Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Easy Grammar Ultimate Series: 180 Daily Teaching Lessons

Oddly enough, my oldest son loved grammar.  In fact, it was one of his favorite subjects.  We used Rod and Staff to lay the foundation.  It was a thorough program, but not always easy to finish in a year.  The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series: 180 Daily Teaching Lessons seemed like a good substitute.  We examined the grade 11 text.  After a couple of lessons, Kingman complained that, "Nothing is clear.  You have to make assumptions."  I think coming from a curriculum that explains each concept in depth to one with succinct explanations may have been a big jump.  Upon closer examination, I discovered that concepts are explained well enough.  They are straight to the point with 1-4 practice questions.  This program was created to get you through what you need to know about grammar quickly.

If you are familiar with Daily Grams, you will probably have an idea of how this works.  In fact, the writers of the curriculum suggest using the text as a review book.  I would agree.  If you are finished with grammar study in your homeschool, but want to keep those grammar skills fresh as your juniors and seniors prepare for Accuplacer or CLEP exams, The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series: 180 Daily Teaching Lessons is a great review guide.

If you just want to review a specific aspect of grammar, the table of contents breaks it all down.  For example, under the lesson on colons there are exercises on use with a bibliography, divided, words, lists, ratios and more.  So you can zero in and be specific.

Another great way to use this guide would be through oral activities.  We used to do it all the time with Rod & Staff because there were just so many exercises.  To get  through them, we would do half orally.  The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series makes it easy as each lesson should only last 10 minutes.  Everyone has 10 minutes to review grammar orally.

Because the text is laid out in such an organized fashion, it makes it easy to jump around.  But the author suggests moving in sequence. It all depends upon how you plan to use the guide.  If you are a fan of Daily Grams, then I think you'll like this.  But I would suggest combining it with another grammar curriculum to round out a complete language arts program.  The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series is a part of complete homeschool curriculum for 11th graders.  For more information, click here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pairing Audio Books with the Hard Copy Book To Get Children Reading

Kwame Alexander, the award-winning author of Lionheart's favorite book

In a rush to get Lionheart ready for his Creative Writing class last fall, I checked out the required book from the library.  Because Lionheart started late and had to cover a lot of chapters in a short amount of time, I checked out the audio book too.  He loves stories, but doesn't always like to sit down with a good book.  I had no idea what would happen next.  He read the entire book in one night.  Actually, I fell asleep and he woke me up at 1 a.m. to excitedly tell me he had finished the entire book.  It was Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  I was on to something.

It filled me with such joy to see him sitting and actually enjoying the book, as opposed to laboring through the assignment because he had to do it.  For some right brain learners, reading uses what Diane Craft calls "a lot of battery energy," and can suck the joy out of reading in the process. No child will learn to love something that leaves them depleted by the time they are done.  When I pair the audio book with the hard copy book, Lionheart listens to the story and he follows along in the book.  In the process, he is developing the skill of creating a movie in his head, which aids in comprehension, according to Diane Craft.  When it was time to finish the last two chapters of The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street, Lionheart said to me, "I wish this book were a movie!" Then he asked if I could find a sequel. This is just what I wanted.  More importantly, as he follows along in the book, he is exposed to challenging vocabulary and proper pronunciation. What I love most about pairing the audiobook with the hard copy book is that we get to experience the book together.  When it's time for a comprehension discussion, we can have meaningful dialogue because I've essentially read the book too.

When I plunked down the next reading, As Brave As You, by Jason Reynolds, instead of moaning, he was excited about the sheer size of the book.  When I broke out the audio book, he smiled and rubbed his hands together and said, "Let's go!"  That is precisely the reaction I want to elicit about books, not drudgery.  What's extra special about this book is that we'll also get to meet the author, Jason Reynolds, who happens to be the friend of a fellow homeschool dad.

