Review: Writing and Rhetoric by Classical Academic Press

by Lynne

There’s always one subject that is difficult for a homeschool family to accomplish. That subject varies from family to family and from child to child. Sometimes, the parent doesn’t feel completely confident in her ability to convey mastery of the subject. Sometimes, it’s just a subject that a particular student does not find interesting. In our house, the whole subject of writing has been the most challenging aspect of our curriculum.

Both of my boys struggle with the physical act of handwriting. My focus up until now has been maneuvering them through learning how to hold their pencils correctly and how to form letters in both manuscript and cursive. We’ve also learned about sentence structure and the mechanics of writing, such as capitalization and punctuation rules. Quite frankly, it felt like drudgery to all of us.

I do try not to compare my children with other kids, but I must admit that it was difficult for me to see homeschool blog posts with gorgeous handwriting and young children writing beautiful poetry and short stories. My kids have trouble writing a five sentence paragraph. I never had expectations for them to be doing a whole lot of writing in elementary school, and I’m of the opinion that current educational trends push students toward writing before they have the necessary skills. However, since my boys are approaching middle school age, I felt I really needed to do something about their writing skills.

I’ve been to the homeschool conventions. I’ve looked at many writing programs. I’ve gathered thoughts and opinions from my homeschool community, both in real life and online. I never found a program that just resonated with me. I liked pieces and parts from many different programs. For some programs, I just opened up one page of the book and knew that it wouldn’t work for my kids. I was very discouraged about writing and was planning to piece together a writing curriculum on my own.

Then, I discovered a new product from our 2014 sponsor’s website. Classical Academic Press has a program called Writing and Rhetoric. It is based on the ancient Greek progymnasmata exercises, through which a student learned to gradually increase his communication and writing skills. By the end of progymnasmata study, the student was able to start producing his own erudite speeches. So far, Classical Academic Press has available the first two books in the series. I purchased the first book, Fable, which is geared toward third and fourth graders. My sons are fourth and fifth graders this year, but with their writing difficulties this level is perfect for them. A younger student who has a good grasp of language and who is already writing independently might even enjoy this program.

The first phase of this program is all about learning to retell a fable. So far, we’ve completed four chapters in the first book. I take each chapter slowly and have the boys work through it in three to four days. They take turns reading each fable out loud to me. Some of them we’ve already encountered, so this gives them a new way to look at a familiar fable. The amount of writing they have to do at one time is minimal, but gradually builds up. They have learned about summarizing and amplifying stories. For each fable, they answer questions that are designed to illuminate the moral of the story, or to emphasize the purpose of the lesson. The questions are simple and not overwhelming. There are very nice illustrations for each story as well. All in all, each chapter is well thought out and easy to follow. You can see sample pages of the books on the Classical Academic Press website.

The only thing that didn’t work for us was the binding. I left my teacher’s manual as is, but since the boys needed to write in their books, I had their workbooks spiral bound at the local copy store. My boys have sensory issues, and trying to hold a workbook flat while writing is just too difficult for them. The spiral binding is easier for them to manipulate. Maybe in the future, the books will be offered with a different binding.

I like that my kids are learning skills one at a time and have those skills modeled for them in an easy and interesting way. For the first time in our homeschool career, we are all actually enjoying writing time. Now, I won’t say that my boys love writing just yet, but they no longer give me a hard time when I tell them it’s time for writing lessons. And that is a beautiful thing. I’m looking forward to continuing with this series.

Lynlynnene–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.

Elementary Algebra: A Review

by Apryl

A Review of Elementary Algebra by Harold R. Jacobs

also used:

Solutions Manual for Elementary Algebra By Harold R. Jacobs with Cassidy Cash

Elementary Algebra Test Bank By Harold R. Jacobs

Elementary Algebra Teacher’s Guide By Harold R. Jacobs

We have had Elementary Algebra by Harold Jacobs floating around our homeschool since my oldest child was in 7th grade.  It has been used as a reference, a supplement to another curriculum, as a review, and is now being used as the main Algebra I curriculum for my 9th graders.

Although this text is out of print, it is widely used and can often be found on websites that sell used books and curriculum.  There are also companion books available such as a complete solutions manual, a teacher’s guide, and test banks.  We have never used it, but there is also a DVD course that uses this text through “Ask Dr. Callahan.”

For the purpose of this review, I will focus on using Elementary Algebra as our main Algebra I curriculum.

Jacobs presents the lessons in a conversational style, addressing the student directly.  Each lesson starts out with a “real world” example and leads the student through several worked problems.  The lessons are presented in a discovery method, with the student learning more about the topic as they work through the exercises in a set.

The topics on the book progress and build upon the previous topics, so grasping a concept is necessary before moving on.  There are plenty of opportunities to practice new concepts in each problem set, and the Test Bank also offers additional problems and multiple tests for each chapter.

This text is word problem heavy, often building on the topics within the word problems themselves in a discovery style.

My 9th graders prefer to do their work independently, only coming to me when they do not understand a lesson or are struggling with a concept.  They have been able to work through most of this text in this manner, but do occasionally run into an issue of needing a teacher to fill in some gaps in order for them to grasp the concept.  This text was written for classroom use, and this is very evident in some lessons.

There is a teacher’s guide that gives additional lesson material, but personally it hasn’t been useful to me.  I often use other sources to flesh out a lesson if I am having trouble explaining it to my students.

I feel like this curriculum is working very well with my students who do not struggle with math in general.  This text couldn’t have been used independently with my older child as it does not mesh with her learning style at all, and she needs more direct instruction.  If a parent is very comfortable with teaching Algebra, then this could be a good fit for a student not as strong in math when taught one on one.