Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fitting Words Classical Rhetoric (Review)

Having a high school senior, I was very interested in the Fitting Words Classical Rhetoric curriculum by Roman Roads Media. Regardless of what career path a person is taking, the ability to speak and listen intelligently cannot be taken too lightly.

The complete set includes all the pieces that are necessary to teach the course yourself, the text, the workbook, answer key and exam packet. However, it also includes the DVD Video Course, by the author, which adds in-depth teaching going beyond what is included in the text, just as if in a typical classroom setting with an excellent teacher. * I don't know if this is typical, or if it was just a perk for reviewers, but our complete course came in a spacious Roman Roads Media tote bag!
So, a word about the materials from a strictly material point of view. As you can see in the photo of what we actually received, the workbook is spiral bound, which sets it apart from the Answer Key (softcover) and the Text (hardcover). Believe it or not, this was something my son appreciated and pointed out to me, as it made it much easier to reach for the appropriate book. The spiral bound was also a benefit to him as it lay flat while he was writing, and could be opened double page or a single page for more compact workspaces. Sometimes little details make a big difference in the usability of a product, even if they aren't directly related to the content. ;) 

The Lessons in the textbook contain 
  • The main text of the lesson ~ (which is fairly conversational in tone) often includes excerpts from famous works when they are discussed.
  • Sidebars when key concepts and Famous Orators are introduced~ Serve to highlight and emphasize important points in the text
  • Thinking Deeper Questions ~ Are good discussion topics
  • Developing Memory Exercises ~ Suggestions for memory work for each lesson. These aren't mammoth undertakings but instead more brief, good to keep the brain exercising it's memory muscles. 
  • Reading Further suggestions ~ Just what it says...
  • Notes citing sources quoted

My son started out just reading the text and going through the exercises on his own due to summer and less inside access to the DVD player. When we sat down to check out the Video Course, however, he was very impressed. The author/speaker is very easy to listen to, and although he does go through the lessons from the text, there are many aside comments that offer more in-depth information. Middlest also said that the video makes one slow down and doesn't allow one to skim over material, rather helping one to take it all in more easily. 

A little more information about video Lesson. It is set up so that there are two "Chapters" for each lesson. The first part is the "lecture" style portion mentioned above. I didn't actually time it, but I think they run close to 20 minutes. The other is the "lesson application." I believe those run close to 10-15 minutes. The author/instructor spends a couple of minutes introducing and discussing a figure of speech (These are covered as a group in Lesson 27, but I appreciate the "preview" given in the video course).  I will also mention that many of these are figures of speech that I recognize, but couldn't have named. There are often excerpts of famous contemporary speeches modeling the figure of speech.  The next part goes over the Thinking Deeper questions from the text. It then moves directly to the Exercises in the workbook. He gives some suggestions and clarifies what is being looked for in the questions in the workbook.

We haven't had time to get to Lesson 12 yet, but here's an example of the Application Video:

The video also includes Exam Reviews that cover the information that will be on the exam. This is extremely helpful and is similar to a "study guide" for your student as they prepare for their exams. 

The curriculum suggests that the student set aside a notebook as a Commonplace book.

Which brings me to another thing that is unique to the video course: the introduction to Commonplace topics like Public Speaking in Lesson 3 with this example quote: "Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something."- Plato.

Fans of the Classical Approach should be delighted with this curriculum. Those who are more eclectic and dabble in many approaches... you should also be impressed, as were we. This is a solid curriculum that should be enjoyed by the student and homeschool parent/teacher alike. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Classical Rhetoric and Picta Dicta {Roman Roads Media Reviews}
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Kingdom Files Series (Biblical Biographies for Kids) Review

Barbour Publishing sent us two of the books from their new Kingdom Files series of Biblical Biographies for kids. The books are intended for kids ages 8-12 and are fairly quick reads at less than 90 pages each

