Character Quality Language Arts
Have you ever wondered why there are so few truly integrated language arts programs? Just because the idea sounds good (OK, wonderful!) in theory, it doesn't mean it is easy to do well. Either one (or more) skill set(s) will be overlooked or weak or your students will be weak (strong?) in one (or more) area(s) so that completing the program as designed becomes impossible. And then, of course, suppose you do find something that's integrated, you may have to stifle your disappointment that the content doesn't reflect the strong biblical values that you think it should. Well, let me introduce you to Character Quality Language Arts (which I have dubbed CQLA).
CQLA integrates dictionary/thesaurus-driven vocabulary study, word-family spelling, phonics review and reading comprehension, both systematic grammar and editing practice, along with thorough, incremental, comprehensive writing instruction. Each thread is modeled after and draws from some of the strongest home school programs available yet addresses the inevitable "if only" inherent to each of these (i.e. if only this had more grammar; if only this taught spelling, too). The conscious selection of character-based and biblical source material accomplishes the goal of author, Donna Reish: to help home school families learn excellent communication skills while focusing on heart issues. The multi-level organization of the program means that a whole family can be "on the same page" so to speak when it comes to character training.
So how is the program organized? There are four ability levels: Pre-Level A (grades 2-4), Level A (grades 3-5), Level B (grades 6-8), and Level C (grades 9-12). Pre-Level A gives a gentle, yet thorough introduction to grammar with an emphasis on learning to write correct sentences and paragraphs. It reviews phonetic sounds for spelling, utilizes dictation and provides organizational information for writing. Level A has an emphasis on writing longer original essays for which the student is given step-by-step instruction. More revision work is added applying grammar to writing. Level B has a focus on communications skills with more challenging grammar and composition utilizing complex sentence structure. The student prepares grammar cards. Level C requires directed essays of 6-12 paragraphs with advanced grammar lessons, complex sentence structure, and a variety of essay applications. Within each of these levels, moreover, there are additional differentiations - basic, extensions, and further extensions. Although this may seem confusing at first, it actually allows for a great deal of flexibility. Suppose you have a student who is reading well, does fine with grammar, but struggles with writing and spelling. You can tailor his assignments; giving him extensions in some exercises but sticking to basic in spelling and composition. It would also allow you to combine two close students - say a 6th and 8th grader - by choosing appropriate levels for assignments.
In addition to the four ability levels, there are also three colors (red, blue, & green) - character quality groupings. If you're keeping up with the math, you'll now know that CQLA has twelve courses: Red (PLA, A, B, & C), Blue (PLA, A, B & C), and Green (PLA, A, B, C). Each course equals one academic year of Language Arts and includes 8 monthly units, each with 4 weekly lessons each of which offers two lesson plan options (4 or 5 day). The monthly units each focus on a particular character quality. The Red monthly units: peacemaking, boldness, endurance, joyfulness, initiative, thoroughness, truthfulness, compassion. The Blue monthly units: creativity, obedience, orderliness, virtue, love, responsibility, wisdom, decisiveness. The Green monthly units: alertness, self-control, gratefulness, humility, meekness, diligence, gentleness, sincerity. Match your children to their ability level and select the color based on the character qualities you want to cover - it doesn't matter which color you start with.
With an overall teaching methodology of Teach - Practice - Apply, the weekly lessons provide all the structure. Teaching segments use rhymes, jingles, mnemonics, and sentences for reference material. Practice includes practice sentences, recitation, and preparing Grammar Cards. The Checklist Challenge (criteria for assessing completed assignments) provides the "apply." The first day of each week is vocabulary; the last day is a spelling test and everything else is in between. For instance, in week 3, 2nd month, Green, Level A, the thirteen teaching segments include vocabulary sentences, spelling words and rule, a paragraph to edit, using the week's passage for a key word outline, adverb study, essay rough draft, another editing assignment, coordinating conjunction study with sentence combining, preliminary work on another paragraph, and a dictation quiz and spelling test. The passage for the week is a paragraph about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Extensions is an added second paragraph) which the student reads aloud and discusses with the teacher; copies into his notebook, reviews with his teacher and refers to during the week as a basis for other assignments. Sidebars on every page offer further study options. Perhaps one of the truly unique aspects of this curriculum is that everything - and I mean every assignment; every exercise - is interwoven and held together by the focus character quality as well as being interrelated to each other. An amazing accomplishment!
