• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Grammar resources

I’ve been remiss in not posting about the latest Growing with Grammar program by my friend Tamela Davis, for Grade 5. More good stuff for home educating families looking for more choice. And more Growing with Grammar posts and reviews (for Grades 1&2, 3, and 4) here, here, and here.

I’m a big fan of Patricia T. O’Conner‘s Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, which I consider an essential reference, but wasn’t much impressed by the recent Woe Is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, which I found tried too hard to appeal to kids, overly laden with references to popular children’s culture, from Shrek to Lemony Snicket and, of course, Harry Potter, with Garfield the Cat thrown in for good measure, as if to recognize that yes, grammar is indeed a vile thing (though not vile in a good sense like noxiously flavored jelly beans) and like broccoli must be dressed up with Cheez Whiz. My Spidey sense/hip-trendy-ironic parent alert started quivering as soon as I read Garrison Keillor’s “This is, like, cool” on the cover. Oh dear. Borrow it from the library, but to buy for your son’s or daughter’s desk I’d definitely consider handing anyone age 12 and up a copy of O’Conner’s original Woe Is I. While you’re at it, add a copy of her Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing, too. Both breezy and informal and not at all overwhelming, And not twee, either.

And much as I enjoyed Lynne Truss‘s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, the illustrated children’s versions so far — last year’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! and this year’s The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage without Apostrophes! — have left the kids and me a bit cold. Though I have no doubt that Penguin/Putnam is enjoying parceling out the ideas from the original in 32-page picture books; I believe the hyphen is up next. Stay tuned. As an aside, Laura (age 10) has found the Eats, Shoots & Leaves 2008 Day to Day Calendar, meant for adults I think, more intriguing and appealing than the picture books.

The grammar reference book that seems to get the most use around here by the kids is The Usborne Guide to Better English by Robyn Gee and Carolyn Watson; it’s what Usborne calls a “bind-up” of its three books on grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and like some of the publisher’s books it’s also “Internet-linked”. It doesn’t seem to be in print in the U.S. anymore, though it is in Canada; perhaps check with your friendly Usborne rep. A book this good and helpful should certainly be more widely available. It is, indeed, included on the Plain English Campaign suggested reading list.

Americans will find in the Usborne Guide some noticeable differences — in some of the spelling and terminology (what we call a period the British call a “full stop”, which does make good sense, especially when you’re teaching youngsters to read) — but nothing insurmountable. Lighthearted without being silly or goofy, and illustrated with small cartoons and comic strips, the book is full of easy explanations and handy dandy tricks; Davy particularly appreciates the following in the section on nouns: “Nouns can usually have the, or a, or an in front of them. Try putting the in front of the words on the right to find out which of them are nouns.” (saucepan, finger, happy, rocket, sometime, heat, daffodil, never, sky, have)

The Growing with Grammar collection is growing

My friend Tamy Davis finished just before Christmas with the latest in her Growing with Grammar (GWG) series, the combined First & Second Grade volume, and we just received it in the mail.

I used First Language Lessons with Laura for first and second grade, and while she was quite enthusiastic about the book, there was an awful lot of eye-rolling from her brothers at all the repetition, and that was with a fair amount of judicious pruning on my part.

I’ll definitely start Davy with the new book after we get back from our trip, and just might switch over Daniel, who’s in second grade and has been working slowly through the third grade GWG book.

I haven’t had the chance to look very closely at the new GWG so far, but here’s what I do know: unlike the 3rd grade and 4th grade programs, for the Grade 1 & 2 program, the student’s manual and workbook are combined. Tamy writes at the website, where you can also view the new book’s index and some sample lessons for each grade, that the Grade 1 & 2 program

is based on a 36-week school year for both grades (72 weeks in all), and there is a new concept introduced each week. There are three lessons to reinforce each concept. This program assumes a three-day work schedule for grammar. The
program, however, is easily modified to suit your family’s needs. At the beginning
of the book, we have assembled an index that lists the 72 concepts (36 per year)
and the lessons that pertain to each. Review questions are strategically placed
throughout this book. There are also comprehensive review lessons at the end of
each section.

Just as with the Grade 3 and Grade 4 books, what I like best about the GWG programs is that they foster independent work from the start. The books are all spiral-bound at the top (especially handy for lefty Davy) and stay open easily, and the text is addressed to the child. And the new volume is printed in a nice large font perfect for first graders just beginning to read on their own. For instance, the examples for the first lesson, Introduction to Sentences, are

“Linda ate peas.”

“The frog hopped.”

Perfect for new readers or those just learning.

Davy is excited to start, and I’m excited to have one more high-quality secular, classical program available for our home education adventure.

Growing with Grammar 4 is here!