There are currently six books in the series:  Who is Jesus?, Who was Daniel?,  Who was David?,  Who was Esther?, Who was Jonah?,  and Who was Mary, Mother of Jesus?       Each book begins with a double page "Fact File" spread that gives some basic information about the book's main character (name, town, occupation, and a mini-timeline as well as other pertinent information. The bulk of the book (dubbed the "Action File") tells the story of the character, including text from the Bible and explanations and background information. This section reminds me a lot of a what you might hear in a sermon series, but on a kid's level, split into several chapters. Throughout the Action Files there are Clue Boxes with relevant questions or ideas to provoke a little deeper thinking about a certain aspect of the story. The last section in the Kingdom Files for each book is the "Power File" which breaks out 10 Power-Up ideas that help the reader connect and apply the Scripture to their daily lives. They each also include a memory verse to go with the application.

Fact File
In Who Was Jonah? there are 8 chapters: 
  1. Run Away
  2. Who's Responsible?
  3. The Monster Fish
  4. Praying Hard
  5. On To Ninevah
  6. The King's Response
  7. Jonah's Anger
  8. God's Gift
I really appreciate the way that the material is covered from a narrative point of view. As I mentioned before, it reminds me of a sermon series, but on a kid's level. To some degree I wish that the Power Files specifically coordinated with each chapter, and directly followed each one, as that would make it much easier to figure out exactly how to schedule reading this book out as a devotional or regular Bible reading, but there are 10 Power-Ups with corresponding memory verses to go with the 8 chapters, which makes it a little more confusing.

Power-Up page
I will mention that The Kingdom Files webpage includes some educator ideas for extending your study of each character, with projects in writing, arts and crafts, and more, so that's worth checking out. 

The chapters in Who Was Mary, Mother of Jesus:
  1. Great News!
  2. O Holy Night
  3. Wise Men Visit (I appreciate that they are Biblically correct in not giving a specific number of magi, and also speak about them visiting Jesus in a home, not the stable.) 
  4. Jesus at the Temple
  5. A Special Wedding
  6. A Misunderstanding, the Cross, and Everything After (Also Biblically correct in mentioning that Jesus had family (brothers) beyond Mary and Joseph. Points like these are ones that rate highly when I'm perusing Children's Biblical literature. 
All in all, I am impressed with the quality of these biographies. My son enjoyed the way the books were written also, in a very conversational tone. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Tori Kelly Album review and Giveaway of "Hiding Place"

Until last spring(?), I really didn't have much of an idea who Tori Kelly was, but my Middlest had decided that he really liked her music, and regularly shared videos of her collaborating with a variety of artists with me, both well known and not. I had no idea that she was the voice of the elephant in SING! until months after we watched it... However, I have been very impressed with her voice, and was delighted to be sent a copy of her new project Hiding Place for review and a giveaway! The giveaway form is at the bottom, and just a heads up that this giveaway is of super short duration.

If you don't know a lot about her (like me), then here's a little more information from the officially released biography to give you some insight.

While working on the follow-up to her debut album Unbreakable Smile—a 2015 release that premiered at #2 on the Billboard 200—Tori Kelly felt compelled to include a track that honored her lifelong passion for gospel music. With the help of her manager, Scooter Braun, the L.A.-based singer/songwriter soon connected with Kirk Franklin, a 12-time Grammy Award-winning gospel artist and one of Kelly’s musical idols. “I flew to Dallas and Kirk showed me a few songs he’d written, and I fell in love with all of them,” says Kelly, a 2016 Grammy Award nominee for Best New Artist. “Next thing you know, one song turned into us doing a whole album together. It just took on a life of its own.”

With its RandB-infused, deeply melodic take on classic gospel, Hiding Place offers up what Franklin refers to as “hope-pop”—a classification that fully resonates with Kelly. “One of the things I want for this album is for people to feel uplifted and encouraged when they listen,” she says. “I want them to know that, no matter what they’re going through, there’s a God who loves them so much and so unconditionally, and there’s always a reason to feel hope. That’s what I really believe in, and I want everyone out there to hear my heart.”

