kitchen table math, the sequel: Goodness Gracious, it's Grammar

Friday, September 7, 2007

Goodness Gracious, it's Grammar

I have to say that I'm really liking Hake Grammar & Writing (Level 6) so far. In this first week of homeschooling my fifth grader we've covered 4 types of sentences (imperative, declarative, interrogative, exclamatory), simple subjects, simple predicates, identifying complete sentences, fragments, and run-on sentences. Rich vocabulary is worked into the program as well. There have been 3 journal entries, and dictation. The writing lesson for this week was sentence combining.

Last week we did also did Writing Strands and that was really well received by my "reluctant writer" as well.

For younger students, I really like First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind (Level 3). I'm using the workbook and teacher book to afterschool my second grader. From the get-go we've covered nouns, forming plurals, common and proper nouns and pronouns and done some dictation. By next week he'll be diagramming simple sentence. The lessons are efficient, long enough to work to mastery but brief enough to keep their attention. Review is built in but not overdone at all.

I think it might be easy to afterschool with either program because they are quite stealth.

Definitely worth a look.


Anonymous said...

I like the Hake also. We're doing Hake 7, but I can't fit in the writing parts, being an afterschooler and all.

Hake 7 really kicks it up a notch, particularly in the verbal department. And it is thorough.

Can I ask how you're using Writing Strands? Where did you start? I found it a bit confusing, but maybe it's me.

concernedCTparent said...

We've only done one "assignment" and we used it the week before doing the Hake writing component. I may be alternating the two since Hake has a writing lesson set up about every other week. I would prefer for her to have formal writing instruction weekly in addition to the summaries, book reports and outlines she's working on as part of other subjects.

I had originally started with Writing Strands 4 but because I want my daughter to enjoy it, I decided to go back to 3 and start off easy... particularly because she's already doing the Hake as well. WS was very self directed and she really worked through it on her own. I'm glad I made it easy because I want the challenge to sneak up on her. Before she knows it she's going to finally believe she is a very good writer (which she is, she just needs to convince herself).

Anonymous said...

That might have been my mistake. I didn't go back far enough.

Plus, my son isn't exactly Mr. Motivated with any of this. The only time he's happy that I do anything is when he aces some test on grammar. Then, I'm not so bad after all.

I also forced him to do a lot of summaries, biographies, outlines, etc. this summer. The deal was he had to write in cursive on top of it. After much whining he finally gave in. It gave me a chance to really see how weak he was with his basic writing skills. Nothing came easy. Speaking of clogging up your working memory.

By the end of the summer he was much better, but I'm sure I'm going to have to pop things in just for practice.

The odd thing is that the only writing done at the school (for years now) seems to be either the 4/5 paragraph essay, or something connected to a project or project-like notebook (lots of coloring and paste-ins).

It appears to be against some law to do one or two paragraph summaries or book reports. Is this everywhere now? And what is the reason for it?

Anyway, he seems more confident now just shooting off little papers.

And no one corrects the giant project-like notebooks either. Last year he came home with about 15 mispelled (basic) words. Lots of comments about his "thinking," but nothing on mispellings.

Getting him to care about this has been one big challenge.

Jo Anne C said...

Thank you so much for posting your thoughts on Hake Grammar & Writing. I am considering home schooling my son for 5th grade and wondered if Hake would be a good choice, but had not found anyone who had used it.

Your positive experience (so far) has convinced me to give it a try. I would like to hear more about your impressions as the year progresses.

Please keep us posted!

Jo Anne C said...

“It appears to be against some law to do one or two paragraph summaries or book reports. Is this everywhere now? And what is the reason for it?”

I can’t tell you the reason but I sure do agree with your observation. My 4th grade son is not doing much writing at all, even at an expensive private school. But we sure do get a lot of crayon and scissors homework assignments that require both parents to help out.

What ever happened to writing out short answers to questions in the social studies or science textbooks? Now the kids are expected to just listen to the teacher rattle on about subject matter and are supposed to absorb important information like a sponge. I would be doomed to failure as a student if I had to attend elementary school using these teaching methods because I can’t remember anything unless I write it down.

Anonymous said...

