In Understanding Writing Susan Bradrick has successfully combined the teaching of language and composition skills in a format that adapts easily to multi-level teaching and is totally Christ-centered in philosophy. This is an approach to writing that places equal emphasis on development of skills and development of godly character. Comprehensive as it is, there are some areas of language arts not included. These are phonics, penmanship, reading, spelling, and literature. Junior high level grammar is taught by combining Understanding Writing instruction with the grammar materials recommended in the text. Also, the text teaches students to refer to a dictionary, a thesaurus, and the recommended English handbooks at all levels.
This one-inch-thick book is divided into three parts: "Part I, ‘Rethinking Writing' deals with the theory behind an effective approach for studying English composition; Part II, ‘Understanding the Basic Elements of Writing,' discusses the elements of content, style, and mechanics essential for effective writing and gives examples of each; Part III, ‘Teaching the Basic Elements of Writing,'... provides detailed lessons for teaching your child to master the content, style, and mechanical skills of effective, God-honoring written communication."
Although Part III is divided into twelve levels, they need not necessarily correlate to grade levels. Instead, we should use the Diagnostic Check List in the Appendix to identify which goals have been accomplished within each level, then determine from there a starting point for each child. Children of varying skill levels can easily be instructed at the same time upon a new concept, then work at their ability level in their individual writing time. (The Bradricks have used this method successfully with their nine children.) Each child maintains an "English notebook" (folder or three-ring binder containing drafts of written work rather than copied exercises), and there is no need to purchase student books other than dictionaries or thesauruses.
This is not an independent study curriculum. Lessons are dependent upon teacher presentation at all levels, although students in junior and senior high should be able to do most of their grammar work and some of their writing independently. Lessons are structured in units with daily assignments that include a balance of discussion and writing time that varies according to a child's level. While most lessons require no parent preparation time, the few that do state this clearly at the beginning of the lesson. For example, instruction at the beginning of a second level lesson says, "Read the sections on adjectives and adverbs in your English handbooks."
Children write about personal experiences and observations rather than fiction until the high school level. Suggested topics are included in the appendix. Because the thrust of this curriculum is mastery of God-honoring communication, most composition assignments are to be written for a specific reader. They are also to be actually delivered (usually in letter form) to that individual so that a habit of skillful, genuine communication is the result of the student's writing study.
A reproducible "Composition Planning and Evaluation Sheet" is used to help students think through their composition before they begin, then provide key areas for parents to address in their evaluations. (These sheets are also available from the publisher in pads of fifty, three-hole-punched sheets.)
With the book, we also receive a special template for making lines on unlined paper so unskilled writers can still use nice stationery without their writing wandering all over the page.
Understanding Writing should be an excellent curriculum for those who like well-structured material with clear goals that retains flexibility enough for multi-level teaching.