Monday, June 11, 2012

Homeschool Review (Preview): Essentials: The Logic of English

Essentials: A Systematic Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Writing (The Logic of English) by Denise Eide

A few months ago, I read and reviewed Denise Eide's book, Uncovering the Logic of English. Immediately, I knew I wanted to implement her ideas in my reading instruction for First Son, but I was reluctant to figure out how to modify the information in the book for him. When I saw she had a curriculum, I wanted it! I received a discount on the materials in exchange for an honest review, so I'm going to do something I don't usually do here: I'm writing a homeschool review for a product we haven't actually used yet. I didn't want to wait until the end of next school year to post about it. Instead, I'm going to pre-review the curriculum now that I've read through the introduction and written lesson plans for the first five lessons.
The program systematically teaches how and why English words are spelled in a particular manner and how to build words into phrases and sentences, thereby providing students with the tools needed to decode, spell, and write.
This curriculum could easily be used in a homeschool, as a supplement for a struggling reader (perhaps with a tutor or parent at home) or in a very small classroom. Many of these activities will work best with only a few students, which is probably the best way to teach reading to any student.

You have to read the introduction to understand how the lessons should be implemented. Otherwise, you'll overwhelm your students. For example, Ms. Eide clearly states young emerging readers should use large motor skills, a whiteboard or a salt box to practice writing rather than writing by hand until they have developed physically enough to handle the fine motor skills.

The introduction provides sample schedules for older students not reading at grade level, older students struggling with spelling, emerging readers (6-7 years old), young emerging readers (5-6 years old), and ESL students. The recommended sample schedules are still pretty intense for all but the emerging readers. Ms. Eide's program is designed to bring students up to speed very quickly, with an upfront investment of time and resources: 75-130 minutes a day, to complete the forty lessons in the book in 8-16 weeks. Because First Son is not what I'd call a struggling reader, but more someone who needs supplemental instruction to cover what we neglected the first time around, we'll be following a more relaxed schedule. I intend to complete one lesson every week or every other week (depending on the content of the lesson) with about thirty minutes a day.

A large section in the Introduction explains all the skills students should have before beginning Lesson 1 in the book. Before you despair, all of these skills, and nearly everything you need to know to teach them, are presented in the Introduction. She encourages teachers to move quickly through these, especially for older students. Though all the phonograms A-Z should be introduced, students do not need to have memorized every sound for every phonogram before moving on to the Lessons. We'll be spending one week on phonemic awareness exercises, many of which I expect to be new to First Son, but only because we haven't spoken of them explicitly. Then, we'll spend two weeks introducing the phonograms and finishing up his cursive instruction on the lower case letters. (He's about two-thirds of the way through the alphabet now.) During this time, First Son will be reading other lessons out loud to me or independently in addition to our work with the Essentials curriculum. I'll include First Daughter (a kindergartner) in any of these lessons she likes as well. If she has trouble with any of the phonemic awareness exercises, I'll add them to her lesson time for extra practice.

In the phonemic awareness, phonogram exercises and throughout the book, Ms. Eide includes a recognition that students learn best in different ways. Many activities combine two or more of these modalities and all of the optional activities are labeled to show whether they are particularly good for kinesthetic learners, visual learners, auditory learners or creative learners.

Finally, we get to the lessons themselves! The book contains forty lessons. Every fifth lesson is an assessment and review (Lesson 5, Lesson 10, etc.). The other lessons are composed of three parts.
Part One includes: Phonograms, Exploring Sounds, and Spelling Rules. In Part Two students learn fifteen spelling words and how to analyze their spellings. Part Three integrates the spelling words into a Grammar Lesson, Dictation, Composition, and Vocabulary Development Activities. 
The lesson plans are very detailed with example scripts and expected responses from students. They are extensive, which is why hours are necessary to complete a single lesson and why they are spread out over many days for younger students. I haven't actually used these lessons, of course, but it seems like they will provide a structured and organized way to learn the logic of English. Notice there are no sections called "Reading." Students will be reading in every section, but the reading itself is broken down into decoding the phonograms and learning how the phonograms stand for sounds. The Spelling Rules meet two needs: helping students think about how a word will be spelled when they hear it and recognizing the spelling rules in the words they are reading so they can determine which of a phonogram's sounds are in a particular word.

The assessment and review lessons are not for grading. Ms. Eide explains, "Reading and spelling are subjects that should be taught to the point of mastery for all students." So if a student is struggling, we don't just assign a "C" and move on, we provide supplementary activities for the skill. If a student makes fewer than two mistakes in the assessment, the review portion is skipped, moving on to the next lesson. If more mistakes are made, the teacher is encouraged to select the appropriate activities from the review lesson for additional practice.

