Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Curriculum Review of Learning Language Arts Through Literature

Tis the season for buying new curricula, so I hope that this review of Learning Language Arts Through Literature by Debbie Strayer and Susan Simpson might prove helpful to some.  As new homeschoolers, our family was in uncharted water when we attempted to select curricula for the 2011/2012 school year.  I looked at Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum (both the book and the website) and decided to give LLATL (the title of this program is way too long to keep typing) a try for both of my children.  So in particular, this review pertains to the use of the Red Book (2nd grade) and the Purple Book (5th grade).  Gotta say up front, we are not fans.

The program is designed to be an "integrated language approach" so that:

"By reading fine literature and working with good models of writing, children will receive a quality education in language arts.  If you desire to teach using this integrated approach to language, this curriculum is for you... The integrated language approach has the benefits of all teaching methods.  By working with pieces of literature, you focus on grammar, vocabulary, writing, reading , spelling, penmanship, and thinking skills.  Your student has the best advantage for learning skills in this effective and lasting manner."  Learning Language Arts Through Literature The Purple Book, p. iii.

The Table of Contents shows four book studies for the Purple Book:  Farmer Boy, Trumpet of the Swan, Meet Addy and Caddie Woodlawn.  It seemed great.  However, when we went to use LLATL, we found that appearances were deceiving.  The novels for the Book Studies were fine, it was just that they weren't really "studied."  I assumed (yes, I know what happens when you this case you get stuck with curricula that is not a good fit for your family) that the novels would form the basis of the "integrated language approach."  WRONG!  The use of the novels are not implemented to study the grammar, vocabulary,  writing, reading, spelling, penmanship and thinking skills as laid out in the introduction to the program.  The Book Studies are very brief asides separate from the meat of the curricula.  For example, there are five vocabulary words for Farmer Boy, two sequencing exercises (containing five sentences each) and eleven short answer questions for the book.  That is it.  That is LLATL's version of a complete "Book Study."

Uh, that is not quite what I hoped for... Literary analysis?  Not there either.

So how do the books provide the "integrated language approach" if it is not coming from the required novels for the Book Studies?  The book is a series of excerpts from songs, poems, novels etc. from which the language arts exercises are drawn.  Sure wasn't what I expected.  The real problem was that my 5th grade daughter hated the program.  She found the exercises to be completely unchallenging.  To quote her, "It was boring, busywork on stuff that I already knew.  It was a complete waste of my time."    We completed 23 of the 36 lessons by Christmas.  I exercised the freedom of homeschooling and quit the program after the holidays as it was just not working for us.

The pluses of the program are that the teacher's guide provides the answers to the exercises.  It requires very little parent preparation for daily lessons.  Parents need not read the novels of the Book Studies because there are basic answers provided to the short answer questions regarding the novels and the studies are not in-depth.  (I consider the lack of depth a negative, but if you didn't want to read the books, then you are all set.)  The sources for the language arts exercises changes often, so if you don't like one of the selections, you are not stuck with it for long.  The lessons are very quick.

LLATL The Red Book is a different story.  The readers (All Around the Farm, Forest Fables, In, Out and About Catfish Pond, Up, Down and Around the Rain Tree, Underwater Friends and Famous People) do actually serve as the basis for the language arts activities.  The are numerous activities which are removed from the student book, cut out and then sorted or arranged for the student's completion.  The student book does NOT have serrated pages, so removing these pages is a pain! My son especially liked these-- word lists, phonetic sound sorting, word wheels, alphabetizing etc.  He did not hate the program.  He liked it because it was easy and required very little work of him.  Problem-- it was too easy!  The readers were not challenging.  For us, the readers could only hope to enhance read-aloud fluency.  The vocabulary and writing style would not serve to increase reading level or comprehension.

Second graders do not know a lot of grammar, so the "easy" aspect of LLATL would be helpful.  However, we found that there were too few exercises (average about five) for each grammar or spelling concept or rule being taught.  The exposure was very brief (too brief) and then the topic would not be revisited or reviewed for several lessons.  Thus, the covered topics were not retained effectively.  If however, you have a child who is a naturally gifted speller, then the brevity and the lengthy time span until further review might be an asset.  The length of the required writing assignments was very brief.  It would be an easy matter for a parent to extend the writing assignments to challenge children who loved to write.  

Neither child will be continuing with LLATL.  Caveat emptor for all the Latin fans.  Know what you are getting if you purchase LLATL so that you will not be disappointed.  The program might be an excellent fit for many families, just not ours.


  1. I'm having the problem of finding a literary analysis curriculum too. Did you ever find one? Particularly for middle and high school that isn't part of a huge box curriculum?

  2. Well, I'm still working on it. I have purchased Janice Cambell's Introduction to Literature ( for use next year. I also have a copy of James P. Stobaugh's Skills for Literary Analysis ( Depending on your world view, they may or may not be appropriate for your use. Stobaugh's is overtly Christian as the complete title includes "Encouraging Thoughtful Christians to be World Changers. I didn't quite realize this when I purchased it and it will not be a good fit for us. I'm hoping to be able to pull out certain exercises from it though. Janice Cambell's program is also of a Christian world view, but it is not overtly so. It could easily be adapted for a secular use if that is your preference. We are going to give it a shot for next year. Her program has an Honors option which is particularly appealing to me for a high school level program. The Intro program appears appropriate for a middle school student who has strong reading and writing skills. The verdict is still out on it, but it looks very promising thus far.