About now you might be wondering how Mrs. Reish manages to wrap each of these courses up into a single package. Well, it's a big one! Each course is a ream-size (more or less) stack of hole-punched double-sided looseleaf sheets. Consumable, because the student not only prepares an accompanying writing notebook but also completes many exercises directly onto the course sheets. All instruction is written directly into the lesson notes but sidebars include teaching tips. At the end of each unit for each week there are two sets of Teacher Helps - one for a five-day week and one for a four-day week - along with answer keys for the week's work.
So now you're interested, maybe even convinced that this would be a blessing for your family but you keep thinking about that large stack of paper and wondering what it will mean for you in terms of preparation and participation. First of all, although the courses are very well organized and actually very user-friendly, they will take some getting used to - a learning curve, if you will. A new CQLA teacher/mom should plan to spend some time getting familiar with the program, going through the Teacher's Guide (more on that in a minute) and to move slowly at first. However, after getting a unit or two under your belt you will be rejoicing in the consistency of the lessons and format. Teacher prep is very minimal after the initial getting-acquainted-with-the-program period. All source material is provided, lesson plans are detailed and well-organized. Coordination has all been done for you and you will find that you actually save time over moving from program to program; workbook to workbook. However, teacher-student interaction time is an important aspect of the learning process. Pre-Level A lessons will take about 20-30 minutes per day but all of that will be with the teacher. Level A lessons are more likely to be 30-40 minutes and at least half of that time will be with the teacher. However, with Level B and C, even though the lesson work will take longer (45-60 minutes for B; 60-70 minutes for C), teacher interaction will be half or less of that time. You can either plan to meet with your student daily or with older students (Level B & C) you could set up a tutoring type of schedule with a meeting 1-2 a week (2-3 times for Level B). And if that sounds like a lot of time for your students, keep in mind that these are combined lessons and to really compare apples (CQLA) with apples (all the various programs you're using now) you will have to add the time together.
So, does this program really provide everything your student will need in terms of Language Arts? Yes! Although, of course, you will need to encourage a rich reading and literature schedule. At the high school level - especially if you're college-prep - then you will want to strengthen the literature studies, add speech and research paper writing although CQLA provides all the introductory steps for research papers - finding sources, paragraph/essay construction, and some documentation - it doesn't put it all together into specific assignments.
I do need to tell you about the Teacher's Guide. Instead of being associated with any particular level, this book is a guide to the overall program. Its six sections provide How tos, Grammar & Usage, Outlining & Writing, Editing & Revision, a Unit by Unit (includes a complete scope and sequence), and an Appendix; each section providing specific information on how to approach that particular aspect of the program. The very, very helpful "How To" section includes a program overview, suggestions for program usage, and an extensive set of FAQs. Other sections include reference material (such as Grammar Cards, spelling words practice sheets, etc.) that can be reproduced for use with your family. You could consider this book as an orientation guide to the program. In fact, if you're considering CQLA you might want to purchase this book first. After spending some time with it you will have a very good idea not only of whether or not this program will work for you but also what levels to place your children in and what to expect. It's also possible to download a sample month of CQLA at the publisher's website: www.characterinkstore.com.
Please note you will need one course per child per year. These courses are designed to be consumable and, frankly, there isn't a good way to make them shareable. If this seems expensive, stop and do a quick tally of the cost for all the workbooks you're currently using for vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and composition. Pretty close, isn't it? There are not a lot of additional resources required either. A dictionary/thesaurus for each child (notebook type), a large family dictionary, sticky notes, highlighters, white board and markers. I'll bet you already have most of those anyway. There is only one other resource needed for each child but this is a one-time purchase - the CQLA Spelling Notebook. Though a separate book it correlates with CQLA and provides the over ninety spelling rules covered in CQLA. As the child records his weekly spelling words under the proper spelling rule, he is building his own personal spelling dictionary as he practices for his weekly test. Your student will use this same book each year he continues with the CQLA program. ~ Janice