Voyages in English
With a long and notable history (the original 1940s series was designed tobring immigrant children to a complete mastery of English written and oralcommunication), this latest edition of Voyages in English continues to providea well-defined path of grammar and writing instruction to produce communicationskill mastery in students. Stating that "writing is both a way to express ourthoughts and a discipline that molds our thinking" as well as the idea that"writing is a tool to connect our hearts and minds to those of others for thepurpose of sharing experiences, ideas, plans, and dreams," this seriestranslates those goals into a user-friendly, thorough teaching approach.
In grades 1 and 2, the series focuses on basic skills with chapters thatcombine grammatical concepts with basic writing skills. At this level, thestudent book is a colorful, consumable worktext. These early language skillsare presented in a systematic manner: types of sentences, nouns, verbs,adjectives, pronouns, contractions, and antonym/synonym/homophone study. Eachchapter concludes with a writer's workshop introducing a simplified versionof the series' writing process - prewriting, drafting, editing, revising,proofreading, and publishing - and covering some basic writing skills -personal narratives, friendly letters, how-to articles, descriptions, and bookand research reports. These last two workshops are well-constructed, althoughsome might argue that it's a little early for these particular skills.
Starting with grade 3, the student books are hardcover, and the teacher'smanuals are extensive with reduced copies of student pages. There is also anassessment book, a practice book, and an answer key for both. These courses areexcellent formal grammar and composition courses with much to offer traditionaland classical homeschoolers. They are fairly user-friendly, systematic coursesproviding a thorough coverage of grammar and writing skills for those wantingintense one or two year middle-school skill development.
This series presents a multi-year framework for an apprenticeship approachto teaching writing. What is an "apprenticeship approach to writing"? Youngwriters are mentored in their writing by modeling techniques and sharinginsights. Individual feedback is offered, which is clearly tied to thereal-life reasons we communicate. In other words, students never face a blanksheet of paper having been told to write about what happened over Christmasbreak. Instead, teachers and students explore writing together. If you approachthis program as it is designed, it will require a fair amount ofteacher-student interaction, but teacher preparation is almost non-existentbecause the lessons are well laid out and easy to follow.
There are two parts to each course book. The first part contains the writingworkshops, while the second provides the grammar instruction. There are eightchapters in each part, and they are designed to be woven together. Each writingchapter studies a particular genre of writing. The genres studied at each gradelevel are similar, and at the 8th grade level include: personal narratives,how-to articles, creative writing descriptions, business letters, expositorywriting, persuasive writing and research reports. Chapters open with a "worldconnection" or a realistic model of that particular writing genre. Twolessons follow which identify and explore the elements of effective writingsuch as purpose, audience, voice, tone, mood, and organization. The next fourlessons develop skills and habits of good writing such as word analysis,correct sentence structure, effective study skills, and the ability to presentand evaluate oral presentations. Each of these six lessons is to be coveredover two days. These lessons from the first part of the books havecorresponding studies in the parallel grammar chapters of the second part. Eachchapter concludes with a twelve day writer's workshop. A seven stage writingprocess is followed: prewriting, drafting, content editing, revising, copyediting, proofreading, and publishing. For each of the eight writing genrescovered, the students prepare a portfolio piece, examine real-lifeapplications, and complete a wide variety of exercises designed to sharpenskills or produce a part of the whole. If you've done the math, you know thateach of these genre studies is to be completed in 25 days (or one month ofschool days). The hardcover student text provides all the basic information forthe completion of this study. The teacher's manual has reduced student pageswith teaching helps "around the edges." Additionally, the TM also includesa teaching seminar before each genre study chapter. This seminar includes aGenre Planner (descriptions, literature links, and scoring rubric), a GrammarPlanner (a visual, concise review, and common errors), and Content ConnectionPlanner (overview, cross-curriculum activities, and background notes). By theway, there are reproducible masters for those valuable genre-modified scoringrubrics.
The Student texts are quite thorough and could be effective if usedindependently - especially if you complete the writing and grammar chaptersin parallel fashion. However, the teacher's manuals are very helpful andprovide the day-by-day plan for weaving the grammar chapters with the writingchapters as well as using the assessment and practice books. Also, the text(grammar) answers are only available in the TM, so you have to consider howmuch your time is worth if you choose to try to "figure out" the answers.The assessment books provide chapter pre- and post-tests. The chapterassessments include lessons in test-taking strategies. These books also includea writing prompt for each genre and a student's scoring rubric as well asadditional self-assessment tools. Practice books, as one would expect, provideadditional practice for each chapter. Please note that there is a separateanswer key for the Assessment and Practice books.
In summary, this is a strong course with an emphasis on the writing processand grammar instruction. The grammatical side includes a chapter on diagrammingin grades 3-8. Its approach is interesting and engaging, making good use ofcolorful graphics and appealing use of graphic organizers. Lessons are a nicecombination of verbal interaction (many of the exercises could/should be doneorally), written activities, and assignments. There is an underlying assumptionthat the books are being used in a classroom, and several of the activitiesrequire cooperative interaction between or among multiple students. Although arevision of an older, Catholic text series (and there's a reprint of thatversion available from the publisher), this series does not include anyreligious material. ~ Janice