LIVE & ONLINE — HONORS WRITING COURSE
Controlling the flow of ideas in writing
Instructor: Roy Speed
At the secondary level, writing instruction is often burdened by one or more of the following misconceptions:
- "They'll figure it out." Students are often asked to write essays before they've actually read any. The underlying idea: If students just stumble around in the dark for long enough, they'll eventually figure out what essays are all about. — The method: Sheer trial and error.
- "The key is volume." The idea here is that students should produce writing in large quantities; they may be asked to churn out an essay per week or more. The underlying idea: Students learn to write from the mere act of writing, i.e., producing volumes of verbiage. — Again, the method involves a lot of stumbling around in the dark. Students instructed in this manner are seldom taught specific tools for improving the clarity or impact of their writing, and they may have only a vague idea of logical organization.
- "The most important form of essay is literary analysis." The idea here seems to be that writing literary analysis somehow prepares students for their future writing — i.e., in their academic careers and in their professions. The problem: Literary analysis is a really unusual form of writing, one that few students will produce in real life, or even in their future studies. The emphasis on this peculiar form may leave students with misconceptions about the essay as a form of writing. It also may leave them ill prepared to write something as important as a college admissions essay (which does not even faintly resemble literary analysis).
What parents are saying
"Our standout hit this year:
Logical Communication with Mr. Roy Speed. It focuses on clear thinking, organizing ideas and arguments, backing up your ideas with evidence, logical flow, rhetorical devices, all in conjunction with analyzing high-quality essays. The instructor has appropriately high standards and is enthusiastic, the live classroom is well-managed and has interactive discussions, the workload is just right (emphasis on quality, not quantity), and the feedback is individualized (appropriate for a range of abilities), prompt and constructive. DS has taken several composition courses before this, and this one is the best he's had by far. Mr. Speed is known for his Shakespeare courses, and he's offering full-year writing courses online now too. He also teaches writing to corporate professionals. DS will be taking his Essay Writing and Appreciation course next year."
— posted to a homeschooling forum
on May 10, 2019
What students are saying
"I love reading the essays: they expose me to new and interesting authors and the writings of different time periods; they also show me the techniques we are learning demonstrated in a skillful way. Going into in-depth discussion means I really have to read closely, which is always a good thing to do and definitely makes me a better reader."
"I generally believed that being face to face in learning something is better than not. But what I find most surprising about this course is how well it works despite being only online."
"I've found this course to be very useful despite the fact that I've already taken writing courses. This course covers writing techniques that can be easily overlooked, but when they are used, these techniques really do make a difference to the writing."
"I think a lot of the 'tips and tricks' that we learn are unique to this class; at least, I know that most of my friends aren't learning them in their respective English classes."
"While I expected to have discussions about the material we read, I did not think the discussions would be as in-depth as they are."
"Using an outline is extremely helpful, and something that I did not realize the importance of before taking this course. I have now been using them for other class assignments, and they make writing an essay, research paper, or even just a paragraph very organized and efficient."
What these approaches have in common is that they teach the student nothing about writing for a reader. Yet in the real world, writing succeeds only insofar as it's a good read — that is, it works for readers.
The reality is that to produce clear writing, students must be able to do a number of things: 1) produce clear thoughts and ideas; 2) arrange them into a logical flow, one that makes sense to readers; 3) explain those ideas and and illustrate them using concrete evidence and examples. — If students can do those three things, they will be able to write effectively for virtually any course, whether in the humanities or the sciences, and virtually any profession. (They'll also be prepared to write that college admissions essay.)
So this course is designed around the real-world needs of students. It enables them to:
- perceive the "architecture" of a piece of writing — the logical arrangement of its ideas and information;
- perceive when that arrangement is chaotic, i.e., a logical mess;
- handle with skill the writing tools needed to convey a train of thought, improve its clarity, and enhance its impact;
- brainstorm points, arguments, and evidence on a given topic;
- write efficiently, using a simple plan.
Please note: This course serves as a precursor to our course Essay Writing & Appreciation.
The course is titled logical communication for two reasons — first, to emphasize that the topic here is clear and effective non-fiction prose. The other reason has to do with the recurring theme of this course, which is logical organization of ideas. An unclear train of thought is a common characteristic of student writing, so much of the instruction in this course focuses on the skills attendant on logical flow — clear thinking about your topic; arrangement of your points into a logical sequence; writing techniques that help clarify the logical thread, carry forward the train of thought from paragraph to paragraph and even sentence to sentence.
In addition to their writing assignments (see column far right), students in Logical Communication read closely, analyze, and discuss dozens of essays. Classes include individual and group exercises in:
- tracking the logical progression of ideas in a piece of writing;
- appreciating effective writing tools and techniques — everything from the invigorating effect of the perfect simile to the power of certain forms of repetition;
- spotting a wide range of common errors with usage, grammar, or punctuation;
- using concrete examples and powerful evidence to illustrate and support your ideas;
- tools for carrying forward an idea from sentence to sentence to sentence, such that your reader never loses the logical thread;
- spotting rhetorical devices with great power, like antithesis and isocolon.
