Finding the Language Arts Curriculum That’s Right for You
Whether you are in a PSP that provides curriculum or you are choosing your own textbooks, it is important to know what to look for in a language arts curriculum. No matter what your child’s reading level, the right curriculum can enhance and challenge your child’s reading development, comprehension, and fluency. It can be quite tempting to simply go with a curriculum that has been recommended by someone you trust, but how do you know it will work well for your child? Sometimes we don’t know until we try it. Clouding the issue even further are the numerous language arts options available, each claiming innovative learning strategies. Some are purely workbook studies, while others use a hands-on approach. A number of language arts curriculum uses traditional pedagogy, while others are designed with classical education in mind. How does one process all of this in order to make the best choice?
Most of us are not experts in the field of language arts and could use a few pointers. I asked Dr. June Hetzel, Dean, School of Education at Biola University, what considerations we should have when looking at language arts curriculum for our children. She offered the following advice:
- Look for a balance of reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities. If you see a lack in one area, be sure to supplement to bring balance to your child’s literacy program.
- In reading, ensure that there is a rich selection of literature from a variety of genres. Be sure you add in a huge amount of recreational reading, regardless of the curriculum, to ensure that your child enjoys reading and develops fluency.
- Look for a curriculum that emphasizes vocabulary development. Look for literature selections that will challenge your student and expose him or her to advanced vocabulary. If this is not included in your curriculum of choice, systematically study Greek and Latin roots.
- Look for curriculum that expands your child’s exposure to multiple perspectives. For example, do the literature anthologies expose your child to countries and cultures from around the world?
- Look for a balance of fiction and non-fiction literature so that your child begins to develop an internal sense of how literature is structured (e.g., problem-solution, timeline, narrative, etc.).
- Look for curriculum that includes writing from all four domains: narrative, informative, persuasive and descriptive. Include writing assignments in all four domains.
- Look for curriculum that is visually appealing and motivating to your student. Your curriculum is competing with the media!
- Make sure skills are included in your language arts curriculum. For example, your child should know his or her basic grammar, how to organize a persuasive essay, how to write a speech, etc. Children should also have a strong mastery of phonics, affixes, and root words. Children should also develop fluency and strong comprehension skills, which includes critical thinking.
- Make sure your curriculum is written from a Christian worldview so that there is synchronicity between your faith training in your home and the literature that your children read. As your children get older, introduce them to opposing points of view and help them critically evaluate other worldviews through the lens of Scripture.
- Whether or not your language arts curriculum includes it, visit the library every week and immerse your children in the world of books and literature. Encourage them to read, read, read. The more they read, the better writers they will become and the more they will enlarge their vocabulary and be conversant in the world of ideas.
- Augment your curriculum by attending plays and musicals, when you can, and involve your children in putting on plays, Reader’s Theater, speeches, puppet plays, debates, etc. The more they involve themselves in oral language and the joy of communication, the more influential they will be in the world of ideas.
As you begin to process this information, keep in mind Dr. Hetzel’s parting words for us, “Whichever curriculum you choose, make language arts FUN and give your children the tools they need to be world changers!”
Dr. Hetzel specializes in literacy processes and curriculum development. A former public and private school teacher and administrator, as well as in-house editor, she has authored 18 teacher resource books, including Responding to Literature (1993; 2002). She also co-authored the text, The Literacy Gaps (2009) and recently completed editing eight levels of textbooks for English Learners, entitled Passport to Adventure (2014). She has written articles for numerous journals, including the Journal of Psychology and Theology, Evangelizing Today’s Child, the Home School Researcher, and Christian School Education. Dr. Hetzel has spoken for a variety of conferences, including the Oxford Round Table, Oxford University; a homeschooling conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand; the ACSI regional administrator’s conference in Malta; and numerous other regional conferences.