I previously reviewed the language arts courses for the elementary grades from The Good and the Beautiful in a very lengthy review. When they introduced the third edition of Language Arts: Level Four, I had to write a separate review for that course because that review alone had to be rather long to give me space to describe it properly. Level Four has much in common with the rest of the series, but it also has some innovative features that deserve mention.
Level Four teaches writing, reading skills, spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, literature, vocabulary, geography, art skills, and art appreciation. Coursework in all of these areas is often integrated for more effective learning.
The course components are the Level Four: Course Book, Level Four: World Biographies Reader, Level Four: Personal Reader, and the Spelling & Writing Level Four Workshops book. Both the course book and the Spelling & Writing book are in full color and include lovely artwork, photos, and other illustrations. Students will write directly in both of these books.
The 270-page course book presents one lesson per day for four days each week. It has very brief instructions for the parent at the beginning of each lesson that let them know what they will need to do. Otherwise, the lessons are written directly to students so they can work independently. They just follow along in order.
Instructional material in the course book covers grammar, usage, punctuation, vocabulary, geography, and art, and it is accompanied by exercises, sentence diagramming, map work, art images, art-activity instructions, space for writing summaries of stories from the readers, and occasional recipes. It also lets students know when they are to complete each lesson in their Spelling & Writing Level Four Workshops book and when they are to read from one of their two readers.
The instruction for grammar, usage, and punctuation has the potential to become redundant as occurs in so many language arts programs. So Level Four has three section reviews that test students in these areas. Then students are assigned additional practice on only the concepts they haven't mastered. (This is a brilliant idea!) It doesn't eliminate all of the potential for redundancy, but it does help.
The Spelling & Writing Level Four Workshops lessons correlate with the course book but concentrate on spelling and composition skills. Students will do a spelling workshop one day and a writing workshop the next day, continually alternating between them in this 210-page book.
The spelling lessons have students work with rules, spelling patterns, base words, suffixes, prefixes, contractions, and challenging words. A chart of Challenging Spelling Words in the appendix--with words such as wrist, tongue, nephew, and scissors--is the source for some of the words the student will study. Students are initially quizzed on those words to identify precisely the words they need to work on. An additional list with bonus words is available for students who need more of a challenge. The spelling activities are very creative, varying from lesson to lesson. They include a few traditional-type exercises, but most activities are unique and are designed to suit various learning styles. There are no traditional spelling tests. This entire approach to spelling is very innovative.
The writing instruction is very well developed in the Spelling & Writing Level Four Workshops lessons. Many different strategies are used as children learn to write paragraphs, poems, letters, informative essays, and how to rewrite information for reports. Sometimes they will work with excerpts written by well-known authors. Students are also introduced to proofreading.
The integration of subject areas around themes occurs in a number of ways. For instance, when students learn about the artist Carl Frederik Aagaard in their course book, they have a related art appreciation activity within a writing lesson that is used to inspire students to write a poem. In another instance, students are reading a story in one of the readers that relates to Italy. The coursebook has lovely artwork showing Italian landscapes. The Italian landscapes are tied in with an art activity as well as with sentence diagramming. This is followed immediately by a geography lesson on Venice, Italy. It sounds a bit odd when I write about it, but the integration often flows in this meandering fashion.
Children will do a good deal of independent reading using the World Biographies Reader and the Personal Reader. Both books include a large percentage of stories about people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Children are also supposed to read for about 20 minutes a day from recommended literature on their level.
In addition, reading skills are also developed with the Challenging Sentence Climb. Eight "ladders" in the appendix of the Spelling & Writing Level Four Workshops book each present nine sentences that include challenging vocabulary words in context. For instance, one sentence on the second ladder reads, "The young child felt gratification when she succeeded in correcting her illegible handwriting." Children practice reading all nine sentences (one at a time) until they can read them fluently. The ladders are presented in association with colorful images of homes and a colorful bird from different cultures and countries.
For art, children learn about artists such as Carl Frederik Aagaard, Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh. Students will learn to work with pastels so they will need a set of chalk pastels, art tape, a spray ﬁxative, and watercolor or pastel paper.
Geography instruction teaches some basic concepts such as cardinal directions, map reading, and types of maps. It also focuses on particular countries or geographic features such as Belgium, Mt. Everest, the Mediterranean, and, Washington D.C. You will need tracing paper for some map work since students will trace maps from the book, labeling their traced maps rather than writing in the book.
Lessons should take about 30 minutes per day, four days per week, and direct teaching time should take from two to seven minutes per day. (Occasionally there are longer articles that the parent will read aloud to the child from the course book.) Adding in the independent reading time, the total lesson time should run about one hour most days.
As with the other language arts courses for grades one through five from The Good and The Beautiful, PDF files for all course components are free! Printed books are available for purchase. Also, a free PDF answer key is available at the publisher's website.
The streamlined layout of this course is a big improvement from the previous edition, and its innovative approaches for teaching offer promising alternatives that should work for many types of learners. It's hard to believe this is still a free program when so much work has obviously been devoted to a thorough rewrite for this edition. Even if you purchase the printed version of the course, it's a terrific value.