As Kelly explains, the title to Hiding Place draws inspiration from a line in one of her favorite psalms (“You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with songs of deliverance”). “That always stuck with me: this idea of God being a place of safety, a place where you can hide from all the crazy things that this world can throw at us,” she notes.

Produced by Franklin, Hiding Place unfolds with a lush yet simply adorned sound beautifully suited to Kelly’s incomparable voice. “I’ve worked with Mary J. Blige, Bono, Yolanda Adams, and I’ve never seen anyone that’s a monster behind the microphone like Tori Kelly,” says Franklin. “She’d nail one song in three takes, and all those takes were amazing. It set the bar higher for my whole career.”

I love it when Christians are picked up for their talent, not simply because of their worldview, and Tori Kelly certainly fits that mold. From Kirk Franklin's description, she reminds me of another young (Christian) artist who took the music industry by storm a few decades ago, Alison Krauss. If the pattern holds true, hold on, because there must be even more great music in store down the road!

The songs on the CD are a combination of Kirk Franklin pieces and songs that he co-wrote with Tori specifically for this album.

1. Masterpiece featuring Lecrae~ The basic concept/message is very good, but musically I don't feel it's her best piece vocally on the album. Middlest likes this one however, so maybe it's my "old" ears... ;)

2. Help Us To Love featuring The HamilTones ~ very deep south gospel feel, with a GREAT message. We need this song!

3. Sunday ~ This is the song on the album that speaks of confession and redemption~ that our "Sunday clothes" aren't who we are, and that we need God's grace every day of the week~

4. Just As Sure featuring Jonathan McReynolds ~ "Just as sure as trials come, to pull me close to You. In Your presence now I see, a God I never knew.... I know You love me, just as I do love You." Lovely song.

5. Psalm 42 ~

6. Questions ~because faith is never easy... This girl has read Ecclesiates... and the Psalms...

7. Never Alone~  featuring Kirk Franklin (listen to it yourself... )

8. Soul's Anthem (It Is Well) ~ A beautiful nod to one of my favorite hymns...

*UPDATED Comments
Because there was such a short turn around on this review, I was only able to listen to the tracks from my computer. Listening to them on good speakers (in the car) the day after posting brought out so many more layers than I had heard in my initial listen. Also, my Berklee (Boston Music, not CA Science) trained husband heard it for the first time, and was very impressed with the intricacies in chord changes. This is not a standard, 3-chord pop album in any way shape or form, and I wanted to make sure that this was clear.

Purchase Hiding Place Here

and sign up to win a copy (For you or for a friend) below... The giveaway ends at 12 midnight Sunday morning, the 16th. If you're interested, don't wait because you might miss out! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

“Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255:  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway.  Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation.  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller/FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on the same blog, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

#TKHidingPlace & #FlyBy

Friday, September 7, 2018

GrammarPlanet (online grammar lessons from Analytical Grammar)

I have heard of Analytical Grammar, but have never had an up close and personal glimpse of the program. That all changed with my review of a subscription to GrammarPlanet, their online grammar program. This program is intended for students ages 10 through adult, for learning or reviewing, and currently has 13 units, with more being added regularly until it is complete at 60 units.

When you sign up, you will be taken to a parent/teacher dashboard where you add in your students. The teacher dashboard really just shows where the students are, and allows you to see the work completed. There is no instruction or extra material covered here. I think it would be helpful (for planning and preparing ahead of time) if the teacher dashboard in the paid subscription included things like all the unit notes in a downloadable file... instead of only accessing them through the student dashboard, and maybe a little bit of explanation for the feedback pages.

After your students sign in, they are taken to their own dashboard.

For the purposes of this review, I worked through some of the program myself, and had my 11-year-old use it as well.

Each unit is locked until the previous unit is completed. Each unit includes printable notes (we just opened them up in a separate window on the computer, and usually had both windows side by side) which can be accessed by clicking the "reprint notes" button on the right side of the screen.

