Sunday, March 14, 2010

Shurley English - A Success Story for Our Family.

This is the time of year where I review all our curricula. I thought that, this year, I'd write up my reviews and post them on my blog.

We started off our homeschool journey using "First Language Lessons" by Jessie Wise. My kids and I are still trying to work out why people rave about it on TWTM boards as it bored us to tears. My children would beg me not to subject them to any more First Language Lessons torture. I finally gave it up as a bad job.

I then started thinking that teaching grammar formally was not necessary as I never learned formal grammar and I speak and write far better than average. However, as we progressed in our study of Latin using Latin for Children, I realized that I was shortchanging our children by not formally teaching them grammar.

I looked at many grammar programs but discovered that my lack of formal grammar knowledge was a huge problem for me as almost all of them presupposed a basic knowledge on the part of the teacher. Since Latin for Children was written to dovetail with Shurley English, I decided to have a look at the program.

I'm the first to admit that my first look at the teacher's manual nearly had me in tears. It looked so complicated and difficult to master that I nearly put the book back onto the shelf. It was only the high recommendation that the program received from Classical Academic Press, the publishers of "Latin for Children", and my dear friend Andrea, that gave me pause to re-look at the program.

A closer look made me realize that this program does not presuppose that the teacher has any grammar or writing knowledge. So, despite my misgivings, I bought the program.

It took me about 2 weeks to get into my stride with this program, but after that it was plain sailing. Now, we all love using Shurley English.

I love how it is a complete grammar and writing program. When you use Shurley English you do not need to buy separate grammar and writing curricula.

One of the strengths of this program is that all the parts of speech are taught using jingles. You start each lesson by singing all the jingles you've learned to date. My kids just love singing the jingles and will often ask to sing them more than once.

"This little noun, floating around,
names a person, place, or thing.
With a nick-nack-paddy-whack,
these are English rules.
Isn't language fun and cool?"

An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun.
An adjective asks, "What kind? Which one? How many?"
To find an adjective: Go, Ask, Get.
Where do I go? To a noun or pronoun.
What do I ask? What kind? Which one? How many?
What do I get? An ADJECTIVE! (clap) (clap)
That's What!

I find my kids singing these jingles under their breathe when they are unsure of how to to work out the parts of speech in a particular sentence.

I have a very math driven son who really struggled with First Language Lessons. Ben needs to be able to reduce everything to a pattern or system. Shurley English does just that. You are given a "question and answer flow" to use for every sentence that you mark up. It makes working out the various parts of speech so much easier for the children (and mom).

Ben, in particular, loves that he can now see the pattern and he happily marks up his sentences. In fact, my kids love doing this so much that they do not like that they only get three sentences a day from Shurley to mark up. I have to make up more for them every day.

Another huge benefit is that the program is structured to give immediate feedback to the children as they work through a lesson. The children identify the parts of speech in a sentence and then I immediately go through it with them. This allows for immediate correction of mistakes and hopefully they learn not to make this mistake the next time.

I've transferred this concept to our math lessons. We mark each math problem as they do it. They love the immediate feedback and I've found that their skills progress at a rate of knots compared to when they did the same number of problems but only had them checked once they'd done them all. By giving feedback immediately after each problem, the children never repeat the same mistake over and over again. When they repeat the same mistake over and over, they learn the mistake and then you have to spend much more time rewiring their brains as they learn the correction.

Both my kids love how Shurley teaches writing. They like that they are taught a basic skeleton for each form of writing they do. The Shurley method appeals to both my math driven son and my verbal, arty daughter. They both appreciate being able to see a system and then to make it their own by adding their own creative touches. I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly my children's writing improved once we started using Shurley English.

Every week I have my children write two or three paragraphs answering questions based on the previous week's history lessons. I was ecstatic to see how much my children's writing of these paragraphs improved once they did Shurley's lessons on how to write paragraphs. I'm always happy to see skill transference.

I'm in love with their editing and revising charts for writing. Nothing is left to chance. The children are taught, step-by-step, how to revise and edit their writing.

I initially thought that the exercise Shurley gives the children in sentence construction was pretty lame. That only lasted until I saw how much my children enjoyed it. Yesterday I had children jumping up and down with excitement because I wrote one of these up on the board. It's difficult to explain what you do, but I'll give it a bash.

You write the parts of speech labels for a sentence on the board. For example, A Adj SN A Vt Adv V P PPA OP. The children then write up a sentence that follows that format. For this sentence it could be, "The beautiful girl threw the ball to her dog."

That's not the fun part though. Once this sentence is written the children have to change words using one antonym, one word change and one or more synonyms. So, the sentence could turn into, "The rotund boy tossed a fish to his feline." My kids do one serious sentence and one silly sentence each time. I find that it is a great way to bring humor into our school day.

Little do the children realize that they are learning how to revise their writing when they practice this little exercise.

