Like all Institute for Excellence in Writing products, Primary Arts of Language uses an old-fashioned yet innovative approach to teaching. Also like other IEW offerings, this one teaches parents to teach students, rather than simply stuffing facts in kids' heads and demanding of parents only the task of grading work. Instead, parents learn how to teach in order to guide students directly.
Jill Pike's program isn't quite as user-friendly as more established courses like Structure & Style Basics, and her distinction between "arts of language" and "language arts" is frustratingly unclear. At the same time, lesson plans are clear, fully scripted for parents, and include everything you need to know for each teaching session. It's mostly the explanation of her educational philosophy Pike seems to fudge on.
As for describing the way the program actually works, she does a pretty good job. A scope and sequence can be found in the first appendix of both teacher manuals—the course collectively is designed for kindergarten to 1st grade (the writing course can be used through 2nd grade). Primary Arts of Language: Reading and Primary Arts of Language: Writing can each be used alone, though work best together; Phonetic Games supports Reading.
How Do These Work?
Pike bases Primary Arts of Language: Reading on the methods employed by early-20th century educator Anna Ingham who taught multiple grade levels successfully in a one-room school. Students learn sight words and phonics simultaneously, the intention being that kids retain the sight words so that when independent higher-level reading commences, they won't get stuck on words that defy the phonetic rules.
A comprehensive teacher's manual is the centerpiece of the program, along with a nearly indispensable DVD-ROM in which Pike discusses the entire course. Two printable student books are included on the DVD-ROM in PDF format. The Phonetic Games book, Phonetic Farm Folder, and stickers round out the kit, though you'll need to provide some extras like 3x5 cards and manila folders for the games.
Eighty half-hour lessons can be taught over 1-2 years, entirely at the users' own pace. Four stages of learning (Foundations, Activities, Discovery and Library) begin at a teacher-intensive pace, but become more student-focused after the Foundations stage. Initially, students learn 2-3 phonogram/letter sounds (letter names are not used) per week, using the Phonetic Farm Folder and stickers to group them according to similarity and kind.
By the Activities stage, students are able to work alone for a 30-minute period and integrate games along with learning more phonograms. Once they reach the Discovery stage, they should be proficient enough to work with the Discovery card packs, thirty sets of 10 cards each that provide decoding practice. Finally, at the Library stage students read aloud to the parent from books included on the recommended books lists in the teacher's manual and divided according to easy, medium and hard difficulty.
Each lesson centers around a poem (usually famous) that provides the basis for several lessons. Some minor advanced preparation is required, though Pike suggests preparing games and cutting out cards be a shared activity between parents and students. Lessons are fully scripted for parents, and are uniformly intuitive. Parents will want to watch the full DVD presentation before trying to teach the program, and the student books and vocabulary-specific readers will need to be printed beforehand.
Primary Arts of Language: Writing may be started somewhat after the Reading portion of the program, since kids need to have developed a level of motor skills before making strokes with a pencil. There is a teacher's manual, and a DVD-ROM with full course presentation by Pike and PDF student books. All About Spelling Level 1 is also used, though not until Part Two of the three-part program.
Eighty-seven lessons take kids from the fundamentals of printing, to copywork and style, and on to basic composition. This course remains more teacher intensive throughout than Reading as parents will need to direct activities, read dictation, and help correct mistakes as they occur. Lessons are typically fairly short, and there are plenty of worksheets in the teacher's manual to be copied for student use. For a description of how All About Spelling works, read our review.
Both teacher's manuals include extensive appendices with supplemental information and material for both teachers and students. The DVD-ROMs also have audio files to help round out the teacher's understanding of the program's goals and methods. Reading and Writing can be used independently, though they integrate superbly and work best in cooperation.
Our Honest Opinion:
As with all IEW products, Primary Arts of Language requires a perhaps greater-than-usual measure of devotion and parental commitment. While the course is well laid out and easy to follow, it will take a while to become familiar with each element and to become comfortable with its implementation. Some parents will balk at the use of so many sight words, though phonics is the core of the course and sight words are only used to fill out students' knowledge of the language.
For a beginning comprehensive language arts course, this one is surprisingly self-contained and easy to use. Pike isn't the best writer, but she's clear and thorough, and her video introductions are extremely helpful. Overall, this is another great offering from IEW. Its approach segues well into the Structure & Style program, and students will not only achieve a level of proficiency in reading and writing many comparable programs are unable to offer, they'll really understand the nature of language and how it's used.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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