Why should you use copywork and dictation in the early grades? The purpose of copywork is to get into the child’s visual (and motor) memory the look and feel of a sentence that is corrrectly composed, and properly spelled, spaced, and punctuated. The purpose of dictation is to have a child practice transferring his knowledge of the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation to actual writing.
So you should do copywork as long as the child is still struggling with the basics of writing conventions: spaces between words, capital letters, punctuation, spelling. (Generally, this is first grade, although it should extend into second grade or as long as the child seems to need it.) You move on to dictation when these basics have been mastered. Our homeschool teacher mentor in the program we are in recommeneded that we start out the transition from copywork with my child dicactating a story we just, then I write it and then she copies it. After this,your child is ready to dispense with the visual model and depend more on memory, working from his or her knowledge of the rules.
The final step of each exercise of dictation—comparing what the child wrote with the written model—acts as a “check,” so that the child knows whether his mental image of the sentence is correct. Generally this is most useful for second and third grades, but whenever I hear from a parent with an older child who can’t punctuate or spell, I encourage them to return to dictation twice a week, because even if the child has memorized rules she obviously isn’t applying them to her own writing. So copywork is something you will be doing for a few years.
Even just having my children dictate what I just read after we read a story is great because I noticed my children listen better now, because they now they are going to have to do a report afterwards. Before I suspect my children were half listening and most concerned about the illustrations and when they can turn the page.
To do dictation, simply read the selection aloud as the child writes what he hears you read. If he has not been used to doing this, it will take some practice on his part. At first, he might be able to do only one sentence at a time. The goal is to gradually lengthen the amount he is required to “hold in his mind” and then write down. This is excellent training for note taking in college!
Young children start with 2-word sentences (The early pages of Phonics Pathways have good starter sentences. Phonics Pathways suggests that you do dictation of sentences all the way through to the end of the book for spelling.) When you have gone all the way through Phonics Pathways, you can then select sentences from good literature that the children are reading. A favorite author to do this from is E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan). Then around 4th or 5th grade you might use some sentences/paragraphs from C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. You can use any literature they are reading.
Be patient with them if you have never done this before! However, don’t give up if they complain — maybe shorten the amount they have to do at one “saying” of the material—and just keep practicing and lengthening gradually. As a general guide, Susan suggests to aim for one dictation per week in second grade, 2-3 per week in third grade, and 3-5 per week in fourth grade.
What does this do for the brain? It trains the mind to retain what is heard. It increases concentration. These are valuable practical skills for any learning situation, and especially for notetaking in a college classroom.