I've heard homeschoolers say that they don't use Shurley because it is too scripted. I like the scripts because it leaves nothing to chance. I know exactly what to teach and how to teach it to my children. That said, I will often read the lesson and then use my own words to teach it. If you are a script hater, please do not let this put you off this program. The benefits to you and your child far outweigh this minor irritation. See research on the benefits of using Shurley English.

I have no doubt that children who are taught English using Shurley English will turn into strong readers and writers. Schools in Athens, GA are finding that Shurley English is causing a dramatic improvement in language arts scores. Here's an article on this here.

Mrs. Shurley is a great supporter of homeschooling and a promoter of writing in the young. Thank you Mrs. Shurley for sponsoring the Book Arts Bash, a writing competition that celebrates our homeschool writers.


Danielle said...

Shez, I must thank you for turning us on to this program. It's been really fun for the kids. They beg to do it and love singing the jingles to any and everyone who cares to listen!!

I think I will try your immediate checking concept with math like it is in this program. Perhaps it will speed up the process and discourage the inevitable lack of focus that creeps in and slows things down.

Shez said...

Danielle, I often have my kids do their math problems on white boards. I give them a problem they do it on the white board then erase it and do the next one.

For some reason they love doing it this way. They do far more problems if we use whiteboards than if we use paper. Also, they do far more problems if we check each on as they do it. I started this when I was teaching them long division. Shira misunderstood something and did an entire page of problems, all with the same mistake. After trying to correct that misunderstanding every day for a week, we changed topics and I only went back to long division a few months later. I don't ever want to be in a situation where I have to reteach something that they've erroneously practiced.

Amy said...


I also really like the immediate feedback idea. I'm going to make a note of that for the future, when I'll be homeschooling. The whiteboard is interesting. I wonder why they will do more problems that way.

christinemm said...

Shez thanks for writing this up. I have heard people rave about Shurley English but no one has explained it this way. I never 'got it'.

We used FLL 1/2, FLL3 and my younger son is using FLL4 (it was published after my older son was too old for it).

A bit of background and my 2 cents.

1. TWTM recommended Shurley English before they published all the FLL. So they like it too.

2. IMO no one every said FLL (any of them) was fun or exciting. My kids blew through it quickly (sometimes 3-4 minutes for one lesson) so we would just jam through 15-20 minutes and do multiple lessons and just 'get it done' thus no time for real boredom as it was over too fast.

3. FLL 1/2 models English for the Thoughtful Child almost exactly IMO.

4. Compared to what else is out there other than Shurley (i.e. Rod and Staff religious and black ink on white paper textbook and Easy Grammar) the FLL is LESS boring.

Glad to hear your kids love it.

No one I know raves of it like this. If I'd heard someone rave of this earlier I'd probably have bought it myself.

My 4th grader will need something next year and I was thinking Rod & Staff is his only choice.

christinemm said...

Clarification: I've heard people on the Internet rave about Shurley but in a vague way not really explaining it or just saying "we love Shurley" but that doesn't help me. You are the only one who I've seen give details.


Amy said...

I'm very interested in Shurley, and was looking at the website. Is the teachers manual necessary? Some are some aren't and the price difference for the whole kit vs. the workbook and cd is substantial.


Shez said...

Amy, you can't do this program without the teacher's manual

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how this compares to the Saxon Grammar and Writing program?

Shez said...

I'm afraid that I don't. I've never even looked at Saxon. Sorry.

Chelle said...

Thank you for the write up. I'm going to look into this further.

Sherri said...

I realize that this is an old review, but someone maybe my comment will still help others. We completed FLL levels 1, 2, and 3 in the past and then tried Shurley English this year. FLL is great. I like the scripting, diagramming of sentences, memorization, and narrations in FLL. However, I prefer Shurley English. Shurley English teaches teaches a part of speech and never leaves it behind. Each day, the student and teacher classify a sentence labeling all parts with their "question and answer flow", what type of sentence it is, label all noun jobs, singular or plural noun, common or proper noun, divide and underline complete subject (once) and complete predicate (twice), and more. This sounds time consuming, but it only takes a few minutes to do 3 sentences and the children enjoy this as they would working a puzzle. It is fun. Parts of speech are not found in isolation, so after a few days children "know" their parts of speech. They know "how" to find the subject noun, verb, adverb, etc. I love the creation of sentences with labels of parts of speech (A, Adj, SN, V, Adv) and then changing a word with a synonym, antonym, or deletion. This is really helping a child to learn how to revise his/her own writing. I love the orderly outlines for writing and checklists for editing/revising. This helps a child to "see" how to write and improve their own writing. I wish Shurley English taught diagramming and more poetry. I know diagramming, so I have them diagram the three sentences after classifying. Again, this only takes a few minutes each day as it is review of all that has been learned up to that point. I really love the repetition of grammar definitions, narrations, copy work, dictation, and poetry memorization of FLL in the early years. So, if I were to start over with another child, I would consider using FLL Level 1 and 2 lightly for K5/1st grade and then jump to Shurley English in second grade for the remaining years of grammar. I hope this helps someone that is on the fence about what to use for grammar and writing.