The readings in this course comprise examples of great prose from essayists like George Orwell, C. S. Lewis, H. L. Mencken, Max Beerbohm, Steven Pinker, Maria Konnikova, Diana Athill, Danny Heitman, Stephen Greenblatt, and William Zinsser, as well as scientists like Mark Miodownik, Alan Lightman, and Oliver Sacks, plus many others.
The benefits of this approach
Logical flow in communication is a subject often overlooked in the education of our teens. Yet those who can sustain a clear train of thought in discourse are usually seen as intelligent, capable, and successful. They're also more persuasive.
Students, moreover, are often surprised at how enjoyable it is to think logically, apply critical thinking, and communicate mindfully — even if at first such activities make their brains hurt.
Text for this course
The instructor provides our workbook and other proprietary materials. (The cost is included in your course fee.)
But like exercising a new muscle or learning to play an instrument, such activities become easier with regular workouts, and once the groundwork is laid, students find they're better able to understand nuances and subtleties — and communicate more effectively — across all their subjects.
The fee for this two-semester course is $ 1340. ($ 670 per semester).
To register, you must pay the fee for Semester 1; we will invoice you for Semester 2, with payment due by September 1.
This course comprises:
- thirty 90-minute sessions and thirty 1-hour sessions, for a total of 75 hours of live instruction, including activities and discussion;
- instructor materials — a workbook that is shipped to your student prior to the first session;
- instructor feedback on student essays.
Registration for 2020–21
FALL 2020 – SPRING 2021
Students attend two classes
per week, beginning August 31:
Mondays 1:30 – 3:00 pm EST
Thursdays 4:00 – 5:00 pm EST
To register a student, click here:
To contact the instructor, click here.
Fee for entire year: $ 1340.
Please note: At registration, you will pay
the fee for the fall semester; for the winter-
spring semester we will invoice you, with
payment due by September 1, 2020.
1) Student Workbook
2) Teaching Guide With Answer Key
Roy Speed's Writer's Guide to Grammar provides complete training in English grammar, usage, and punctuation — but with a twist: Roy emphasizes the topics that students actually need to know.
Assignments in this course
Students in Logical Communication produce writing of several kinds, with each writing activity targeting a vital skill-set:
- Writing & editing workouts. Students carry out targeted writing exercises, and those exercises take many forms. To illustrate: With essays, producing an effective opening is a writing challenge quite different from any other, so in this course, for a single essay, students may be asked to produce three different openings, each employing a different strategy for engaging readers. — Other exercises involve:
- sentence editing — re-structuring sentences to improve their readability, alter their emphasis, or use parallel structure;
- paragraphing — re-working paragraphs to strengthen their impact, clarity, or logical unity.
- Brainstorming/mindmapping. The students produce mindmaps — basically, sketching ideas for essays.
- Essays. They write at least three major essays.
- Editing & revision. They revise their own work, sometimes repeatedly, with each draft targeting a different kind of improvement or applying a different kind of editing tool.
The importance of participation
In this course, one of the most important types of student participation is discussion. If the homework, for example, was to read and analyze a particular essay, students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss things like —
- whether they understood the essay & what they understood;
- whether it appealed to them, moved them, held their interest — and if so, why;
- the style or approach used by the writer, and whether it's similar/dissimilar to other essays we've read;
- any writing tools or techniques in the essay that seemed particularly effective, perhaps even worth stealing;
— and so on. Also, in many classes, students read and discuss one another's essays.
Our approach to ...
Writing is one of the most difficult subjects to teach — and partly because it is not a single complex skill, but rather a host of skills, all different and intertwined. It is also a process — and like all complex processes, it is susceptible to inefficient, i.e., time-wasting, approaches.
To write effectively, students must have:
- command of language — the ability to put thoughts into clear English, with rich vocabulary, correct usage, and correct punctuation;
- knowledge, perceptions, and insights — in other words, they must have something to say;
- convincing arguments — the ability to present a sound case, with clear points supported by solid evidence;
- a sound process — an approach to writing that addresses all the critical stages and presents them in the most effective sequence, e.g., getting your thoughts clear before you try to write sentences and paragraphs.
Our writing instruction, accordingly, is predicated on the following principles:
- To produce clear writing, students must first have clear thoughts.
- To write in a particular form — like the essay — they must first understand and appreciate that form, i.e., they must explore models.
- Students must be equipped with a rich arsenal of tools not only for writing, but for thinking — for working with thoughts and ideas.
- Students must learn to appreciate the craft of writing, with insight into what gives a sentence real impact, what makes a train of thought easy to follow, what makes an argument compelling.
For all these reasons, we teach writing in stages, with the first stage being language essentials — grammar, usage, punctuation, vocabulary — and the second being Logical Communication, a course in which our students become adept at working with ideas, identifying sound arguments, and perceiving logical flow. Also, our students read and come to appreciate great essays, and then they begin to write essays themselves.