Another important benefit to pairing audio books with hard copy books is that I can help him understand heavy topics.  When we read the story of Claudette Colvin, I'm sure we'll be pausing the CD a lot and I'll be answering lots of questions.  Through this process, I see his vocabulary and reading comprehension expand with each book he completes.  My vocabulary expanded in much the same way.  I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. I had to attend Bible study, Theocratic Ministry and Sunday was the Kingdom Hall (think church service).   To keep from being bored, I followed along in whatever printed material was being used by the speaker and along the way learned all kinds of words.  I recall being the only person in my 2nd grade class that knew how to spell reign, rain and rein - all from reading along.  My goal is to develop a love of reading.  I am confident that eventually he'll gravitate toward the hard copy book without the audio book.  In the meantime, I'll keep digging for great books that have an audio book companion.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beginning Word Roots: A Review

Everything has a beginning.  This is how we began our study of root words.  Trees have roots and so do words, I explained to Lionheart, who wondered aloud, "why do I have to do this!?"  I wanted him to understand that the key to unlocking the meaning of new and unfamiliar words is understanding their roots.  Sharing this tidbit made teaching this abstract concept a bit more relevant to his young life.

Word Roots, published the by Critical Thinking Company, was our first adventure into vocabulary study.  More efficient than studying random lists of vocabulary words, Word Roots, instead focuses on prefixes, suffixes and roots.  Understanding the meaning of a specific prefix or suffix helps unlock far more words and their meanings.  For example, in Lesson 15, the root word "port," which means to carry, is the focus.  Pair "port" with the prefixes "ex, im, sup, trans," and 4 more words are decoded.  I encouraged Lionheart to treat it like detective work to make it fun!

The first 3 lessons of the text focus on prefixes, suffixes and roots, separately.  Each concept is defined, followed by simple exercises for practice.  The layout is nice and there is plenty of white space and a few illustrations so as not to overwhelm.  Other exercises include drawing a line from the word to its picture representation, defining the words, and filling in the blank with the correct word.

Lessons 4-7 focus on prefixes and roots, while lessons 8-11 focus on roots and suffixes. Breaking up the concepts in this way decreased confusion for Lionheart and allowed for plenty of practice to attain mastery.

Lessons 12-24 combine all three concepts: prefixes, roots and suffixes.  There are 10 reviews  that increase in difficulty as the child progresses.  One review includes matching the word with the correct meaning and creating words by combining the correct prefix and root word. Another review involves circling the correctly spelled word, for example:  fertile, fertill and furtile. By the last review, the child is asked to write a complete sentence using a word from the choice box.  I expect Lionheart to be pretty challenged by this exercise, especially given the choice of words, which includes "revivify."  I had to look that one up myself!

By the end of the book, with a little hard work, Lionheart should have expanded his vocabulary and  be able to use his knowledge of prefixes and suffixes to decode new words like vivacious, when broken down means viv (live, live) and acious (having the quality of).

Word Roots is a part of the Timberdoodle 4th-6th grade homeschool curriculum package.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Advocating for Your Child v. Letting Him Have His Way

Advocating for your child doesn't mean you are always rallying for him to have his way.  I am the type of parent who will usually need to hear complaints from my children several times before I begin to investigate.  Recently, LionHeart came home complaining about tennis and being moved to what he considered a "lower group."  I learned there were other children in the "lower group," who were pretty much at the same skill level.  So what was the real issue I wondered?  I asked if his "best friend" was in the group where he wanted to be and the answer was yes.  For some reason many adults believe that wanting to learn alongside a friend is not a good reason to be moved.  But why not if that's what makes him happy?  I believe it is perfectly fine, in fact, I encourage it, as long as it enhances learning and doesn't cause distractions.  I am intentional about finding friends for LionHeart to have new experiences alongside.  Well meaning adults think that a child who wants to learn with a friend will somehow be crippled and not be able to grow and become "independent."  So untrue.  Quite the opposite.  Babies who are securely attached to their parents are the ones that tend to be more confident and willing to explore.  In this video about a homeschooling family of 7, one of the siblings says, "when I am with my whole family I feel stronger." The same could be true for LionHeart when he is with his friends.