For my son, the decision in 4th grade to let him type out his essays was not helpful. It took me a couple of years to realize that his writing skills were still awkward from a physical standpoint. He was just uncomfortable holding the pen or pencil. Nothing was automatic.


The Hake is big and comprehensive. It really covers everything and has plenty of practice. But since it was the same people as Saxon I thought I might need some more things for creative or essay writing. I was pleasantly surprised at how they handle essays and journaling. It helped both my bright reluctant writer and my special ed son.

The chapters are treated like Saxon so that when you cover a subject (say simple prepositions), you get practice with that specifically, but then there is a mixed practice that keeps bringing back items from previous chapters.

There is also some vocabulary or extra grammar brought in with each chapter at the beginning like the warmup box at the start of each Saxon math chapter.

For instance, in the Hake 7 chapter that my son is on it is covering gerunds. It explains what they are and the two tenses in which they can be used. It even shows you how to diagram them, but doesn't belabor the point. However, at the beginning of the chapter there is a little box about the differences in lie and lay. Later in the practice there will be sentences to check the kid's understanding of lie and lay on top of the other things.

Catherine Johnson said...


book reviews are illegal

it's a Lucy Calkins thing, I believe

Catherine Johnson said...

of course, when I finally started thinking seriously about writing instruction, the first thing I came to was: BOOK REPORTS

kids need to write book reports; book reports are the obvious place to start, in every conceivable way

Catherine Johnson said...

A small, energetic woman, Ms. Calkins strode rapidly in from the wings and began by asking the teachers to think of happy and unhappy memories of writing. One raised her hand and said that her happiest memory of writing was keeping a journal while her father was dying and her unhappiest was having to write term papers in college. Instead of making a case for analytic writing, Ms. Calkins seized on the woman's preference to make her central point: ''What works for us is writing that is personal,'' she said. Ms. Calkins told inspiring stories about children who had used writing to surface buried hopes and fears. The audience drew pictures to illustrate a memorable experience -- an exercise for beginning writers. Even in the case of nonnarrative writing, she said, ''it doesn't have to be a book report; it doesn't have to be about ancient Greece.'' That was her only reference to book reports. She never once used the words ''vocabulary,'' ''knowledge'' or ''analysis.''

New York's New Approach

Catherine Johnson said...

Of the teachers I spoke to during the session, the younger ones generally felt comfortable with this process-oriented, child-centered mode of teaching, since it was what they had learned in education school and what they practiced in their own classroom. Older teachers were more skeptical. When one school official underlined Ms. Calkins's point that teachers didn't need to assign book reports, the woman next to me expostulated, ''That I don't agree with.'' A literacy supervisor from Staten Island told me during a break that schools she knew using a similar approach were failing at it. She worried about the absence of rigorous phonics instruction. ''These kids first need to learn how to decode,'' she said. She also said -- and she covered her face in embarrassment when saying it -- that she didn't think most teachers were skilled enough for this constructivist pedagogy, in which teachers act as coaches to help children ''construct'' their own understanding.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm VERY excited about beginning to use William J. Kerrigan's Writing with a Point. (Or is it Writing to the Point?)

Brilliant, brilliant book; best I've seen on writing.

I've read only 30 pages, because I'm basically committing the whole thing to memory.

le radical galoisien said...

Is it too ambitious to toss morphology into the mix?

I've often wondered what would be the effect of giving children linguistic training at a young age -- would they be able to master languages more effectively in life?

Linguistics would go beyond identifying simple parts of speech to things like morphemes, inflections, auxiliary tense markers, etc.

Children are natural linguists, so if taught early enough, using simpler or alternative terms (just like "auxiliary verb" is usually called the "helping verb" for young students), then morphology would be easy to teach to young students. Some concepts in English grammar are actually composite concepts based of multiple separate principles.

When teaching strong verbs and umlaut plurals, etc. I think too often it is said that these verbs / nouns are "irregular" (when their conjugation and declension actually follows distinct classes of patterns).

Jo Anne C said...

Thanks Susan!

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to sound depressing, as I've always been a proactive parent and afterschooler, but the reality is that now that I've started Hake 5 for my kid, I'm finding out just how little he knows about analyzing the English language. This is a kid that scores as verbally gifted, yet he can't tell the subject in a sentence from a direct object.

