tools with me, first thing.”

I told him to bring his papers to the kitchen table and we’d sit down together while I ate my breakfast and drank my tea, leisurely*. (I often eat standing up because, you know, hurry, hurry, hurry. And hello, Whole30, because I didn’t have enough on my plate—ha!—and I’m modeling doing hard things.)


“Christian education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God.” [CiRCE]

A liberal education is not for the purpose of productivity but for the purpose of making minds free.

I can believe that with every cell of my body. But I am also human. And a mother who has a lot on her plate. And I’m lazy. And impatient.

I like either having nothing to do, or doing something quickly and having something to show for the work.


But this educating our children and ourselves, it is not easy, and it is not a sprint. It is a marathon, a life-long labor of love.

In our rush for output, we skip the difficult, nonquantifiable but essential step of contemplation and hurry along the quantifiable products of filled-in blanks on a worksheet or, count them, 30 items in each column of the ANI chart. We succumb to the pressures of schedule- and productivity-based educational goals.

I had been using the Lost Tools of Writing as a worksheet and writing program, but I was wrong.

The Lost Tools of Writing is a program that teaches students how to think.

I KNEW this. But I had forgotten.

The problem with thinking, or contemplation, is that it takes time and a willingness to set aside time-limits, to set aside the to-do list, to set aside the expectation of a product, to set aside all the trivial distractions in our physical space and in our minds. And, for those of us (me) not accustomed to focused, structured contemplation, it is difficult.

If it is difficult for us as adults, how much more difficult must it be for a thirteen-year-old boy?! And if we cannot spare the time and energy to model the process and value of contemplation, how will our children and students learn; will they believe us when we say it is important?

The Lost Tools of Writing is also the opportunity to talk about big, formational ideas with an adolescent—indirectly (not about their own decisions), without lecturing or moralizing. It is the opportunity to educate relationally.

It’s the “How to Talk with Your Teenager” program. And it’s GOLD.

This is what I discovered yesterday morning, during a two-hour un-rushed conversation, while we enjoyed each other’s company and ideas. True leisure.

*“At the heart of any culture worthy of the name is not work but leisure, schole in Greek, a word that lies at the root of the English word ‘school.’ At its highest, leisure is contemplation. It is an activity that is its own justification, the pure expression of what it is to be human…” ~ Stratford Caldecott, Beauty for Truth's Sake


I began by sharing with Levi the benefit of creating an issue and an ANI chart (more about those in a minute for those of you not familiar with Lost Tools).

We contribute ideas to an ANI chart using the five common topics of invention in order to:

1. Think about and understand a story more deeply, and return to the text to remember more details.

2. Think about and know a character more deeply.

3. Think about and understand human nature more deeply, which should make us more empathetic.

4. Think about and understand ourselves, our nature, and our own decisions more deeply.

5. Practice making better decisions, and learn to use an ANI chart when faced with big decisions.

6. Learn to study the other side of arguments for clearer (unbiased) thinking, reasoning, and debating (which will be particularly helpful for policy debate in Challenge I).


With Lost Tools of Writing, the student chooses a “should question,” which he then turns into an issue on which he writes a persuasive essay.

In Classical Conversations Challenge A, students have assigned books to read (10 books in 30 weeks) from which they pull their issue. This month (the first weeks of the second semester), students read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Levi asked the question “Should Colin’s father have stayed away from him purposely?” This question becomes the issue “whether Colin’s father should have stayed away from him purposely.”

Students then create an ANI chart—one column for A (affirmative reasons), N (negative reasons), and I (interesting statements or questions about the story that do not seem to fit in column A or N).

This is often when the instinctive, impulsive “of course he shouldn’t have” or “I don’t know” statements begin. Or the tedious torture of wringing blood from a rock and finding 30 reasons to place in each column.

But, BUT, the student is given TOOLS, and those tools are called the 5 Topics of Invention, which is the first cannon of Rhetoric. Essentially, they are five categories of questions to ask (about anything!) to help a person think—structured brainstorming, really.

These tools can help eliminate the spontaneous reactions (of course he shouldn’t have done it) and the empty head (I don’t know, I have no idea, where do I even start). They are tools of inquiry to gather an inventory of facts and ideas. They promote focused, organized, interactive thinking. They are conversational.


[Next post: Our Conversation]


Ohio12 said...

Thank you for taking the time to blog about Challenge! I am so concerned that the vast quantity and the difficulty will make it so hard to discuss, learn and enjoy the books and lessons in any kind of leisurely or meaningful way. I am determined that we will modify where needed so that love of learning is not compromised, but I have never talked to anyone who has actually done that, so maybe it is too difficult to modify. So glad to be able to follow your experience.

