Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Teaching the rules of English

Recently I read a comment on a classical homeschooling email list which commented on the repetitive nature of structured Grammar texts. (For example Rod & Staff's Building Christian English series and the newer Growing with Grammar series by Tamela Davis.) If you compare the contents pages from one year's text to the next, there is very little that is new in any one year. I am just not convinced that I need to teach the same definitions over and over again (with ever-so-slightly more complicated exercises) every year of compulsory schooling. I don't think this approach to grammar is classical nor sensible, but unfortunately I know pretty much no grammar myself.

Now wrt the study of Mathematics, I am on surer ground. I know it is important to master new knowledge and skills before advancing, and also to systematically review earlier material (or make sure it is used often as part of the development of further skills). Of course, I was a high school maths teacher! I did get 18/20 for PES English in Year 12, but as my mother could attest, even then I could barely explain the difference between an adverb and an adjective, and my present formal grammar knowledge hasn't advanced very far.

I was long ago convinced of the strengths of copywork and narration in the early years, followed by a few years intensive writing teaching using programs such as Wordsmith Apprentice and then WriteShop I and II. Ideally I think I would like to spend the early grammar-stage years doing grammar casually (a la Ruth Beechick) and then have my children work through a few years of intensive grammar teaching around the middle school years. My problem is that most of the programs for grammar which I have seen are much more minutely incremental and spread over 10+ years, it seems. The only option I have seen which follows the approach I prefer is Junior Analytical Grammar followed by Analytical Grammar. According to Cathy Duffy's review of the AG books, "Grammar is taught thoroughly so students need not repeat the same material year after year, and it is taught in context so students are more likely to understand and remember it."

At the moment I am teaching Joshua the correct use of basic punctuation (from my own knowledge and reference to Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Fowler's Modern English Usage). Unfortunately, because my own grammar knowledge is inadequate, while I can research anything I want to, and then teach it correctly, I don't always know what to look up! Maybe I should just print out a copy of the chapter headings for one of these textbooks and use that as my guide, but again, what is the point of teaching the definition of noun 8 times over 8 years? What I need is a list that I can look at which gives a suggested sequence for teaching parts of speech et al that I can just progress through with appropriate review as I see it is necessary. Any suggestions where to find such a scope and sequence?


Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon

I've got an eighth grade Abeka Grammar Teachers' Guide (just like the text but with the answers...). I got it for Phil to have a look through when he first went back to uni. You're welcome to borrow it to have a look.

In Him


Sharon said...

Hi Meredith,
Thanks, I'll email you. I think I want to borrow a book you have on parenting boys as well.
~ Sharon