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Using MCT with a 2nd grader?


gck21
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Has anyone used some or all of Michael Clay Thompson's language arts curriculum with a child younger than the recommended 8-10? I am looking at it for a 7 year old who will turn 8 in December. I know grades are subjective, but, since the materials are so pricey,  I am held back by the fact that he advertises the program for gifted 3rd graders and my son is entering 2nd grade in the fall. The samples online don't look extremely difficult, but they are fairly short snippets.

I have struggled this year to engage my son with any grammar, spelling, or writing. He reads and comprehends well (over Christmas we read A Christmas Carol together and, while he doesn't free read at that level, he could manage it with me), but he struggles to get a good sentence written out on his own. His spelling is...maybe at grade level, certainly not above. He can't remember to capitalize the first word in a sentence and put a mark of punctuation at the end. He can't be bothered to remember what a noun is. If his grammar book asks him to circle the subject of a sentence, he'll go down the line circling the predicate...again because he doesn't care and is just ticking off a box for me. He dutifully completes his copywork, his spelling workbook, and his grammar book, but as we close out the year with the workbooks, I am seeing how little he has retained from them. I started the year out very parent-directed with FLL, AAS, and copywork, and he disliked that so much (like tears every day level) that I turned to the workbooks thinking he could just read the information and get it with a quick exercise. In general he is a very quick learner. Now I go back to thinking he needs more parent involvement, but different. Something that lets him know why spelling and knowing what a noun is can be interesting and powerful. Is MCT what I am looking for? I think a different parent could just find these sparks with readalouds and could organically work grammar and writing into life, but I am not a very sparky kind of parent. I do better when I have a program laid out for me and I can edit within that. 

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So many thoughts...

 - Some rising second graders don't connect with spelling or grammar yet.  That is okay.  There is no real reason he needs to know what a noun is for many years, and spelling will click when it clicks.  Personally, at that age I simply expose them to grammar (via Grammar Land, The Sentence Family, Brian Cleary books, etc) and don't really expect them to put it into practice for several more years.  We do consistently work on spelling once they are strong readers, but I don't expect a lot of it to carry over to their other writing yet.

 - My rising second grader cannot write a good sentence on his own, and I don't expect it of him.  I expect him to be able to copy sentences, and write short, simple sentences from dictation.  I also expect him to be able to orally narrate several strong sentences on a topic...and my goal this coming year will be to move him toward orally narrating 3-4 sentence, well-organized paragraphs.  I will also start having him do sentence length written narrations, but initially I expect those to be pretty rudimentary sentences.

 - I have used MCT with second graders.  We LOVE the grammar, vocabulary and poetry books.  We tried and did not like the practice book.  We never even tried the writing book; I heard far too often that it doesn't offer a lot of guidance or support and that it has very unusual assignments.  That is not what we were looking for in a writing program.  Also, while the other books did engage and interest my kids in language arts, they didn't really teach any of the nitty gritty skills you are looking for.  Spelling and punctuation are not a focus in MCT.

 - If you do get MCT materials, you might consider the ebook versions.  That way you don't have to decide between the printed student edition, teacher edition, or both.  Also the ebook versions have several nice features like audios of the poems and interactive grammar exercises.

 - I have used Writing with Ease with all my reluctant writers.  They like the book excerpts (and often want me to read them the whole book), they don't mind the copywork (and WWE points out to the instructor what grammar and punctuation to teach and emphasis for each copywork assignment), and the oral narrations start simply, but then gradually build until they are narrating strong paragraphs.

 - I would strong recommend you listen to Susan Wise Bauer's lecture on teaching elementary writing (and the later ones on middle and high school too if you want to see the progression of skills).  The lectures are currently free.  I have found them so helpful over the years.

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That Mad Lib game is excellent! That is what I meant about being a sparky parent-- I really enjoy doing things like that, but in the course of day-to-day life, I am just not that inventive. I love to get stuck into a subject with my kids and research it all the day long, but I can't think of a time I have ever come up with a game like that!

