Wilson Hill Academy uses the Jane Schaffer approach in our Fundamentals of Expository Writing class (School of Logic; grades 7 & 8). Those not familiar with the method may want to know why we use it and how it compares with other commonly used approaches such as Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) or the Shurley method.

The Schaffer approach is qualitatively different from these other methods, because it guides students into the “Logic” stage of learning. IEW, Shurley and other programs teach students how to “frame” their thoughts on paper during the “Grammar” stage. Schaffer goes to the next level and teaches them how to organize their thoughts so that they can analyze, interpret, and assess textual material (and ideas). Thus, Schaffer is the perfect “next” step in the classical method. Students learn to think deductively; as I often tell them, they are like Sherlock Holmes walking onto a crime scene. They must look at the general situation and from that assess what the important “facts” are. The Schaffer method calls these facts “concrete details” (CDs). From there, students use the context of those facts to determine the meaning of the text. Why did the author use those facts at that particular point in the text? Students also bring their own knowledge of life and universal truths to bear on the situation. What is the point of the passage? What does it reveal about the character, or what message is the author communicating to the reader?

When students begin to think analytically, they begin to think independently. Of course, this is the goal of a classical education. The skills students gain from learning to write analytically also prepare them well for college. Not only will they have learned how to write a good essay and interpret ideas thoughtfully; they will have built up these thinking skills within the context of their Christian roots. The necessity of having such skills before entering the halls of higher education – especially in today’s culture – cannot be overemphasized. The Jane Schaffer method takes time to learn in the beginning – students are building up their “deductive” muscles. But with guidance and practice, they will begin to become independent thinkers during the “Logic” and “Rhetoric” phases of their classical experience. The method teaches students to weave their own voices into the voice of the text, essentially adding their voices to “The Great Conversation” as they interact with material presented in other classes.

One of the “non-negotiables” of the Schaffer method is that the teacher is to move the student past the method as soon as possible. The “method” is merely a way of bringing students’ minds to bear; training them to focus so that they successfully learn the process of deductive, analytical reasoning in a methodical manner. As students begin to incorporate the techniques so that they think and write inferentially, they have begun the process of independent thinking – the ultimate goal of our educational efforts.

Submitted by Cindy Lange, WHA Composition & Literary Analysis Instructor