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 because that review alone needed a lot of 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. In this third edition, the layout is streamlined so that students and parents can easily follow the flow of the lesson plans. This is especially important because of the integration of activities from so many subject areas.
How It Works
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. 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 typical 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 book and when they are to read from one of their two readers.
In many language arts programs, the instruction on grammar, usage, and punctuation has the potential to become redundant. To avoid needless grammar practice, 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 redundancy, but it does help.
The Spelling & Writing 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 harder words is available for students who need more of a challenge. The spelling activities are very creative, varying from lesson to lesson. For instance, page 27 has an image with 17 trees spread out over the page. Students are to draw roads between the trees, then write their words on the roads. The lessons include a few traditional 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, and informative essays. Sometimes they will work with excerpts written by well-known authors. They also learn how to rewrite research information for reports (to avoid plagiarism), and they are 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 that is used to inspire students to write a poem. In another instance, students read a story related to Italy. The course book has lovely artwork showing Italian landscapes that are tied in with an art activity as well as with Italy-related sentences for diagramming. This is followed immediately by a geography lesson about Venice, Italy. 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 so that children learn about those different from themselves. Children are also supposed to read for about 20 minutes a day from 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 book each present nine sentences that include challenging vocabulary words that are used in contexts that help students decipher their meanings. 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 each of the nine sentences until they can read it fluently, then move on to the next.
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. They will label 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 an 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! You need to print only the pages on which children need to write. However, 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 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.