Saturday, May 21, 2011

English

I have been having the hardest time choosing an English curriculum, mostly because there are so many good choices. Plus, there are quite a few components of English, and while you can get an all-encompassing English course, you can also pick and choose your components from several sources. Phonics and learning to read is the most important part for the first couple of years, but then there's spelling, grammar, handwriting, writing/composition, literature, literary analysis as you get into later years, and so on.

My favorites, at the moment, are all from Amish or Mennonite publishers:  Rod & Staff (R&S), Christian Light Education (CLE, or sometimes, CLP - Christian Light Publications, but not to be confused with Christian Liberty Press), and the Pathway Readers/Climbing to Good English combo (CtGE). Pathway Readers are published by Pathway Publishers and CtGE is published by SchoolAid, but they are made to go together. (Note that the links to R&S and Pathway/CtGE aren't the publishers' official sites, but just resellers, of which there are several.)

These 3 choices are all quite similar in scope and coverage, though they approach things a little differently. I have been going back and forth, back and forth, trying to decide which I like best, and which will work best with other things I've chosen (like Sonlight, which includes a large amount of reading and literature - or really any history course I choose, since I know I want a literature-based history).

I got a few workbooks from Evan-Moor for 1st grade a while back, before I really went into depth in my curriculum search: Building Spelling Skills, Grammar & Punctuation, and Daily 6-Trait Writing. These look like good workbooks, with just short 10-15 minute lessons a day, for 25 to 30 weeks. The grammar is really more of a supplement, though, for specific topics, and is not really considered a full English grammar course. These workbooks do go up to 6th grade, but I don't think I'll use them after this coming year. But since I already had grammar, writing, and spelling workbooks, and since I have been using Explode the Code (ETC) Online for phonics, I was originally just looking for a reading comprehension component.

So I bought both the CLE Grade 1 Reader (I Wonder) and LightUnits and the Pathway Grade 1 Readers and workbooks to check them out (they are fairly cheap). I do like them both, but the CLE reading seems to be more integrated with phonics, and I didn't want to introduce 2 different methods of phonics at the same time. My daughter has now completed book 2 of ETC, but has gotten tired of it, and I think will do better with a workbook format rather than online (I'll post more about that another day). So I was still stuck between choosing CLE and Pathway for reading. I didn't like the Bible-only focus of R&S reading, but I did like their English, and it would be nice to have a combined, correlated program. So hard to choose!

So I continued studying the choices, and here's what I've found:

R&S uses reusable textbooks mostly, which is nice when I have 3 kids that will be using them. They are pretty cheap - especially the additional worksheets and test booklets which would be all I'd need to buy for child #2 and #3. R&S has a reputation of having the most complete and advanced grammar curriculum, though some people say it requires too much drill and repetition. I tend to like "rigorous" programs, since I tend to want my kids to learn everything there is to learn. However, I'm learning patience as I gradually accept that my 5-year-old may not be ready for everything I want her to learn yet! I'm too ready to teach her everything as quick as I can! R&S has a phonics program for 1st and 2nd grade, a reading program for 1st-4th based solely on Bible readings (more literature in 5th-8th), handwriting for 1st-4th, spelling for 2nd-8th, and English/grammar for 2nd-10th grade which includes quite a bit of writing too. In fact, 9th-10th grade English is pretty much all writing, with a little grammar thrown in. Grades 2 and 3 are pretty basic grammar courses, but from 4th grade on, R&S is said to be advanced for the grade level, with the course work going through things that some people don't learn until college. I like the grammar books, but many people say that it does take a good amount of "teacher" time, and many people do at least half of the questions orally instead of having the student write down the answers, to prevent burnout (and student rebellion!). I am concerned that this would take quite a bit of my day, to do 3 grade levels of this at a time.

