Grammar curriculum isn't hard to find. Because parents and educators are always rediscovering the importance of language and its central role in education, they're always trying to improve current methodologies or fall back on old ones. The result is an endless flood of books, both new and revised, on a topic most kids don't care too much about.
Having many choices isn't a bad thing, especially since there are so many learning styles—one book isn't always going to work for every student, even students in the same family. The problem is that so many of these grammar texts simply retread the same ground, and as often as not they never get beyond a pretty rudimentary presentation of their subject.
That's why a book like The Mother Tongue: Adapted for Modern Students is so surprising and should be welcomed with open arms by all those convinced that to succeed academically students need to know the English language. The approach of this book is at once simple and far different than any grammar course we've seen, and that is a good thing.
How Does This Work?
At the center of this program is The Mother Tongue, a one-volume textbook originally published in 1901, and republished in 1908 in a revised edition. The original was written by George Lyman Kittredge (a respected Harvard scholar) and Sarah Louise Arnold; the new 2014 edition was revised for modern students by Amy Edwards and Christina Mugglin.
Through 143 chapter lessons and 8 appendices, students go from learning what grammar is to a college-level grasp of it. The book is long and probably daunting at first glance, but chapters are short and everything is taught clearly and in an intuitive progression with each new concept building on those before it.
Edwards and Mugglin have updated the layout and added footnotes and margin boxes; otherwise, the contents of the original edition along with the exercises from the 1908 revision have been preserved intact, even the chapters on using the pronouns "thee" and "thou" which are outmoded now but are helpful for understanding older literature.
Three plans for completing the book are included at the outset with complete assignments for each week. These plans allow students to complete the text in one, two, or three years. The editors of the new edition suggest using this with students between grades 5-10 who have completed an elementary grammar program successfully.
There's no mystery as to how to use this text. Each chapter has some text to read and exercises (usually 2-3) to complete. While the text was originally made to be read aloud in a classroom setting and then discussed before students complete exercises on their own, advanced or motivated students will be able to read the text on their own.
In addition to the main text, there are two student workbooks with answer keys available separately. The workbooks include the exercises from the textbook, but formatted to allow students to write their answers on the page; otherwise, they'll need to write their answers on a separate sheet of paper.
Kittredge and Arnold's approach is summed up in the first line of the preface to the first edition: "The purpose of this book is to set forth the elements of English grammar in their relation to thought and the expression of thought." This means that the structure of the English language is decoded and examined to allow students to better understand it and express their ideas.
This also means that grammar is explored in depth. Students will study mood, case, clauses, infinitives, gender, number, and all things in between (and the parts of speech, sentence construction, etc.). Things like capitalization and punctuation are relegated to the appendices, so that students can spend their time studying the real meat of grammar.
Our Honest Opinion:
What can you say when you've found what you've been looking for all along? The problem with so many grammar programs is that they focus on peripheral matters and never get much below the surface, so that students never really understand English but are able to perform some rudimentary functions.
The Mother Tongue actually teaches grammar, and does so in a way that will improve the student's ability to read and write. Is it difficult? Absolutely, but once the course is successfully completed the mystery of language will be solved and students will find learning as a whole to be much less difficult, whether they're studying astronomy or French history.
The editors suggest using this with kids as young as 5th grade—we'd suggest waiting at least till 6th or 7th. Simply Grammar or Analytical Grammar would be a good intro to this course, and after The Mother Tongue consider your kids grammar competent. If your kids really want more, consider finding them a good history and origins of the English language text.
Whether your students plan on becoming English majors or engineers, historians or botanists, homemakers or missionaries, to truly succeed they need to have a solid grasp of language, particularly the English language. The Mother Tongue will give it to them, and while the content is challenging, the academic and practical rewards are well worth it.
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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