by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School
During my final months teaching at a public high school, one of my colleagues observed me reading Denise Eide’s book The Logic of English.
“Now that’s a paradox,” he scoffed. “English is anything but logical.”
This view – that English is basically an illogical language – is a widespread assumption in America today. However, this belief comes from an incomplete understanding of the language we all speak.
As a former English teacher, I would agree that our language is anything but simple. Teaching reading and writing is difficult. Eight years as an English teacher has only reinforced this fact for me. Consider that there are more than 2 million words in the English lexicon. How are we to prepare our students to navigate so many words and to use them appropriately?
In the last few weeks, though, my journey through The Logic of English curriculum has helped me see this language – a language I have spent decades immersed in – with new eyes.
Learning phonics through The Logic of English taught me the sounds a makes, and why the last a in my name (Sara) says none of those sounds. Now I know why mother is spelled with an o, that every syllable must have a vowel, and all the ways to spell the phoneme sh. I’ll never misread a word again! And can you believe that I might have learned this years and years ago, if only I had learned the historical depth and the tools of our language?
This appreciation and depth is what we want for our children.
At Trinity Classical Academy, we are devoted to giving students the tools they need to navigate our text-rich world. That is why we are excited to use The Logic of English curriculum with our students. Let me expand on a few more specific reasons we think this curriculum best fits the vision of our school.
1. This curriculum reveals the structure of our complicated language.
“A system can only make sense if it possesses a unifying principle, or ‘Logos’ … Christians recognize that Christ is that Logos … According to a logocentric view of the universe, organized knowledge can be discovered, arranged, and even taught. This is the first principle of the Christian classical curriculum.” (Veith and Kern, The Four Elements of Classical Education)
Denise Eide’s Logic of English curriculum introduces our language in a complete, systematic, and logical manner. Instead of focusing on sight words, it teaches students the 74 phonograms and 31 spelling rules that explain 98% of English words. As Evans and Littlejohn explain in Wisdom and Eloquence, “In the short time it takes to learn just seventy phonograms, the student has acquired the ability to decode (i.e., read) any English word she encounters.”
Most importantly, these rules reveal the order and logic of English that exists because we, as language makers, image our God through the words we speak and the sentences we create. Uncovering the logos of our language system is an amazing reminder of our God, the true Logos, who spoke the ordered universe into being!
2. This curriculum encourages mastery of the skills needed for the Great Conversation.
“The classical curriculum can be divided into two stages. First, the student masters the arts of learning. Then he uses the skills and tools mastered to enter the Great Conversation.” (Veith and Kern, The Four Elements of Classical Education)
The Logic of English prepares students to enter the Great Conversation by leading them to a mastery of the English language. It does this in two significant ways.
First, this curriculum encourages mastery. Instead of teaching a concept once and moving on, concepts return each year with increased depth and application. Students learn about schwa vowels in kindergarten and every year until fourth grade, but each year they will see these vowels in increasingly complicated words.
Additionally, the curriculum is integrated, which means that students learn the sounds of a at the same time they are learning to write the letter a. That same week the readers are carefully leveled to only include the phonogram and spelling rules that have already been covered in the curriculum. (This is in contrast to most readers, which may use ten or more irregular phonograms on the first page.) And finally, this guide teaches the history of our language, passing on the continuing tradition of our tongue.
As humans, we know it takes more than one try to master a concept: this curriculum is built to give students many chances to over-practice and discover examples of the literacy tools they’ve learned. This strong foundation prepares them to enter the Great Conversation with clarity and ease.
3. It’s fun!
“Manipulatives and other tactile and kinesthetic tools should be an integral part of our pedagogy.” (Evans and Littlejohn, Wisdom and Eloquence)
The Logic of English curriculum is filled with games, tactile activities, and interesting readings. We chose this curriculum because we know that students learn in many ways. We want to create context and multimodal experiences that engage as many parts of a student’s brain as we can.
We hope you have fun playing the games that you find in this curriculum – those are some of the best ways to encourage a child’s memory. And when Eide asks us to “see it, say it, and do it,” especially with spelling and handwriting, remember that this practice is hitching your student’s brain to his pencil, and cementing ideas in his brain.
4. It’s wondrous
“When your student experiences learning as diving in, talking about great ideas, and getting lost in beauty and truth … only then will he recognize his full potential as a student.” (Sara Mackenzie, Teaching from Rest)
The Logic of English is a big book, and there are a lot of words on every page! Remember, though, that Eide is providing a script for you, and simply reading the guide to (or with) your student is going to teach you both amazing concepts about the English language.
So I’d encourage you to approach this curriculum with an attitude of wonder. This is likely not the way we learned to read – and now we get a second chance. So slow down, and enjoy learning the sounds that f and v make. I know you already know. I know it may seem strange to spend five minutes on these two letters that have populated your vocabulary for years. But there is wonder in taking a letter, learning it, owning it, writing it in beautiful cursive 15 times, and seeing the letters of our language for all of their history, purpose and meaning.
I’m excited for us to slow down and wonder at language this year, to be grateful that through these symbols on a page we get our best picture of The Word, and to be reminded that He is the God who made it all.