Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew

I have been blessed to be a part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. If you have been around homeschooling for any length of time, you have probably come across an issue of "The Old Schoolhouse" magazine, and like me, enjoyed it greatly. Once I became aware of the great service provided by a large team of real life people who review new products and blog about it, I really became interested in being a part of that. 

Being on the Schoolhouse Review Crew for the last three years has blessed our family and our home school beyond what I could ever describe. We have been exposed to many products that have really enhanced our life - things I would have likely never heard of otherwise. Being a part of the Crew has allowed me to be in on the ground level of testing new products, making suggestions directly to the companies that create them, while giving my children great experiences. Because of the Crew, our family has worked through electives, foreign languages, educational games, books, movies, and curriculum that we would never have been able to experience otherwise. What a tremendous blessing!

I would like to take this moment to share the link to the application for the 2016 Review Year. Applications are now being accepted. If you are a homeschooler with an active blog who likes the challenge of trying new things, and would like to be a blessing as well as receive a blessing, I encourage you to check it out and come join the team! 

For a direct link to the application, click the banner below: 

Schoolhouse Review Crew 2016 Applications

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Homeschooling High School: Language Arts Resources

In our state, students are required to have four credits of English to graduate high school. Language Arts is a broad term that covers English Grammar, Writing, Composition, Spelling, Vocabulary, Literature, and Critical Thinking Skills. Our goal in our home school is to cover all these areas of Language Arts for four years, which is equivalent to four credits.

Thanks to our core curriculum, A Beka, all of these areas are thoroughly integrated into our daily high school program, so there is not a whole lot extra for me to plan to make up the difference. There are a few programs that I have added to reinforce weak areas that my girls have had, and I will write about them here - how they have helped and enhanced our core curriculum.


While I have read much debate in the homeschooling community about whether sentence diagramming is a necessity or not, I would like to advocate that it most certainly is a helpful skill to learn. Being able to pick a sentence apart and correctly identify each part of speech will help the student in so many ways, including comprehension and improvement in their own writing.  Not only that, but learning to properly use punctuation will also make their writing stand out above the crowd, especially as an adult.

Many of the secondary grammar skills, such as identifying various types of clauses and infinitives, are greatly aided when a student learns proper grammar structure. My advice would be to not neglect diagramming and a solid foundation in grammar and punctuation. It should be covered every year starting young, and reviewed every year on a deeper level, until graduation. Most of us never truly 'master' grammar skills, so there is no harm in reviewing them annually for the high school student. Many of their future needed skills in life, including college essays, interviews, scholarship essays, and other job skills will benefit from strong and proper grammar usage.

Writing and Composition

The best way to improve a student's writing is to encourage them to be a reader of fine literature. They will grow accustomed to knowing how sentences are "supposed to sound" and will recognize when their writing is deficient.

While there are many ways to improve writing skills, one of the best ways is to practice, practice, practice! Teach your student to proof read their own work, and re-write when necessary. Edit their papers with a constructively critical eye, and show them how to re-write anything that is less than sound. If you have suggestions for polishing their work, give it. Often students can recognize that their writing 'needs something' but they are not sure exactly how to improve. One thing I have done when correcting and editing is to give two different options for a sentence that needed better structure, then allow the student to choose which one they preferred.

Students should practice writing all types of different papers: research papers, editorials, persuasive essays, dialogues, and journaling are just a few ways to practice various types of writing.

One area that our students found troublesome was writing a biographical sketch. They found it difficult to write about themselves! We used a wonderful program called Fortuigence that assisted in teaching how to layout and construct an essay. We happened to review the "personal statement" program, which was a great help in teaching how to write a biographical sketch without sounding too awkward. The techniques taught in this program are still being used by my now-college student in her essay writing!

Spelling and Vocabulary

Just because they are done with elementary school does not mean high schoolers can let spelling and vocabulary words fall to the wayside! On the contrary, proper spelling makes their writing appear more professional, and good vocabulary words are essential to writing and reading high school level papers and literature! Besides all that, the reading section of the SAT is comprised mostly of questions that demonstrate a strong vocabulary.

There are two programs we have used as resources to assist in spelling and vocabulary. My top go-to program is Vocabulary Spelling City, which can be used for all grade levels, but is especially helpful for review at the high school level. Parents can enter their own lists for the student to practice, or can assign pre-programmed lists. There are SAT vocabulary practice lists already on the program.

For specific SAT type practice, I have found that Wordly Wise is a great program to prepare the student for word analogies, which can be quite challenging. In just a few minutes a day, the student can adequately prepare for the SAT by using either the book or online version.


Promoting reading and interpreting Literature is one of the most important skills that a high schooler must learn. Readers will continue to educate themselves far past their graduation. If you have a reluctant reader, find material that sparks their interest and run with it. Work with them. Read together and discuss the material. It is vital that high schoolers learn how to read with understanding.

Reading the Bible is imperative not only for Christian growth, but to instill a daily personal walk with God in your high schooler's life, and to guide them in their understanding. If your high school student struggles with their daily devotions and Bible reading, then find a program that will help them read through their Bibles, and perhaps take notes or answer questions about what they read. Read it together as a family, so they can enjoy it and learn from others.

Pearson has published a suggested high school reading list of works that a high school student should be familiar with before graduation. Not all may be appropriate for your family's values, but I have found that reading and discussing literature with your high school student, even things that we might deem inappropriate, allows a great opportunity for the parent to point out the flaws and instill good character in their children. Covering age-appropriate vices in literature helps prepare the student for adult life when they will face these topics on their own without the benefit of parental guidance at their side.

During high school, it is important to have the student read early American literature as well as early English literature. So much of what has been written reflects the culture and aids in understanding history.