I decided to accompany my sons to tennis (usually big brother takes him).  I had a conversation with the coach beforehand and expressed that LionHeart would like to be moved to the group with his friend.  During our conversation, I realized how problematic this concept is for some adults.  We went back and forth and what I learned is that both of the groups were essentially the same, but (and this is the  important part) one coach's teaching style is in line with how LionHeart learns.  Bingo! That was the issue.  LionHeart didn't know how to articulate it so he merely complained about it being an "easier class."  He didn't know how to say, "Mom I am holistic learner and I prefer a big-picture, more hands on approach when I am learning fundamental concepts."  But I did!  When I expressed to the coach that if the groups were the same, just let him be with his friend, that's when he said it.  "Well, he can't always get his way."  There it was.  The fear that if we allow him to have his way, be happy, somehow this would ruin him for life.  Reality - he can't always have his way.  But when he can, let's make it happen.  That's my philosophy.  If I suggest vanilla ice cream as a more practical flavor, but he wants peanut butter and grape, it sounds nasty to me, but it's a battle that is not worth having.  On the other hand, if he wants to wear shorts and it's 20 degrees outside, that is a choice he will not get to make.  It's all about Ma'at - balance.

LionHeart was able to move back to the group with is bestie. As I observed the teaching style of both instructors during class, it became even more clear that moving him was the right choice.  Parents are the first teachers, and we study our children.  I can look into LionHeart's eyes and know when he is about to be sick.  So as I watched these instructors I understood that though moving to be with his friend was a part of it, the pace of the class was an even bigger factor.  While both are great instructors, one focused on the fundamental concepts individually, while the other incorporated the fundamental concepts within a fast-paced game of tennis.  For example, to learn proper form for the backhand, one instructor had the group working exclusively on backhands.  He also discussed form a lot more.  While the other instructor demonstrated and then put them in a game.  When LionHeart's form was not correct, he was immediately able to see the consequence - the ball went out.  Doing it the wrong way, taught him how, but more importantly why he needed to do it the right way.  This teaching method is exactly how he learns best:  demonstrate (instructor), do it (student), correct, commit to memory.  When you have a child who learns differently, it can feel like a constant battle.  Some educators either take it personally and feel you are criticizing their teaching methods or "letting the child have his way."

The Right-Brain processing style doesn't just apply to academics.  I noticed this during his piano lessons that were going horribly wrong because the sole focus was on reading the notes, step 1.  I Googled an article on teaching piano to Right-Brain learners and sent it to his piano teacher who immediately incorporated the concepts into the lesson.  Right Brain dominant processors learn piano best by hearing a song, then learning a song first and learning the notes of the song as a part of the process.  That's the top down, whole (whole song) to part (notes ) learning style.  His piano teacher told me after the change in approach LionHeart's piano lessons were a 100% turnaround.  So instead of thinking of it as him "having his way," I think of it as advocating for my child so that he can be successful. Afterall, isn't that what we all want? If not, then we have to ask ourselves some serious questions.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

College Tour Transformations with We Just Imagine

Admissions office at University of Virginia

Many people look at 10-20 houses before making such a life changing purchase.  But many children from families of modest income don’t get the opportunity to shop colleges as they would houses.  A virtual tour, a college brochure, a college fair -- none give a prospective student the same kind of  up-front viewpoint as actually being there.  The average buyer would never purchase a home without visiting and talking to the people in the neighborhood, but many college students head off to a  place without really knowing what other options exists.  Through an amazing organization, We Just Imagine, my son and a group of amazing young students, have been able to see possibilities that may not have been on their radars.  When it was time for me to head to college, I was limited to local universities.  My mother didn’t own a car and the only way we could visit colleges was via public transportation.  I was desperate to attend college in New York City, but unable to really explore it as an option.

