Having worked with my younger daughter today with our studied dictation, I was reminded how important it is to understand that reading aloud with proper flow and attention to punctuation has a great effect on how well your student handles dictation. For us, both of these skills go together. There are numerous skills which are exercised with dictation, but this is the one on which I'd like to concentrate today.
In studied dictation, the student studies an excerpt of writing and pays attention to punctuation and spelling and then writes the excerpt as the teacher reads it aloud. It is important to read the excerpt in a natural flow (without pauses or stops). This is one area where I split from the traditional Charlotte Mason approach, who expects the student to take the whole of dictation at a pace of which one normally moves when reading aloud. I actually do give my students time to write between sentences. I read a complete sentence and then pause to let them write it. I then go on to the next sentence. I do not, however, read only three or four words at a time, as I know other methods of dictation follow. Reading continuously without stopping became too overwhelming for my girls (although I do hope to gradually build them up to this level). But, reading the entire sentence at once is important to allow for natural pauses which are built into the sentence with such punctuation marks as commas, semi-colons and colons. How can a student ever understand their use in a sentence if they are never used in their proper role? Reading aloud too little of the sentence (three or four words) never gives enough of the sentence for the student to hear the pauses in their proper context. In this case, how will the student know where to place the commas if there is no pause in the reading of the sentence in which to know where to place it? Here's an example: My daughter's excerpt for dictation was as follows: A swallow has built her nest under the eave of our cottage. Swallows come in the spring, as soon as the warm weather begins. When the time grows cold, they go away, and stay away all winter. When I read the latter sentence (in orange) aloud to her, I read the entire sentence and paused (with only minor emphasis) after "cold" and after "away". These pauses are part of the natural reading of the sentence and are the entire purpose of the commas. At this point, it may seem as if her ability in reading aloud has nothing to do with her ability in becoming accomplished with dictation. But, stay with me and I'll show their connection.
Reading aloud is the next skill on which to focus, although this is completed at a time separate from the act of dictation.
First, give your student an excerpt of something that is exactly at their reading level. This should not be too challenging but should not be too easy either.
Have your student read aloud to you. It would be helpful if you were looking on with them at the same time or if you had a copy of the excerpt as well.
As they read, expect your student to read with a clear voice, have good articulation of the words and to use the punctuation as cues to pause in the appropriate lengths of time. This is excellent training for them in speech, delivery of memory work (you can also use their memory work as pieces for this training too) reading aloud and dictation.
It would also be very useful to allow your student to either read aloud more than once or study the excerpt beforehand to give them some grace with new vocabulary and practice with various sentence structures. This aspect is very much as your student will do when studying the selected excerpts for dictation.
Practice in reading aloud will transfer over into the dictation work and will give your student the exercise needed to understand the proper use of punctuation. The most important bonus to all of this is that both of these skill exercises transfer to their writing. A student who understands the point of punctuation will more likely use it properly in their own writing.