Friday, April 1, 2016

Memoria Press: Second Grade Literature (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

One way or another, I'm going to get Jude to love reading.  Right now, I'll settle for "doesn't dread it."  It's a start, right?  Memoria Press is a twenty-plus year old company that believes in the Classical method of education, including using quality literature that has stood the test of time.  While Memoria Press offers a full packaged curriculum for homeschoolers, they also offer some of the components as stand-alone units.  Jude has been working through their Second Grade Literature Package for the last six weeks. When we began, reading with Jude was torture, but I'm very impressed with how quickly his reading skills have progressed and how much he has come to enjoy the stories in the program.

Finding literature programs for Jude is difficult.  He is caught between needing "easy to read" books and being "too old" for standard early readers.  When we were given the opportunity to review Memoria Press' program, I was torn between the third grade program and the second grade one that we have been using.  The books that they have chosen for each level are definitely above what you'd expect a typical second or third grader to read, so we ultimate chose to "back down" with the program.  One thing I appreciated is that the consumable workbooks are labeled by book title, not by grade level.  This made it easy for Jude to work in them and not feel like he's being held back.  When you're eight, there's no convincing you the that it doesn't matter that The Courage of Sarah Noble has a fourth grade reading level if the book says "Second Grade" and you KNOW you're in third.  This level contains Literature Study Workbooks for five books plus a Teacher's Answer Key.  (Yes, the key is labeled for second grade, but I slyly flipped the cover open to our current selection, and Jude didn't notice.)  You can purchase the full program with the novels as well, but I like having the workbook-only option, especially if you already have the books in the program.

Indulge me for a moment, and my newfound obsession with Reading Levels.  Jude didn't begin reading until about 18 months ago - the start of "second" grade.  For almost a year, Jude was what I'd call a "functional" reader -- he could read directions on a worksheet, or a grocery list, or a text description of something.  Reading books was still beyond him.  Last fall, we attempted a literature study for was Sam the Minuteman (RL 2.2/410L), and I was both surprised and pleased with how well he did at comprehending the book.  My goal is to find books that challenge him, but aren't so difficult that he can't follow the story.  Using Lexile's Find a Book recommendations, that means he should be capable of books 100 points lower and up to 50 points higher.  There is more to judging a book than just a Lexile number.  Things like chapter length, overall book length, illustrations  all factor in, but it has been working for us as a starting point of his comfort zone. However, with even Sarah Noble's 610L scaling well above that 460L recommendation, we started this with a fair amount of nervousness on my part.

When I first researched the program online, there didn't seem to be any specific recommended order to the program.  We started in the middle, with The Courage of Sarah Noble.  I chose to there because I thought that it would appeal to Jude most -- it is a tale of a young girl's adventure in the Colonial American wilderness.   When I finally had the package in hand, I realized that maybe we were diving in rather than wading in...or at least launching ourselves into a pretty good "Cannonball" jump.  The teacher's book arranges the books generally in ascending order of reading level difficulty.

Prairie School GL3.2/410L
Animal Folk Tales of America (I wasn't able to determine grade level)
The Courage of Sarah Noble GL4.4/610L
Little House in the Big Woods GL4.2/930L
Tales from Beatrix Potter GL3.5/AD410L

However, don't be fooled by going from Little House... to Beatrix Potter as being "easier."  Here, it is the workbook that spikes in difficulty.  We began with Sarah, and skipped to Beatrix Potter, and then went back to Prairie School.  In hindsight, I think that if I realized that Prairie School was both the easiest and the simplest, I would have begun there.  It's still an engaging chapter book, but the study guide is very simple.

Each unit study is sectioned by chapter - usually 1-2 pages of work for each chapter read.  Each section contains vocabulary words to define, followed by discussion questions.

After having done the stories of Peter Rabbit and Friends, Jude was very happy to jump back to an "easy" guide.  Edwardian British words, such as pinafore and tucker can be hard to find in American Dictionaries.

In addition to single words, often there were idioms and phrases to define.  We wound up using a combination of student and online dictionaries to be able to look them up.  The teacher's guide does give brief definitions to help you guide your student, which was much appreciated when we tried to look up some of the more complex entries.

In addition to the question-and-answer sections, both guides for Sarah Noble and Beatrix Potter included extra activities.  Each contained critical thinking exercises, while the latter included sections on grammar.  The guide uses the Story of Tom Kitten to explain "Life Lessons," one of which was on moral failings.  I laughed and shared with Neal when Jude threw his brother totally under the bus:

However, we found the grammar frustrating -- it wasn't enough information to teach the concepts, but since Jude is just beginning grammar, he was lost in these parts. He got even more confused when the book said to find the noun that was a subject, when the sentence gave only pronouns.

Obviously, there's no rule that says you have to complete every page, but if you have a "leave nothing blank" child like mine, it might be harder to skip over.

Overall, we enjoyed the books Memoria Press has chosen for this program.  However, I do have reservations about recommending it for an "average" second grader, especially after having compared it with the third grade program (all of those books are GL4.3 and higher).   If you have an advanced reader, then it might be appropriate as a second grade curriculum choice, but generally I would recommend it for not less than 3rd grade.  We'll likely finish out "this" year with Animal Folk Tales, but I'm probably going to save reading Little House in the Big Woods until the very end, as it's a much longer book, and therefore longer guide.  (Jude hasn't read anything over about 80 pages, and this one is close to 200 pages.)  I will say that while Jude is still warming up to reading as something more than a chore, but these books have gone a long way to helping him "keep up his courage" in reading.

For more about Memoria Press' line of literature studies for all grades, follow them on social media, or click the banner below to read other reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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Memoria Press Literature Guides Review

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