I'm really angry with my school district right now. I've heard that they will never teach him grammar, anywhere along the way in his schooling. Nice, huh?

concernedCTparent said...

The odd thing is that the only writing done at the school (for years now) seems to be either the 4/5 paragraph essay, or something connected to a project or project-like notebook (lots of coloring and paste-ins).

It may be odd, but it's not uncommon. I would even venture to say that this is the situation in most elementary schools today.

We are precisely in the process of "detoxing" from this mindset. I have to keep reminding my 5th grader that we're starting over. None of the old rules apply. Every essay does not have 5 paragraphs. Every answer does not restate the question verbatim. Meaningful sentences can be brief. Editing and rewriting are essential. Etc.

We're tearing down writer's block, brick by brick.

le radical galoisien said...


There must be a younger version of AP Language and Composition somewhere, since it exposes you to different tactics of writing (argument?) and you're supposed to analyse its effects.

I loved it because it's almost a leadup to psycholinguistics.

"I'm finding out just how little he knows about analyzing the English language. This is a kid that scores as verbally gifted, yet he can't tell the subject in a sentence from a direct object."

Well, language mastery is different from linguistics. Sort of like how excelling well at school and learning effectively is different from familiar with epistemology.

Language is something that is natural whereas language analysis is a bit more conscious.

Besides, English barely has any case/declension endings anymore, save for pronouns and vowel-grade plurals (mice, these, etc.) Reanalysis is also occurring. Originally the "to" in English infinitives was derived from the dative, which was reanalysed as (and replaced) the infinitive (as the Middle English infinitive endings fell away). [This is similar to what happened in the vernacular Indic Indo-European languages, e.g. Hindi.) Today's generation might interpret "to" as a complement of say "want to", especially since the full verb may often be only implied (does he want to go? / He doesn't want to). This applies to me, and it didn't even occur to me till I started studying French.

Being analytic means the language relies more on word order and less on inflection (grammatical agreement like conjugation and declension) ... becoming somewhat like Chinese. Chinese philological texts usually concentrate on etymology and word roots, and the concept of "direct/indirect object" is alien in the language (although you may analyse different nouns as being subjects or objects). The English use of adverbial complements (put up, sweep aside, take down, run along) is a trait characteristic of analytic languages (similar to Chinese). Whereas you notice more frequently inflected languages (Latin, Romance, Greek etc.) replace the complements with bound morphemes (descend, reprise, eulogise) or explicitly distinguish parts of speech with the same semantic root with derivational endings (solutionem versus solvere, etc.) In English verbs can often be used as nouns or vice versa (like Chinese), save ones borrowed from Latin (relate / relations) or remnants with Old English endings (true/truth; hot/heat). Hence, "a walk", "tiring run", "good eats, forbidden drink", "dust thoroughly", etc. and especially for technological terms (to microwave, to vacuum, size 10 prints versus to print, and so forth).

The result is that analysing the grammar of analytic languagues (how fitting) is generally more complex, less obvious and more subconscious, because many of the relationships between parts of speech are implicit. Whereas Latin is relatively easier to analyse, as it is sort of a trade-off -- in return for having to memorise all those conjugation and declension endings.

The result? You can be perfectly be a fluent English speaker and be well subconsciously aware of the rules (learnt from young) and be completely grammatical. However, it's not surprising to be unaware of the mechanics on a conscious level.

You wouldn't necessarily expect a well-gifted writer in second-grade (writing gifted and mature essays for her age, for example) to intuitively know how to write in cursive for example, if she was never taught (even when learning vocabulary herself). Explicitly describing the mechanics of grammar is not something you would find in even the greatest classical works of literature, unless the child one day came across Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures (or just an elementary school grammar textbook) or Panini's Sanskrit grammar.

So I don't think being verbally gifted entails conscious knowledge of linguistics and grammar analysis. I am sure he analyses it subconsciously each time he speaks (he would have done it from infancy). This is something that must be explicitly taught.

However, being verbally gifted increases the chance of the child bumping into a text that explicitly deals with the mechanics of language. The history of the English dative case is not something you would find in Virginia Woolf or Jane Austen, for example.