Through We Just Imagine, this group of students have visited close to 15 colleges throughout Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia!  Along the way, they have matured and become seasoned and very educated about the college process.  They started out sitting in admissions offices needing to be prepped with questions to ask, now they have their own, and good ones too!  Once we were about to be whisked off on a walking tour, one of the Just Imagine students asked the guide, “aren’t you going to sit us down to give us the admissions talk first.”  Now, they had expectations!  The feelings and desires to attend college have grown stronger, but more importantly they are becoming more deeply connected to what it is they need to pursue their educational goals and what environment will best support those endeavors.  

I am a staunch supporter of HBCUs, as a proud graduate of Howard University, but I ain’t gonna lie, I fell in love with Duke University.  It seemed like a place where you could make any educational endeavor come true.  A possibility I never knew existed.  But now these young people do. KingMan loved Atlanta, especially Clark-Atlanta's Dual Engineering program, which would allow him to graduate with a Master's Degree in Engineering.

Unlike many college tours, which cost a fortune, and throw a bunch of random people together for a weekend, We Just Imagine has invested in a small group having this experience together.  The students stay overnight in a hotel, separated by gender, and get to know each other on a more personal level.  Cell phones are confiscated at night and essay homework is assigned in the evening to ensure that serious thought is given to the day's experiences.

The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
 Karim Ewing-Boyd, an Advisory Board Member of We Just Imagine and travel chaperone, always ensures that there is a historical field trip and discussion woven into our college tours.  When we visited his alma mater, Morehouse College, we also visited the King Memorial Museum.  

Visiting the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave his first sermon.

Posing in front of the Greensboro Four on a visit to the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, NC.

A monument dedicated to the famous Greensboro Four at North Carolina A&T
In North Carolina, we visited the International Civil Rights Museum, which was an amazing experience.  The historical significance that HBCUs have played in the historical movement of African people is made real through these visits.  Students were able to make connections between the sit-ins and the students who attended North Carolina A &T.

At the end of a long day of walking, sometimes in the rain, on college campuses, we always end with a nice dinner and a discussion in the lounge area.  These are the times I love the most.  We focus on real issues that students of color will face, including lack of diversity and institutional racism.  Our visit to Virginia State University inspired one such discussion.  The students saw a stark contract in state funding and support of University of Virginia, compared to Virginia State University.  When we pulled into the sleepy town of Petersburg, Virginia, it didn’t look like a place to find a college. But once the group got out on campus, what they encountered were bright, friendly and enthusiastic college students who were passionate about their school and education.  

Quenyana Gray, a bubbly student from Richmond, whose mother also attended Virginia State University, was our tour guide.  This young honors student, is also a sports management intern and very involved in campus organizations.  She encouraged the young people to get involved in college to make it the best experience ever! She must have walked with us for more than two hours, stopping and asking various organizations that happened to be on campus to chat with us.  Students from these organizations enthusiastically obliged.  Students from the engineering department, Greek organizations, and members of the music fraternity Kappa Kappa Si gladly shared pearls of wisdom with the young people of We Just Imagine. Ms. Gray was the best tour guide of ANY of the colleges we visited. 

Dressed for success on the campus of North Carolina A&T
I've noticed that the more colleges we visited, the more comfortable this group has become with the idea of attaining a degree and what they need to do to make it happen.  More importantly, the more colleges we visit, the more likely a student is to find a fit – the kind of perfect fit that leads to not just getting into college, but actually staying, enjoying the experience, and getting the degree.  It’s not a “piece of paper,” as some say, but it is an opportunity to have one of the most rewarding experiences of your young adult life.  It is a time to focus on discovery, research, meeting new people, traveling abroad, joining campus clubs, playing sports and building the kind of foundation that will serve them well in adulthood.

A restaurant on the campus of Hampton University where Rosa Parks used to waitress.