Literature also includes Poetry. Some students are naturals at poetry, while others have to really work at it. Any good Literature program in high school will also contain an in-depth look at the various styles of poetry as well as reading and interpreting famous poems. Expose your student to some of the great poems of history, as well as your own personal favorites. You never know when they might take a liking to a certain poet and develop a taste for it. I even have my students memorize poems that I have found useful for character building. I have found that even though the complained a little, they really enjoyed having those poems committed to memory.

These are just a few of my ideas and suggestions for enhancing Language Arts in your home school high school. This is really just scratching the surface of the vast materials that are available. If something is not working, do your diligence and find what does. The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has a vast number of resources and reviews to help parents find suitable materials, and has a specific Language Arts Pinterest Board with many great ideas for home school parents to use.

Ready for some more ideas? Visit the other blogs on the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop:

Carol from Home Sweet life shares Homeschooling High School- Language Arts (&History!)
Tess from Circling Through This Life shares Teaching High School Language Arts: Resources
Michele from Family, Faith and Fridays shares Language Arts
Wendy from Life at Rossmont shares Highschool Language Arts
Erica from Be the One shares Language Arts Resources
Kym from Homeschool Coffee Break shares History in the Form of Stories
Debbie from Debbie’s Homeschool Corner shares Teaching High School English
Gena from I Choose Joy shares Homeschool High School: Using Socratic Discussion for Literature Studies
Laura from Day by Day in Our World shares How to Teach High School Language Arts Without Tears

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: Middlebury Interactive Languages French 1

Last school year, we had the privilege of reviewing Middle School French from Middlebury Interactive Languages when Melissa was in 8th grade. It was her first real exposure to the French language, and she was hooked! We had a positive experience with the program, and Melissa desired to further her French studies in high school this year. I was SO overjoyed to again have the opportunity to review a course from Middlebury Interactive Languages this school year. Since Melissa is in 9th grade, we decided to pursue High School French I.  

What is Middlebury Interactive Languages? Middlebury offers extensive foreign language courses in Spanish, French, Chinese, and German for all ages and grade levels. The courses are online and completely interactive for the student, with an intricate, detailed grading system that allows the teacher or parent to know exactly how the student performs, whether they are familiar with the language or not. The program is based on the principles of learning the language by immersion, and exposes the student to real life language situations, while also teaching grammar, context, and culture.

Does the parent need to know the language? No! Especially in the high school level, the student works independently with the program, and the parent is in a supervisor role.

What courses are available for French? In high school, Middlebury offers French 1, 2, and 3, as well as French Fluency 1 and 2, and an AP French course. If desired, a student could take a course for all four years of high school, and fully develop their French language fluency by the time they are completed. The AP course is designed to prepare the student to successfully complete the AP French exam. Each course is designed to last an entire school year, and fulfills one high school credit.

Does French 1 have a pre-requisite? While prior exposure to French instruction might be helpful, there is no pre-requisite necessary for taking French 1. It starts off with basic greetings and vocabulary, and quickly progresses to simple reading and listening skills. Since Melissa took Middle School French last year, some of the topics in the beginning of French 1 have been more of a review than new material, but it has been very helpful review for her.

What is the program like? Middlebury is completely interactive and very interesting. No boring pages of repetitious vocabulary lists. It makes the vocabulary come to life by showing how it is useful in everyday situations.

Here is an example of a 'Speaking Lab' which helps the student practice greetings they have learned.

When the student signs on to the program, they are greeted with their own individual home page, which consists of a calendar of assigned lessons to keep them on track, and a table of contents to show where they left off. I love the fact that the Table of Contents checks off each lesson as it is completed, so the student can start right in on their next assignment without any difficulty.

As the student works through each lesson, there is a nice variety of lessons, both printed and video, as well as an assortment of methods to practice those concepts. Each unit contains practice exercises, journals, comprehension quizzes, and tests. 

The practice exercises use varied methods such as matching, fill in the blanks, and listening skills. While concepts are constantly reviewed and repeated, the methods used to review are not. This makes for a very engaging experience, as the student certainly cannot get bored with so many different presentations of the material! Journal assignments allow the student to practice writing the language, and quizzes test the memory banks for vocabulary words. Tests incorporate all the concepts together and review the entire unit. 

Middlebury has an option that allows the student to record their own French speaking to have it graded, or even just to hear themselves speak the language. 

Exercises and quizzes give instant feedback to allow the student to know whether their answers were correct or not. 

The teacher's favorite part: Middlebury has one of the best teacher grading records of any online program that I have used. It is simple and easy to navigate. I click on the gradebook and am able to get not only an instant course average, but a breakdown of the grades of each assignment and quiz that has been taken, and the date is was taken on. There is also an option for the teacher to view the actual assignment to see the particular question that was missed.

How we are using it: Melissa uses her Middlebury French 1 course four days a week. She typically completes 1-2 lessons each day, depending on how long they are. It takes her about 20 minutes per day. Our goal is to complete the entire course by next Spring.

What we think: Melissa absolutely loves this program. She looks forward to using it everyday, and her best compliment is that it is actually teaching her to read, understand, and USE the language, not just memorize lists of vocabulary words. As a mom, I think this program is extremely effective. It is enjoyable to use, which is half the battle when trying to learn a new language. I enjoy the French culture videos that are interspersed throughout the lessons, as I think they inspire the students with a real purpose to not only learn the language, but also learn about the people that use that language.

I have been so impressed with how much French Melissa is learning and retaining. She is able to read and interpret paragraphs of written French, and several times we have come across a French speaking person who will ask her a question in French and she is actually able to answer them - in French! If just working through this program for a short time has instilled that much understanding, I look forward to how much French she will know after completing the course! I highly recommend Middlebury Interactive Languages for your home school.  

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