Just to be clear though, we were not having tears every day with the workbook approach (that was the FLL+AAS), it is just that I have realized the workbooks were busy work. It might have been only 10 minutes a day, but that was 10 minutes wasted. When I read multiple people saying MCT was a "snuggle up on the couch and do grammar" approach, it sounded like might be a good fit for a child who does love language and loves to read but is turned off by the FLL approach and isn't getting much from a little workbook page.

I should also clarify that I was mostly thinking about MCT books for grammar/general language fun and I wasn't looking at it as a writing program. I should have mentioned that! There is no way his writing program would be good for my son right now, plus I do generally follow the WTM approach to writing. The only "writing" I did this year was oral narrations for history and science readings and copywork.  I put Games for Writing by Peggy Kaye in our summer basket, and I was surprised that playing these games has been a huge hit (but it was through this that I noticed the skills we "covered" by workbooks were weak).

We were going to be on sabbatical abroad next year, so I wasn't planning on doing anything for language arts other than copywork and reading. I don't want to add unnecessary things into our day just because plans have changed, but this program intrigued me. It looked like an simpler version of Grammarland  (plus poetry!) from the sample? 

I will definitely check out that Susan Wise Bauer lecture, thank you so much! I hadn't looked into WWE very much due to our experience with FLL, but I just found a used copy on ebay and am excited to try that for writing. Thank you for all the suggestions.   

 

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We used it in third and it was fantastic.  If you're only worried about this year, it might be fine.  If you continue the series, you may have to take a break or slow down when you get further in - we found the Voyage level writing to be too difficult for my current 5th grader.  We did all of the other books in the Voyage set, and we'll use the Essay book next year in 6th.  There is also no rush to do grammar in 2nd unless you just want to.  

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1 hour ago, gck21 said:

Just to be clear though, we were not having tears every day with the workbook approach (that was the FLL+AAS), it is just that I have realized the workbooks were busy work. It might have been only 10 minutes a day, but that was 10 minutes wasted. 

I'm a little confused.  Neither FLL or AAS are workbooks.  And neither of them are my definition of busy work.  Both are quite teacher intensive, both engage the child in interactive learning and review, and both use a variety of meaningful activities to learn necessary skills.  (Yes, FLL is repetitive - oh, my goodness, is it repetitive - but that can be easily overcome by skipping lessons if the student demonstrates mastery.)

If a child is not learning from FLL or AAS, then there could be several issues, but I don't think the curricula being busy work, workbook, wastes of time is really one of them.  Either the child is not clicking with them.  Or the parent is not clicking with them.  Or the child is placed at the wrong level and is finding the work too easy or too hard.  Or the program is being used too fast and a lot more time needs to be spent on review (copious amounts of which are built in to both of those programs). 

But it is also worth considering that perhaps the child is learning just fine and simply isn't at the stage of being able to apply that knowledge in other domains...honestly, my 9 year old is in AAS 3, and the other day he spelled "uninhabited" correctly in a narration, and in the same paragraph spelled "up" wrong. 🤨  Writing is a multi-faceted skill that takes a lot of brainpower, so just because a child misspells words that they "should" know from their spelling work, does not necessarily mean that they aren't learning from the spelling curriculum.

Wendy

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I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful the poetry curriculum is. It isn’t just the content, it’s the way he injects a spirit of awe and wonder toward the use of language into every lesson. I taught the 3rd and 4th grade books at grade level at a small private school and poetry was absolutely the highlight of our time together - and later teachers told me how those students retained both the concepts and a love for poetry. 

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Wendy, I am sorry, in trying to explain the (convoluted) path that brought me to considering MCT, I have been confusing. The first part of this academic year, I started out using FLL, AAS, and copywork for language arts. That was the tear-inducing month. Those aren't workbook programs, I agree! 

Since FLL and AAS seemed very easy for him, I thought it might give him more satisfaction to just power through a workbook on his own, so I switched to Spelling Workout and Language Lessons for a Living Education (grammar and spelling, but I didn't have him do the writing assignments) and kept copywork/handwriting projects in the mix. He finished the year with those. It wasn't tear-inducing (yay!), but it wasn't inspiring either as it seems as soon as the workbook page was done, he filed the information in "no longer need to know". 

