A lot of curriculum authors claim their program is unique, and a lot of the time it's just not true. Individuals may tweak details or have their own take on an existing instructional method, but usually there are a limited number of ways to teach any subject so anything "new" is just a variation on a theme. Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind bucks the trend, and has developed a grammar course that is truly different from those that have gone before.
The innovative element is that every level is the same. That's not to say every exercise is identical, but everything else is, from lesson topics to examples. The Core Instructor Text, Years 1-4 is the central text, and includes scripted lesson plans for every lesson in the student workbooks. There are four workbooks, each with a teacher key, and each with the same one-year cycle of lessons. That's not a typo—Lesson 89 in the Blue Workbook is the same as Lesson 89 in the Red Workbook, etc.
Author Susan Wise Bauer identifies three elements of language learning: prescriptive, descriptive, and practical. In the prescriptive stage students memorize the basic rules of usage; in the descriptive stage they see how these rules apply through a multitude of examples; and in the practical stage they use what they've learned on their own. This course focuses on each of these three elements with a strong dose of repetition in order to foster language mastery in students of many ages.
How Do These Work?
Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind starts where First Language Lesssons leaves off. Students learn everything from the eight parts of speech to advanced sentence structure, with particular focus on definitions and application through exercises. The course is designed to be used over a four-year period, though the authors stress that you can take longer than a year for each workbook, especially with younger middle school students. Additionally, for first year students of Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind, don't focus too much on mastery—if a student hasn't fully grasped a concept, it's okay to move on as they will come back to it again in future years.
There are four one-year levels for this course. A single Core Instructor Text is used for all four levels, and includes scripted lesson plans that work in conjunction with every lesson in the consumable student workbooks. For instance, the Core Instructor Text lesson plan for Lesson 24 is used to teach Lesson 24 in the Red Workbook, the Blue Workbook, the Yellow Workbook, and the Purple Workbook. To make matters even less (or more) confusing, there is no specific order in which to use the workbooks: start with whichever one you want and continue on to whichever one you prefer. It's the spiral method on illegal steroids.
All the workbooks contain a total of 36 weeks each divided into four lessons with periodic review. This is not a student-directed course, and parents will need to take an active hand in instruction, though not much prep is required (you will probably want to read the scripted lesson before you deliver it). By the time students have completed two or three of the workbooks, however, they will likely be able to complete the last one or two on their own. The authors of the series do encourage parents to remain involved through all four levels, and to get the most out of the course methodology that's probably a good idea.
Each year that you use Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind you will cover the same territory, using the same lessons, the same instructions, and even the same examples. Only the exercises change. The goal is mastery through repetition. If you haven't picked up on that yet, the goal is mastery through repetition. Again, the goal is mastery through repetition. The fact that the exercises change means that students will be able to see how the grammar rules apply in a variety of contexts without constantly having to wrestle with brand new material.
You will need the Core Instructor Text for each year, and one of the colored workbook / workbook key combinations for each individual year. Are the keys necessary? Yes. The amount of time they will save you would never be recovered if you tried to grade everything on your own. Many of the exercises are fairly long and elaborate, and you'd be sure to miss something. All the teaching notes are in the Core Instructor Text, but all the answers are in the corresponding workbook keys.
There are two additional books available which are not required but are highly recommended: The Grammar Guidebook and The Diagramming Dictionary. Both hardcover books can be used in conjunction with this course, but will remain invaluable reference works in your student's college or career path.
The Grammar Guidebook includes all of the grammar rules from the workbooks distilled into one slim volume. There is extensive information regarding the parts of speech, sentence construction, the parts of sentences, dialogue and quotation marks, capitalization, punctuation, and documentation (works cited). There is also a section of sample regular verb conjugations at the back. Rules are printed in bold, examples are not.
The Diagramming Dictionary is a complete manual for diagramming sentences in English. Each diagramming rule is thoroughly explained and then graphically depicted in the form of a diagram. Simple subjects are underlined once, simple predicates are underlined twice, and the element being described is printed in green. The material in this volume is covered in the workbooks, but again, it is distilled for easy reference. This book makes an excellent addition to any home school library, whether or not you use Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind with your kids.
This series can be used with any grade level from 5th to 12th. If you're using it with high schoolers, help them get through one workbook per year; younger students can (and usually should) take more time. You don't have to use each book one right after the other, though back-to-back will probably yield the best results in terms of mastery. Once you've finished all four years of this program you will not need to teach grammar to your students again.
Our Honest Opinion
The concept for this course seems very sound. Students learn best through repetition, especially rules-based subjects like grammar, and this course provides that in spades. Some may object that this approach will lead to boredom, but that is actually rather counter-intuitive—we tend to retain and appreciate information we thoroughly understand more than what we don't understand, and students will certainly grasp grammar more and more as they continue this course. Familiarity doesn't actually breed contempt, it actually breeds understanding. Also, the exercises are different every time, so there's that.
You can use this for any grade you feel appropriate. The content of these workbooks is designed to build off of First Language Lessons, but you can easily pick these up from another course, or from no course at all. Though Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind is a teacher-guided program, it is extremely easy to use for both students and teachers.
As mentioned above, the method here seems sound. It's genuinely different enough from other grammar courses that we can't honestly say if it's effective or not. We've never come across a Well-Trained Mind Press program that is not effective, but we haven't heard any testimonials yet so we'll hold our peace. When we learn more, we'll do our best to update this review! It certainly is a good choice for at least one year—beyond that, please share your experiences with us so we can pass your comments on to others.
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