The waterfront at Hampton University

We Just Imagine has helped these amazing students visit colleges from just about every category, including colleges that may not even have been on the radar, such as Norfolk State University.  Witnessing a young person find a possible fit is a beautiful sight to behold.  

A BIG thank you to founder Abby Sondak who had this crazy idea that everyone should have these opportunities, regardless of income.  We Just Imagine started out as an organization whose aim was to send urban youth to sleepover summer camps that they may otherwise not be able to afford.  A win-win situation, the camps become more diverse and We Just Imagine students enjoy amazing summers.  The program has since grown to include community service, ACT prep and college tours.  The idea is to cultivate young people through camp and leadership experiences that will lead to successful college experiences.  She’s on to something.  Something really BIG.  After attending three college tours as a parent chaperone, walking for hours on campuses and listening to their hopes, dreams and aspirations, I have become vested too.  I want to see them succeed.  Most of all, I want them to stay connected once they choose a college, and after they graduate.  In fact, I hope they remain life-long friends.  This group of future college students have become savvy college shoppers, and they are about to take some campus by storm.  Just you wait and see.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

African-Centered Reading Comprehension - A Treasure Within

 As a literacy teacher and homeschool parent, I am big on reading comprehension - do you understand what you are reading and what does it mean to you.  I am testing out a few programs, because for some reason, I can't just use one.  LionHeart's reading didn't blossom until he was about 8 years old, which is considered "late" by left brain learning style benchmarks, but right on time for a right brain learner.  I read to him constantly and still do.  In our home, we are surrounded by books, magazines, curriculum - the printed word is everywhere so there is no escaping it.  I took a page from Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook and never stopped reading aloud to my children, even the oldest.  For my older son I am usually sharing an interesting article.  Many parents seem to think that for a child to improve reading, he must practice reading.  That's only part of the story.  Being read to is just as important, if not more.  Sharing the reading experience and hearing words read fluently and expressively also helps a child improve reading, increase vocabulary, as well as develop a love for reading. 

For the new year, we'll be using a few new resources for reading comprehension.  I will examine them in separate blog posts, starting with my favorite, an African-centered resource written by master teacher and educator Dr. Chike Akua. I am almost giddy about this one.

A Treasure Within:  Stories of Remembrance & Rediscovery

A Treasure Within: Stories of Remembrance & Rediscovery is an African-centered book of stories that translate the deep thinking and philosophy of African people into stories for youth creating many opportunities for comprehension discussions. In these stories readers will find popular culture infused with African world view, moral lessons, African history and adventure.  There is no better way to engage a child in reading.  Dr. Chike Akua says that in writing these stories his purpose was clear: "To reintroduce children to the ancient wisdom of African culture."  For that I am so very grateful.  I am looking forward to completing the The Ten Cardinal Virtues activity with LionHeart, especially "control of thought" and "control of action."  The reader includes 3 stories: A Treasure Within, A Reason for Being and Daniel and the Djembe Drum.  I know my little Djembe player will absolutely love this story.

The parent/teacher resource guide is a gem.  There are more than 10 activities for each of the 3 stories in the reader.  You will find the traditional comprehension and literature activities, such as character analysis and discussion questions.  But you will also find culturally affirming activities such as the Kemetic symbols exercise.  This book represents what I have dreamed of for many years and that is a way to teach African deep thought and philosophy in a way that children can understand and incorporate into their lives. I have always believed if developing a particular skill was the desired outcome, then there is no reason why OUR stories cannot be used.  Dr. Chike has included characters the children can identify with in real life situations that require critical thinking.  The adults are not idiots (as in many Disney programs), instead they are culturally and spiritually conscious and of high integrity, which underscores honoring wisdom and elders in our community.  The stories will start with ancient Kemet and end with the culture of West Africa.  Like my favorite meal, I can't wait to dig in with my son!

For more information and tips on reading comprehension, check out this wonderful blog series at This Reading Mama.  It's 10 weeks of reading comprehension strategies.