Sarah said...

I enjoyed your post. Thank you! How did Levi chose his question?

Heidi said...

Ohio12~ I'll write more about that in the next post, but I also addressed some ways to modify the schedules and content in this post:
I do modify the work for Levi in various ways, according to what works best for him and our family.

Sarah~ I asked Levi and he said that he often likes to choose a decision that would change the outcome of the whole book. It certainly is easier to come up with copious points on an ANI chart when one chooses a big, pivotal decision. But that doesn't mean that smaller decisions are not worth discussing.

Anne said...

Great post, Heidi. I've found LTW a little more manageable than most because I am the Challenge A Tutor. Since I have already started the discussion in class, it's easier to continue it at home.

I used to be an Essentials Tutor, and my advice to parents always was, "Work on it for one hour a day. Then close your books and put them away. Once it stops being fun, no one is learning anything."

Now that I've ventured into Challenge, I'm trying to model that same principle for my parents (and myself!). Here is how my son and I have adapted LTW to work for us. Naturally, some weeks are better than others.

Everyday we complete one of the Invention tools (Comparison Chart, Definition, Circumstance, etc.) and then our goal is to add at least 5 items to each column on his ANI chart. Some days we're on a role, and we wind up with many more than 5. Other days we're scraping, but we don't quit until we hit that number. After four days of schooling we're usually pretty close to 30 items per column. When we get 5 items, we close the book and put it away. My son is very motivated by speed and quickness. ;)

However,and what I think is most important, it takes about 30 minutes a day. That's it. I figure I can invest 30 minutes four days a week in order for him not to dread this process by the time he enters Challenge B.


Cara C. said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I was about to give up on Lost Tools. You have given me new inspiration to dive in again. Can't wait to read your next post!

Mary Prather said...

and you, my friend -- are SO wise:

"In our rush for output, we skip the difficult, nonquantifiable but essential step of contemplation and hurry along the quantifiable products of filled-in blanks on a worksheet or, count them, 30 items in each column of the ANI chart. We succumb to the pressures of schedule- and productivity-based educational goals."

Love this! If it encourages you, I saw such fruits in Challenge B in writing, too!

Melanie said...

I appreciate seeing your experience with your son. We have a new baby in the house this year and I have been letting my daughter work more independently than I should. I've noticed a lack of depth in her writing recently, and I think that your suggestions will help us work through it. Thank you and I look forward to reading your next post.

Kellie said...

Thank you, again, Heidi. I, too, just want to rush through it and check it off the list. Part of my problem is that I often sell my son short in what kind of conversation he is capable of, due to his autism. I just need to remind myself that God has surprised me over and over his whole life with his development, and the progress just since we've started Challenge A has been encouraging.

I love the idea in the earlier comment about adding 5 items to the ANI chart each day. We tend to do it all in one shot, and I think that adds to the dread.

My son picked the essentially the same question for The Secret Garden. It did bring up some interesting topics. I felt like at times I was giving him too much help, but going back to his autism, I realize that he's not going to naturally know some of the emotions behind character's actions. I was able to explain how grief can shape a person's attitude and actions, so I guess it turns into sort of a social skills lesson for him as well.

Heidi said...

Anne~ That's great advice! Thank you. That's what I plan to do for the upcoming book since we'll have more time if I'm diligent from the start. :)

Cara, Mary, and Melanie~ I'm so glad that this post was helpful and encouraging to you!

Kellie~ That discussion topic (how grief can shape a person's attitude and actions) is a fantastic one! Even for kids without autism! One of the realizations that these discussions bring home is that you don't really know what is going to come up. If you went into the discussion thinking you'd give a little lecture on grief, it wouldn't work nearly as well. But if it happens naturally, it's amazing. You're doing good, hard things with your son, Kellie.

Kristine said...

Thanks for this quick and concise glimpse into LTW. I am spurred to reread The Core and focus on the 5 Topics of Invention...I hope to have practiced these skills in preparation for my upcoming Challenge A years with my children.

And this, I loved too. You worded it perfectly, "I like either having nothing to do, or doing something quickly and having something to show for the work. But this educating our children and ourselves, it is not easy, and it is not a sprint. It is a marathon, a life-long labor of love."

Heidi said...

Kristine~ If you have enjoyed The Core and are interested in exploring the 5 Topics of Invention, I highly recommend reading The Question. :)