CLE is similarly complete and advanced, though its Language Arts (LA) and Reading courses just go from 1st-8th grade. 1st grade is a continuation of the Learning to Read (phonics) program, with lots of phonics in the LA material. The Learning to Read material is meant for 1st grade, but it could probably be used starting in kindergarten (same as with R&S learning to read material). CLE uses workbooks instead of textbooks, with 10 LightUnits for each grade level per course (though 1st grade just has 5 - learning to read takes the first half of the year, and then splits into 5 LightUnits of reading and 5 LightUnits of LA). The reading courses have hardcover readers, and then the LightUnits to go along with the texts, offering comprehension questions and some phonics. The LA course includes grammar, spelling, and handwriting in its LightUnits, though many people say they still need to supplement the spelling and handwriting. Composition isn't included as much in CLE as it is in R&S - a separate writing textbook for the teacher is recommended starting in 3rd or 4th grade. I think my kids would like to have workbooks instead of textbooks, but it does make it a bit more expensive for multiple kids. CLE is meant to be more independent, making it easier for teachers with multiple grades to teach. But I really want more integrated writing, and the cost is a big negative compared to the other 2 choices.

Pathway is a reading comprehension program for 1st-8th grade, with multiple readers and workbooks to go along with them. I like their readers - wholesome, interesting stories that I think will intrigue my children, living as we do out in the country with cows and horses and chickens all around. Pathway also has a learning to read program (Learning Through Sounds), with multiple workbooks and a pre-primer for before the main 1st grade readers. CtGE is written to go along with Pathway, providing grammar and (lots of) writing instruction in a workbook format. This grammar is also said to be advanced from 3rd grade and up, extending up to 12th grade level concepts, even though the workbooks only go through 8th grade. It is also very cheap, even when buying multiple workbooks for multiple students! I have been liking CtGE more and more, though I was still concerned that it wasn't as rigorous as R&S. Someone on a forum made a comment, though, which has swayed me toward CtGE: CtGE is just like R&S, but already "tweaked." Many people love R&S, but most of them tweak it to be doable for their kids, such as doing the questions orally instead of written, or just doing half of them, etc. CtGE is more independent and workbook format, like CLE, but covers more writing, like R&S.

So here's my current plan. I am starting to use book 2 of the Pathway Learning Through Sounds program with my daughter now, combining that with CtGE grade 1 as we move into the Pathway readers (I'll write another day about integrating CtGE with Pathway). I still want to make use of what I've already bought, though I don't want to overload my daughter. So I will use the Evan-Moor grammar workbook when the topic corresponds to what we're doing in CtGE. I will also use the Evan-Moor spelling and writing workbooks, unless they start to be too much. They seem useful, and short. We still have a few months left of our ETC Online subscription, so we'll use that when she's interested, with me doing it with her. I also have a subscription to ClickNRead online phonics (got that for my other daughter), which we may use sometime. If we complete the Pathway/CtGE grade 1 stuff early, since we're continuing through the summer, I will then do the CLE grade 1 reading material with her which I already bought. Then we'll continue with CtGE through 8th grade, adding in R&S spelling, and maybe, just maybe, R&S phonics for grade 2. I really like R&S spelling, since it is phonics based, and continues with Latin and Greek roots in later grades. Sonlight suggests Sequential Spelling, which I seriously considered, but I like the rules-based R&S method better. We may continue with the Pathway readers through 3rd grade (the same story characters are in the readers through 3rd grade), but will switch over to Sonlight reading mostly. For 9th grade+, we will focus on writing more than grammar. If Sonlight doesn't have enough, we will consider R&S 9th-10th grade English, the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) material, and other things, depending on her interests.

For my younger children, I will start them with Pathway's Learning Through Sounds program sometime around 5 years old. Before that, we'll be using the Study Time and R&S preschool workbooks (4 workbooks for 3-4 year olds, 9+ workbooks for 4-5 year olds). We will then use the Pathway readers and workbooks and CtGE, with R&S spelling in 2nd-8th. I will have the CLE I Wonder reader available, but we won't add the LightUnits. I may or may not print out more of the Evan-Moor workbook pages, if they're relevant (I got eBooks, so they're easily reproducible). If they complete the Learning Through Sounds phonics before 1st grade, I may add R&S phonics for 1st and 2nd grades, since I just like the looks of them. They probably won't need it, really, but if it's fun for them too, why not? I don't want to wait until 1st grade to start phonics and reading, but most of the Amish/Mennonite material seems to do that, since they don't have kindergarten. Learning Through Sounds is more gentle, so we'll do that first, then add R&S phonics for review if we want. Then, I will continue in later grades the same as with my oldest daughter.

My thoughts and ideas will probably change as we actually use all this stuff, and I'll write about any new impressions then, but for now, that's the plan!

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