Friday, March 29, 2013

Homeschool HIgh School Carnival: Language Arts

The April edition of the Homeschooling High School Carnival is on the topic of Language Arts and is being hosted by Chareen at Every Bed of Roses.
Language Arts in High School..... What does your language arts program look like? What influences your choices/selection?

At first I wasn't quite sure what to write for this topic, since it excludes literature and writing, which are overwhelmingly the main components of our high school language arts program.    After thinking about it a bit more, I guess I do have something to say, three brief phrases:

  • Analysis and Dialectic
  • Where the Student is At
  • For a Season

Now I will quickly explain these, since I know it is spring and most of us are busy and/or restless this time of year! 

Middle School Grammar and Dialectic

To me the middle school years are ideal for a study of analytical grammar including, if possible, diagramming.  Here are a few online resources I really like:

  1. Gene Moutoux's The Basics of Sentence Diagramming.     
  2. Reed and Kellogg's Higher Lessons in English.  This is a public domain resource from, I understand, the inventors of diagramming.
  3. Ed Vavra's KISS Grammar.    I love this site and browse around it frequently for inspiration, but I will admit I have rarely used the workbooks as written. 
  4. Daily Grammar.    Free, extensive, and easy to use.  The sentences don't have the literary merit of the other resources, but they are chosen to clearly illustrate the grammatical concept being taught.    Since I am lazy, I have directly used this resource more than any of the others.

Analytical grammar is closely tied to natural logic, though I have had trouble convincing my husband and kids of that.    As Dr Vavra points out, many syntactical mistakes in student writing are due to difficulties with thinking clearly.     So I find the middle school years a good time to introduce logic in a very easy format.

I use:

And don't forget that there are lots of living books on grammatical or related topics.   A few we have around the house. 
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves
  • Graves of Academe
  • How to Read a Book 
Finally, middle school is a good time to start working on some word root study.  

  • A few years back I found this online Vocabulary Practice.   Quite nice. 
  • We have a set of simple workbooks around the house that are out of print and don't even seem to be listed online.    Most of my kids have used these intermittently.   I have tried Wordly Wise and Classical Roots, but they aren't simple enough for us.  
  •  GreeknStuff has some free word study pages based on Latin and Greek words which are interesting. 

Where the Student is At:

When my children reach US high school age (about 14 or 15) I assess informally where they are in language arts.    Do they need more grammatical study?  How about vocabulary?   Handwriting?   study and research skills?

The main practical reason they will need to study vocabulary, grammar and handwriting is for the SAT tests.   You can easily acquire an SAT practice test either online or in any bookstore.    It is useful doing a couple of practice tests about twice a year starting in high school (or in junior high if you want to go that way).

I also look at their study skills and target areas as needed.

Their writing tells me what language arts concepts are still not quite established.    Then I can work with them on those areas specifically.    Purdue's OWL site has all kinds of handouts on different areas where students have trouble.  

For a Season

I already brought this out in the bit about assessment above, but this is another principle I keep in mind.    During the middle school years, as I mentioned, we try to do some formal grammar, but once in high school, courses such as grammar and vocabulary are not usually going to be planned out for the whole year.   They are components of a larger course which mainly focuses on literature studies. 

Instead, I make targeted mini-courses, targeted meaning that I focus them on what that child needs to get to the level where he can do adequately in the SATs.     Mini-courses are little series that range from a week to a quarter, but are usually around 3 weeks or a month long, or if they are longer, they are the type of work where you only do a drill for 10 minutes a day. 

If a child has been reading and listening to good books, and discussing and narrating them, writing regularly, following topics he is interested in, he will probably already have a good vocabulary, know how to deal with new words in their context, and will be able to see when a word is used wrongly or misspelled.  He will notice syntax errors. 

So vocabulary and grammar will already be well on their way without the need of formal exercises.   Some of my kids may need a brush-up in handwriting.   Calligraphy can be a good entry into working up a good handwriting style.

The goal is to avoid perpetuating the dreadful English of a good many high school graduates, and to gain an appreciation of correctness and how words and sentences function.      Ultimately the goal is to be a better reader and writer, but those are subjects for another time! 


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