So now I'm trying to analyze the last year and move forward with what I've learned about him. He's my first, as if you couldn't tell, haha. 🙂

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6 hours ago, gck21 said:

Wendy, I am sorry, in trying to explain the (convoluted) path that brought me to considering MCT, I have been confusing. The first part of this academic year, I started out using FLL, AAS, and copywork for language arts. That was the tear-inducing month. Those aren't workbook programs, I agree! 

Since FLL and AAS seemed very easy for him, I thought it might give him more satisfaction to just power through a workbook on his own, so I switched to Spelling Workout and Language Lessons for a Living Education (grammar and spelling, but I didn't have him do the writing assignments) and kept copywork/handwriting projects in the mix. He finished the year with those. It wasn't tear-inducing (yay!), but it wasn't inspiring either as it seems as soon as the workbook page was done, he filed the information in "no longer need to know". 

So now I'm trying to analyze the last year and move forward with what I've learned about him. He's my first, as if you couldn't tell, haha. 🙂

One thing to know about MCT is that it is a pretty short program.  My son read through Grammar Island in an afternoon.  I mean, we then went though it again together a bit more slowly, but a lot of the information is (or at least felt to my son) very basic, and he chafed at going too slowly.  The poetry book, which again I LOVE, is also relatively short.  They are very cuddle-on-the-couch books, but for us that meant they were easy, enjoyable reads, and the kids wanted to treat them like a story book that you read in one sitting.

I'm curious in what way AAS was very easy for your son.  I completely understand FLL being too easy, none of my kids could stand that book, but I have always found AAS highly adaptable for learners of all speeds.  By the time my kids start AAS 1, they already have a strong phonics base and some exposure to spelling, so I skip them to Step 11 in AAS.  Then we move as fast or slow as they need.  I've looked at many spelling programs over the years with my 4 kiddos, and I think AAS is the most challenging I have come across...not that that means it is the right choice for everyone, or that it will work for every child, but I have a hard time reconciling it being too easy for a child who is also experiencing spelling struggles.

Wendy

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I’m an MCT package user who always uses the practice book.  I really don’t think you get the true benefit of the program without it.  First few practice sentences are easy and might seem worthless/not necessary, but it builds up and reinforces the grammar so that the child internalizes it, rather than just reading about it once in the beginning of the year.  That said, you can definitely use the first level with an interested second grader, but also agree with pp who said not necessary to do grammar in second, and the pp who said the series ramps up and you may want to slow down at some point if the student isn’t ready for the subsequent levels. 

My favorite part of MCT is the vocabulary. Grammar with the practice and the vocab are my “must do” recommendations if you are going to use MCT. 

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My dd's both used the MCT curriculum from elementary to middle school.  The Level 1 curriculum doesn't have a lot going on, but it was elementary level after all.  We spent most of our time working through the practice books, 4-level analysis of  2 sentences per day.  That practice I think really sealed their understanding of grammar and usage for years to come.  I'm also a huge fan of Caesar's English for vocabulary.  Just an amazing beautiful way to learn vocabulary.  Unfortunately we were not fans of WWW...why did he change up what was such a lovely approach to vocab?  Also, the more advanced grammar books did not dove tail with the practice, so it was hard to really be fluent with some of the more advanced grammar concepts, but it all seemed so advanced anyway, I didn't care.  Finally I agree with others that the high school level writing curriculum just wasn't enough for me; by middle school I was outsourcing writing instruction anyway since I'm so bad at it myself.  

Since dd won an essay contest and has been writing essays successfully for various things, and her verbal SATs are strong, I can recommend MCT.    

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If your kiddo is a strong reader and loves language, I think it's worth trying. Island is cute and whimsical, definitely a cuddle-together-on-the-couch curriculum. If he doesn't respond well, shelve it and try again in a few months or a year. The Mud Trilogy was/is well loved by all of my kids. It's worth including that literature trilogy whenever you do Island level.