Great good news from my friend Tamy Davis at Growing with Grammar: she’s finished with Growing Grammar 4, for fourth graders! Laura enjoyed using GWG3 this past year, and is looking forward to the next book. My Farm School review of GWG3 is here.

Don’t forget, Canadians can find GWG at Academic Distribution Services (ADS) in B.C. The new volume was only just released, so ADS may not have it just yet.

I don’t get any commission for spreading the word about Tamy’s new series — I just get a solid, grammar program for my kids, one that independent readers can use more or less on their own, and one that even reluctant writers won’t find too taxing. And it’s secular, too, which means you can spend your time teaching and learning instead of tinkering. Thanks, Tamy.

Growing with Grammar, now in Canada

Just received the latest homeschool curriculum catalogue from the folks at Academic Distribution Services (ADS) in B.C. and am delighted to see that they now carry Growing with Grammar/Grade 3, on page 19, and at a price of $37.50 CAN (for the student manual, workbook, and answer key), which compares very, very favorably with the GWG website price of $29.99 US.

While GWG isn’t on the ADS website yet, you can request a free catalogue here or by calling 1-800-276-0078. Worth noting is the annual Spring sale on now until the end of June, which features no GST and free shipping on orders over $200. This is when I usually stock up on Singapore math and Explode the Code workbooks.

No, I don’t get a commission from GWG (or ADS), but author Tamy Davis, a homeschooling mother of two, is a friend, and, most importantly, with three kids I have a vested interest in a rigorous, enjoyable, and secular grammar program. My full, pleased-as-punch review from November still stands, and Laura and I are both looking forward to the release of the new Grade 4 material in the fall.

Grammar Geek

The recent issue of the Core Knowledge Foundation‘s e-newsletter, Common Knowledge, arrived in my inbox this morning. Found a very interesting article about the sad history of grammar instruction in America, The Naturalist Fallacy and the Demise of Grammar Instruction (with Practical Advice on Teaching Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics) by Robert D. Shepherd, the CK Educational Materials Director, which you can read here in its entirety. Shepherd writes that he owes debts to both CK founder E.D. Hirsch, Jr., and CK board member Diane Ravitch, who had asked Shepherd what teachers today could do about the teaching of grammar.

Shepherd writes,

The traditional grammar textbook disappeared because of the emergence of a new orthodoxy regarding child language acquisition. The orthodox belief promulgated in our education schools today is that grammatical ability is not something that has to be taught. A child’s grammar, or so many educational theorists have come to believe, is something that develops naturally, without intervention by teachers. …

Where did the education theorists get this idea that a child’s grammar develops naturally, with little or no outside intervention? They got it by listening at the keyholes of linguists. … It was not until the second half of the twentieth century, however, that the anti-grammar camp came into possession of the big guns that would blow grammar out of the classroom. Beginning with the publication of Syntactic Structures in 1957 and continuing to the present day, Noam Chomsky of MIT led what can only be described as a revolution in linguistics, one consequence of which was the widespread belief that language acquisition is largely an autonomic process dependent upon unconscious interactions between an innate, internal language acquisition device and the raw material of the child’s linguistic environment. It was this idea that led educators in the National Council of Teachers of English and editors in the major textbook houses to move decisively against traditional grammar instruction. … Like many great thinkers, Chomsky started with a simple question, asking himself how it is possible that most children gain a reasonable degree of mastery over something as complicated as a spoken language. With almost no direct instruction, almost every child learns, within a few years’ time, enough of his or her language to be able to communicate with ease most of what he or she wishes to communicate, and this learning seems not to be correlated with the child’s general intelligence. If one looks scientifically at what a child knows of his or her language at the age of, say, six or seven, it turns out that that knowledge is extraordinarily complex. Furthermore, almost all of what the child knows has not been directly taught [all emphases in original]. …

So, education professors began teaching their students that grammar textbooks contained nothing but irrelevant skill and drill, that the internal language-learning mechanism was autonomic, that “teaching grammar” made as much sense as teaching breathing, that what one should do was expose kids to language and let their grammar develop naturally.

There’s a problem with that line of reasoning, however. As Alexander Pope famously said, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the education theorists’ bit of knowledge of linguistics turned out to be very dangerous indeed. Chomsky was right about language acquisition, but the theory developed by the education professors in Chomsky’s name is wrong in ways that turn out to be crucial.

