See the complete review in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
Classical educators have brought attention to a language arts program that might otherwise have had little visibility in the homeschool marketplace. Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts program (MCT) should be viewed as collections of five books per level beginning about third or fourth grade level. There are six levels (or years) available. Although written with gifted students in mind, these might be used for a much broader range of students up through high school, adjusting the choice of levels appropriately. The program covers grammar, composition, poetry, and vocabulary, all at more challenging levels than are typically found in other texts for comparable grade levels. While you can use some of the books on their own, the integration of the five books for each level creates a synergistic effect: the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The catalog shows the six levels divided into two sets with the first three levels designated “elementary” and the second three levels “secondary.” However, “secondary” books are suggested for grades six and up. Despite the grade level recommendations, I would suggest starting at the beginning of the series in most situations since there is a cumulative “building” process that occurs with these books that might be difficult to plug into midstream. Following is a list of the five titles for each level with suggested grade levels.
Level 1 - for 3rd grade and up:
Grammar Island, Practice Island, Building Language, The Music of the Hemispheres, Sentence Island
Level 2 - for 4th grade and up:
Grammar Town, Practice Town, Caesar’s English I (or CEE 1), Building Poems, Paragraph Town
Level 3 - for 5th grade and up:
Grammar Voyage, Practice Voyage, Caesar’s English II (or CEE 2), A World of Poetry, Essay Voyage
Level 4 - for 6th grade and up:
Magic Lens 1, 4 Practice 1, The Word Within the Word 1, Poetry and Humanity, Advanced Academic Writing 1
Level 5 - for 7th grade and up:
Magic Lens 2; 4 Practice 2; The Word Within the Word 2; Poetry, Plato and the Problem of Beauty; Advanced Academic Writing 2
Level 6 - for 8th grade and up:
Magic Lens 3; 4 Practice 3; The Word Within the Word 3; Poetry, Plato and the Problem of Truth; Advanced Academic Writing 3
Each book has both a student text and a teacher manual. However, in some cases you are able to get away with purchasing only the teacher manual if you are teaching a single student since the manual includes the student’s text. Students always need to see the pages since artwork and layout are often as much a part of a lesson as the text. Thus, a student and teacher may work together in a book if need be, but the student DOES need access to each book. (Students definitely need to write in the Practice books—Practice Island, Practice Town, etc, but these are the only ones that function like workbooks.) Teaching information is often separated into a section at the back of the teacher manual, but some of the teacher manuals have small boxes and circles with teaching suggestions overprinted on student pages. These are unobtrusive enough that you can still have a child reading from the book....
Thompson’s approach especially appeals to classical educators for a number of reasons. Most obvious is vocabulary study based upon Latin and Greek stems. (A brilliant addition is Thompson’s occasional references to Spanish vocabulary and grammar since Spanish, too, draws on Latin roots and is a “living” language with which students can easily connect.) Use of classical literary examples as lesson material and composition assignments based upon literature are just a few examples of how literature is incorporated. Thompson frequently uses a Socratic approach for teaching—using questions to help students discover answers or concepts for themselves. Socratic questions are really just part of a comprehensive teaching methodology that both expects and demands students to be mentally engaged with the learning process at a high level. It is very respectful of the student, but it will not work well for an unmotivated student.
Another critical element—sometimes missing in other classical resources—is the inclusion of poetry instruction at each level.
Although the five books for each level have different titles from year to year, they cover five strands: grammar, grammar practice, writing (composition), vocabulary, and poetry.
[Note: extensive descriptions of the five strands are included in the complete review in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.]
Update on Michael Clay Thompson's Literature Study Courses
(This section is revised from my original review since two new series have been added.)
A literature component is an optional part of this curriculum. Literature courses can be also be used apart from the rest of the curriculum, but they refer to learning strategies taught within the other courses and work best in conjunction with them.
The six literature courses are suggested for use with specific levels in the MCT language arts curriculum since they become progressively more challenging.
The courses are:
Level 1, The Mud Trilogy, features three novels about Mud the fish (from Sentence Island) written by Michael Clay Thompson.
Level 2, Alice, Peter, and Mole, includes the three novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wind in the Willows.
Level 3, The Search Trilogy, includes Treasure Island, The Call of the Wild, and The Invisible Man.
Literature Level (an interim level for students not yet ready for Level 5): The Time Trilogy, studies A Christmas Carol, The Time Machine, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Level 4, The Shadow Trilogy, leads students through The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Level 5, The Dickens Trilogy, features A Christmas Carol, The Cricket on the Hearth, and The Chimes: A Goblin Story.
Level 6, Autobiography, studies the non-fiction works The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, and Walden.
The books studied are special editions annotated by Thompson. Annotations include vocabulary definitions, four-level analysis of selected sentences, and comments on literary elements. Thompson places the emphasis on reading and discussion instead of worksheets and comprehension questions. He includes in the parent manual selected quotations for oral “quote quizzes” where students identify either the speaker or who or what is being described. He also provides “Creative Questions and Activities” that you will most likely use for discussion as well as “Study Questions” that may be assigned for written work. Thompson provides many suggestions as to how you might use the various learning strategies with children of different ages. The parent manuals are a delight to read. I am certain that you will find them illuminating and entertaining as well instructional.
The five books for each level work together, and literature studies now round out the language arts curriculum. Grammar books provide an understanding of the structure of language used throughout all the books. Vocabulary study prepares students to explore a wider variety of literature with understanding. Poetry books feed the imagination for writing and allow students to experience the beauty of aptly chosen words they might have just learned in their vocabulary study. And all of this prepares students to be able to express ideas in their own writing. I suspect that most parents will be inspired by these books, just as I was, since they reveal aspects of language arts that offer beauty and meaning.
Royal Fireworks Press offers either complete or basic homeschool packages for the language arts curriculum at discounted prices through their website with package prices ranging from $135 to $230 per level. Basic packages eliminate teacher manuals or student books when it is possible to work with only one or the other. Prices for the MCT literature program can be found at www.rfwp.com/series/mct-literature-program.
The Royal Fireworks Press website also has Michael Clay Thompson’s free downloads, video clips and implementation slide shows to assist parents, and the publisher sponsors online support forums to which both the publisher and the author regularly contribute.