An instructive video is included for each unit. I had my student read the notes, and then watch the video. The video goes over the notes, with a couple of short quizzes (one or two questions) to make sure the student understands the instruction, followed by examples and a reinforcement of the process to be used when identifying the parts of speech for that Unit.

I will point out that the videos have close-captioned capabilities which I often use as another point of reinforcement (or for those who really don't like the auditory side of things, it's another walk-through of the notes with a little extra added in).

After going through the materials, the student moves on to the exercises. Each unit has 5 levels, so going through one/day would be a good pace. It is suggested that the student not spend more than 15 minutes per day on GrammarPlanet, keeping the lessons short and sweet. The exercises are essentially diagramming sentences, but they start out simply with identifying nouns, then adding in proper nouns, articles and adjectives, and so on, as shown in the outline towards the top of the review. The student gets instant feedback, showing them what they identified correctly and what they missed or misidentified.

Here is a little quirk of the program that we found somewhat confusing. In the example above the name "Father Niccolo Lorini" was properly identified using the proper noun with wings symbols  --PN   PN-- (when used on the first and last word, this added the PN in the middle automatically).
In the example below, I'm not quite sure why the PN symbols in the middle weren't added automatically when the --PN  PN-- was used on "Father" and "Physics."

In my opinion, it would be helpful if the mistakes were clickable with an explanation, especially for those who are on the younger end of the age range, which might help clear up any confusion with things like this~ or it could be a mistake on the part of the program.

My son was also getting confused by words that can be more than one part of speech (nouns and adjectives like gold and silver for example), and explanations would have been extremely helpful to him, or reminders to ask all the questions. The way the program is set up currently is great for an older student or as a refresher, but there could be a few more "helps" added in for the 10-12 year olds.

I also found the order of terms interesting, learning all things relating to nouns before moving on to verbs. I might have preferred to have subject/verbs introduced directly after proper nouns, which would have alleviated some confusion for my son. He knows what verbs are, but not being allowed to identify them for so long made him second-guess himself on a regular basis, resulting in multiple incorrect exercises.

So... what happens when a student identifies a number of words incorrectly? First, they are given extra exercises to work a little more. If there is still an issue, an email is sent to the parent/teacher advising them that there is a problem, and the account is locked so that you can go over the material with your student again before unlocking the account. A feature here that I appreciate is the ability to click on the lessons that were a problem so you can discuss what went wrong.

In this unit I had to unlock the account a couple of times... You can see that I'm checking out "Practice 12" and that the majority of the words are correctly identified, even though there is a big red X by the practice in the list on the left... the same goes for the tests where only one word was misidentified, but there is a big red X... I think those graphics could be changed to be a bit more encouraging, maybe? I will say my mathematically inclined son took issue with the concept that "A majority of the words were incorrectly identified" when he was locked out~ he actually counted his errors and wasn't pleased when they were definitely not a majority~ a significant number perhaps would be better wording here for concrete thinkers. ;)

Occasionally my son would just speed through the lesson, which led to careless mistakes, and repeated exercises... hopefully reinforcing the concept of checking his work twice before clicking submit.

After the five lessons in each unit are completed, there is a unit test (which doesn't give immediate feedback like the lessons), and the student can move on or not, based on how well they do. In the graphics I included here, a blue background is for the practice exercises, and the yellow/mustard background is for the tests.

Suggestions and room for improvement aside, I think that this program is a good tool to help your student get a handle on the English language, as they learn when, where, why, and how words are used the way they are. You can check it out for free and see what you think yourself. For kids who absolutely hate writing, this can be a boon, and for the parents, it does the correcting for you, which can also be greatly appreciated.

When I asked my son, he says he gives GrammarPlanet a B+ (that boy!). He found the content interesting,  he liked the feedback, and thought the notes were well done. In spite of some of his frustrations he felt overall the system was good, and even though it took him longer to get through some units, he feels like he is learning well.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: GrammarPlanet
  • Product: no-ad online subscription
  • Ages: 10-99+
  • Price: $39 which covers the program until they get all the way through, no time limit.
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