Shepherd goes on to talk about children’s brains:

The innate, or inborn, language-learning device is such a thicket of neural connections. Beginning at about the age of nine or ten and continuing until kids are around the age of fourteen, the internal mechanisms for intuiting syntactic, phonological, and morphological structures start breaking down. So, for example, if a small child is exposed to the liquid l sound in Russian, he or she will grow up being able to produce that sound, even if he or she does not learn Russian until much later in life. However, if a child is not exposed to that sound, then he or she will never be able to produce it as an adult. The machinery for hearing and producing that sound, that distinctive feature of a possible language, is weeded out. There is a window of opportunity for learning linguistic structures — for setting the parameters of the internal grammar. After that window is closed, it cannot be reopened.

Here’s the problem: if a child has “learned” a nonstandard version of his or her grammar, it is difficult or impossible for that child, past the age of ten or so, to learn a different, standard version using only the innate language-learning machinery, for that machinery has to a large extent stopped working by that time. That’s why it is much harder for an adult to learn a new language through simple immersion than it is for a child to do so.

Shepherd then asks, “how can we, in light of current linguistic knowledge, address the problem of teaching students how to avoid errors in grammar and usage or the problem of how to style shift when it is useful to do so? This remains very much an open question”:

If you are a teacher, if you are in the trenches, if you face in your classrooms, every day, students whose syntax rarely exceeds the complexity of that used to be found in Dick and Jane readers, students for whom “Me and Jose love playing video games” is perfectly grammatical, students who sprinkle commas through their writing as though they were salt and for whom commas and end punctuation are interchangeable, what can you do, now, to improve your teaching of grammar, usage, and mechanics?

Unfortunately, contemporary textbooks will be of little help. As I mentioned earlier, the traditional grammar handbooks have all but disappeared, and at any rate, most of those were practically useless anyway because they dealt primarily with taxonomy of forms. In contemporary textbooks, especially those of the so-called “integrated language arts” variety, grammar instruction is a random, hit-and-miss, willy nilly affair. Typically, a few activities employing traditional terminology are scattered, according to no rhyme or reason, in exercises appearing at the ends of literary selections in integrated language arts and composition textbooks. These exercises are not, typically, presented in a systematic, incremental matter, and the learning that results from having students do them is minimal.

This is where a home educating parent seems to hold a distinct advantage over the average public school teacher. We have a wealth of materials available — admittedly, some better than others, and not all secular — in a discipline that is roundly ignored in the public school arena, the latest of which is Tamy Davis’s excellent, new Growing with Grammar program, which is a wonderful follow-up to Jessie Wise’s First Language Lessons, which gets those neural connections while they’re still alive and snapping. Yoohoo, Mr. Shepherd…

Growing with Grammar: a review

A friend of mine, Tamy Davis, has just finished her new third grade grammar book, Growing with Grammar, the first in what will be a series. Homeschoolers, especially secular homeschoolers in search of a rigorous grammar program, will be delighted.

Since we were lucky enough to be part of the test group, we’ve been using the program now for about a month. I, and others who’ve already started using the program, have shared our thoughts on it here, in a testimonial at the GWG website, and here, in a review at The Denim Jumper.

The timing of the test group couldn’t have been better. Laura had been working in Rod & Staff’s Beginning Wisely grammar program since September. While grammar is one of her favorite subjects, she was beginning to balk at the the unending religious references, even when we changed names to brothers, aunts, favorite dolls, and book and movie characters. I had thought that we could work with R&S knowing that it was religious but not proselytizing. I had hoped that we could, because I really want something thorough for the kids.

Tamy saved our bacon. I had hoped secretly in my heart that GWG would be “as good as” R&S’s highly touted (even by secular hs’ers) program. Guess what? It’s better, yes, better. This, aside from the secular aspect — which means it can be used by families of any faith or no faith — is why:

— it doesn’t involve a lot of writing, which is especially nice for reluctant writers. But the exercises are incredibly thorough, and include a lot of review of previously covered material (and each exercise contains references to the original lesson in the manual, so you or your child can go back for more review if necessary). In fact, the 230-page workbook is just seven pages shorter than the manual. How’s that for thorough? But it’s fun, sort of like a Mad Libs book but educational and not disjointed or overly silly. The student exercises are a combination of rewriting sentences as well as underlining, checking or circling the right answer, and completing sentences with a few extra words.

— both the manual and workbook are spiral-bound, so they lie flat on the table. Why should something so small make me so happy? Because books that flop shut of their own volition despite your best efforts do not make for extended, happy, learning periods. And the spiral-bound workbook is bound at the top, which makes it very nice if you have a lefty. I have a lefty and two righties, so this is much appreciated.

— there’s no teacher’s guide, because one isn’t needed. Just the manual, which you read through with your child, and the student workbooks. Very nice to get your budding grammarian doing more independent work.

I’ll give Laura the last word: “I like that the activity pages [workbook] are fun, I can work on them by myself, and it’s about kids like me and families like mine.” And she’s getting a solid foundation in third grade grammar. Sold!