We've only used the first three levels of MCT, so I can only speak to those. I'm curious about the upper levels, too.

My oldest DS started Island as a third grader and it was really too easy for him by that point. We worked on it for ~15 minutes per day and finished the entire level in about 3 months. He did Town in 4th (a perfect fit), Voyage in 5th (bit of a stretch when he got to the writing book), and then moved onto other ELA in 6th. 

I started my next kid with Island as a 6.75yo 2nd grader. He worked on it on the side while in public school, and it lasted most of the year for him and was a good fit at the time. He took a gap year in 3rd (Town was going to be too much), and then started Town in 4th but never finished because the homework for PS didn't really leave enough time for much afterschooling. He's now a rising 6th grader and just not that interested in language arts anymore, or really anything academic for that matter, so he probably won't go back to MCT.

DS#3 started Island level about half way through kinder, two weeks after he turned 6yo, and that was perfect timing for him. He did Town spread out over what would have been 1st and 2nd grade, and he's all set to do the Voyage class through RFWP Online this fall in 3rd grade. Admittedly, however, he's a bit of an outlier.

Still, I really think an elementary kid at a 3rd/4th+ grade reading level who shows interest and responds well can be successful with Island. The second level, Town, is a pretty big jump up from Island. If you start Island early, you may need a gap year between Island and Town -- but maybe not. It depends on the kid.

 

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On 6/6/2020 at 7:09 PM, wendyroo said:

 

 - I have used MCT with second graders.  We LOVE the grammar, vocabulary and poetry books.  We tried and did not like the practice book.  We never even tried the writing book; I heard far too often that it doesn't offer a lot of guidance or support and that it has very unusual assignments.  That is not what we were looking for in a writing program.  Also, while the other books did engage and interest my kids in language arts, they didn't really teach any of the nitty gritty skills you are looking for.  Spelling and punctuation are not a focus in MCT.

 

My daughter LOVES the practice books. She asks to do three sentences a day and sometimes more. We're on our fourth practice book and doing it through the summer. I think DD sees them as a grammar puzzle.

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On 6/7/2020 at 5:17 AM, wendyroo said:

I'm curious in what way AAS was very easy for your son.  I completely understand FLL being too easy, none of my kids could stand that book, but I have always found AAS highly adaptable for learners of all speeds.  By the time my kids start AAS 1, they already have a strong phonics base and some exposure to spelling, so I skip them to Step 11 in AAS.  Then we move as fast or slow as they need.  I've looked at many spelling programs over the years with my 4 kiddos, and I think AAS is the most challenging I have come across...not that that means it is the right choice for everyone, or that it will work for every child, but I have a hard time reconciling it being too easy for a child who is also experiencing spelling struggles.

The "spelling is easy" judgment came at the beginning of the academic year (and was probably too influenced by my idea that since reading came easily to him, spelling would too), The "spelling may be more difficult than I thought" judgment is from now, as I am watching him spell more in the wild. We are taking a complete break for a few weeks, but since it is going to be a stay-at-home summer for us, I thought we might start again with AAS over the summer. It sounds like it has worked well for you!

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I start MCT at five years old without the practice book. We practice in funner ways at that age, usually just orally thinking of silly parts of speech. The books are engaging for reading aloud, so I don't think you can go wrong using it as an interest point. However, the practice is not broken down one point at a time like most beginning grammar programs that start with identifying just nouns for awhile, then verbs, and so on. That aspect of MCT might be too much for a young kid not interested. 

Have you seen The Sentence Family? We do that before MCT because it focuses on just the parts of speech and types of sentences one at a time. There's a character for each type of sentence or part of speech with characteristics and a short story that helps you remember them. The guide suggests having the child draw their own version of the character, but if your kid isn't into drawing then he could create a Lego character or whatever interests him.

You can also use Silly Sentences to sort parts of speech and do Mad Libs for the very basics. 

MCT is a great program and it does check the boxes of being fun and showing why and how language choices can be powerful and interesting, so it could work for you. But the practice book is just straight diagramming.

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