Voyages in English 2011 Edition

With a long and notable history (the original 1940s series was designed to bring immigrant children to a complete mastery of English written and oral communication), this latest edition of continues to provide students with the tools necessary to become articulate communicators of the English language. [Grades 1 & 2 are 2006 edition; Grades 3-8 are 2011 edition] Strong grammar instruction and practice, systematic writing experiences, an eye for technological applications (i.e. email), and user-friendly teacher materials produce excellent English courses in the traditional/classical mode.

In grades 1 and 2, the series focuses on basic skills with chapters that combine grammatical concepts with basic writing skills. At this level, the student book is a colorful, consumable worktext. These early language skills are presented in a systematic manner: types of sentences, nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, contractions, and antonym/synonym/homophone study. Each chapter concludes with a writer's workshop introducing a simplified version of 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 book and research reports. These last two workshops are well-constructed, although some might argue that it's a little early for these particular skills.

Starting with grade 3, the student books are hardcover, and the teacher's manuals are extensive with reduced copies of student pages. There is also an assessment book, a practice book, and an answer key for both. This series presents a multi-year framework for an apprenticeship approach to teaching writing. What is an "apprenticeship approach to writing"? Young writers are mentored in their writing by modeling techniques and sharing insights. Individual feedback is offered, which is clearly tied to the real-life reasons we communicate. In other words, students never face a blank sheet of paper having been told to write about what happened over Christmas break. Instead, teachers and students explore writing together. If you approach this program as it is designed, it will require a fair amount of teacher-student interaction, but teacher preparation is almost non-existent because the lessons are well laid out and easy to follow.

There are two parts to each course book. The first part contains the grammar instruction sections, while the second part covers the written and oral communication chapters. There are eight sections or chapters in each part, and they are designed to be woven together. Grammar instruction includes parts of speech, sentences, punctuation, capitalization, and diagramming. Writing chapters each study a particular genre of writing which include personal narratives, how-to articles, creative writing, descriptions, business or personal letters, expository writing, persuasive writing and research reports. Chapters open with an engaging model of that particular writing genre. Two lessons follow which identify and explore the elements of effective writing such as purpose, audience, voice, tone, mood, and organization. The next four lessons develop skills and habits of good writing such as word analysis, correct sentence structure, effective study skills, and the ability to present and evaluate oral presentations. Each of these six lessons is to be covered over two days. These lessons from the second part of the texts have corresponding studies in the parallel grammar chapters of the first part. Each chapter concludes with a twelve day writer's workshop. A seven stage writing process is followed: prewriting, drafting, content editing, revising, copy editing/proofreading, and publishing. For each of the eight writing genres covered, the students prepare a portfolio piece, examine real-life applications, and complete a wide variety of exercises designed to sharpen skills or produce a part of the whole. If you've done the math, you know that each of these genre studies is to be completed in 25 days (or one month of school days). The hardcover student text provides all the basic information for the completion of this study. The teacher's manual has reduced student pages with teaching helps "around the edges." These helps include correlating pages from the support materials, teaching options, grammar connections, warm-ups, practice activities, answers, and, my favorite - tech tips (i.e. suggestions for correct e-usage). Additionally, the TM also includes introductory information for each genre study - literature links, writer's workshop tips, and a scoring rubric. By the way, there are reproducible masters for the valuable genre-specific scoring rubrics at the end of each chapter. One new feature of the 2011 TMs that's a winner in my opinion is the divider tabs that allow you to navigate easily between the grammar, writing, diagramming, and handbook segments.

The Student texts are quite thorough and could be effective if used independently - especially if you complete the writing chapters and grammar sections in parallel fashion. However, the teacher's manuals are very helpful and provide the day-by-day plan for weaving the grammar chapters with the writing chapters 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 how much your time is worth if you choose to try to "figure out" the answers. The assessment books provide grammar section tests and summative tests (multiple sections) as well as a writing skills test and a writing prompt for each of the writing genre chapters. Practice books, as you would expect, provide additional practice for each chapter and include a series for "daily maintenance." Please note that there is a separate answer key for the Assessment and Practice books.

In summary, this is a strong course with an emphasis on the writing process and grammar instruction. The grammatical side includes a chapter on diagramming in grades 3-8. Its approach is interesting and engaging, making good use of colorful graphics and appealing use of graphic organizers. Lessons are a nice combination of verbal interaction (many of the exercises could/should be done orally), written activities, and assignments. There is an underlying assumption that the books are being used in a classroom, and several of the activities require cooperative interaction between or among multiple students. Although a revision of an older, Catholic textbook series (there is a reprint of that version available from the publisher), this series does not include any religious material. ~ Janice

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