One disappointment I had was the relative scarcity of games in the Essentials Teacher's Manual. Every single lesson has multiple recommendations for games, but they are all in the Phonogram and Spelling Game Book. The book is a reasonable $15, but all of the games actually require one or more of the specialized sets of game cards. The complete set is $45. I decided not to purchase the set, thinking I would be able to create something similar myself at home, but without instructions or even a description of the games, I really have no idea what kind of activity to substitute. So if you want to use the games, buy the set.

You absolutely need the Teacher's Manual to implement this curriculum. It contains all the lessons and instructions. The workbook is useless without it. The Phonogram and Spelling Game Book and Teacher's Manual are non-consumable. I can't speak for the game book, but the Teacher's Manual is very well-made. It's a hardcover book that looks like it will hold up to years of use.

The phonogram flash cards are not an optional part of the program. They are used to present all the phonograms and for review on a regular basis. I thought I would save some money here by making my own which seemed simple because the phonograms are clearly identified along with all the information for each one in both The Logic of English and the Essentials Teacher's Manual. For the most part, I hand-wrote the cards. Then I cut them with a paper-cutter, laminated them, and cut them again. Take my advice: buy the cards. Even not counting my time, there's a good chance I spent more money on card stock, ink and laminating pouches. And my cards don't look nearly as nice as the ones pictured.

I also made spelling rule cards. As with the phonogram flash cards, I'd recommend purchasing them.

I selected the Cursive workbook to use with First Son. As far as I can tell, it's "cursive" because the examples are written in a cursive script. You could definitely write answers either in print or in cursive (probably in either workbook). The workbook is large with lots of activities, all of which are referenced in the Teacher's Manual. If you are really motivated, you could do the program without the workbook because there's enough information in the Teacher's Manual to figure out what your student needs to do, but the workbook itself is well-done. It's thick and might be hard to complete without removing the pages. They are well-perforated and look like they'll come out very quickly, too, so I will probably hole-punch them and put them in a binder.

The Spelling Journal is also referenced in every lesson. I think this would be a nice addition if you intend to use Essentials as your only spelling program, but I also think it would be fairly simple to create a spelling journal at home that would meet the same needs.

I intend to discuss the spelling portions of the text with First Son and to use the rules to supplement his spelling program which does not explicitly teach any spelling rules. For now, I plan to continue with the grammar, spelling and writing programs we were using (none of which takes much time), but I am going to re-evaluate that decision regularly during the school year. I think this program could be enough for writing (dictation, not copywork or handwriting), grammar and spelling; I'm just reluctant to give up on ones that I know are working well for us.

Especially for young students, you will want to have a whiteboard, salt box, magnetic letters or other kinds of materials to involve large motor skills rather than fine motor skills as students learn to write the letters.

The cost of this program is substantial, especially compared to some of the non-consumable how-to-read-everything-you-need-in-one-book programs that are available, but I think this program is much more comprehensive that the others. I was discussing it with another homeschooling mother who has a severely dyslexic son. It seemed to compare very favorably with the program she used with him at a much lower cost. I expect this program to fill in every gap in First Son's reading skills and am very excited to use it with him. While I intend to continue with First Daughter's current reading program, I am going to supplement it with Essentials to ensure she never has the gaps First Son encountered.

I've read on the forums for Essentials that a program for young emerging readers that would incorporate real books is currently being developed. I can imagine how that would be the ideal reading program for me (hard to say if it would be perfect for my kids!) and would be very tempted to invest in it for Second Daughter and Second Son.

I will be sure to report back on Essentials when we've used it for a year. In the meantime, you can learn more about the books and purchase all the materials at the Logic of English website.

I received a discount on the Essentials Teacher's Manual and two Cursive Workbooks in exchange for an honest review. I am not an affiliate and will receive nothing if you make a purchase of these or any other products linked in this post.


  1. Jill,
    I am excited to see this post. I also bought the curriculum at the Homeschool Convention after reading Uncovering the Logic of English. (I was intrigued after looking yours.) After reading it I was convinced I had found an answer and explanation for all those "rule-breaker" words (that really don't). I'm hoping this will help my oldest this year. I'm eager to begin the program and am looking forward to comparing notes!

  2. Julie, I'm so glad we'll both be using it!

  3. I can't wait to hear more about it! I am *trying* to not buy anything since I have a system that works...well, almost. I realize now I missed some phonemes. But I'm trying to add to what I'm doing rather than do the learning curve of something new. But really: share more. I am intrigued! I'm in the middle of her book right now...

  4. Brandy, I know what you mean. I had a self-imposed budget for school books next year and went over by exactly the cost of this program, but I really felt like I needed to supplement First Son's reading and was not at all sure how I was going to do it. It's much easier with First Daughter since she's still in the midst of learning the first time around.

  5. I was wondering what you think about LoE after using it for a year now. I'm looking at purchasing the program, but am unsure. I'm currently using Spell to Write and Read, and am finding it difficult to muddle through. The content is very similar to LoE, but it is not very teacher friendly at all. Thanks!

  6. Hi LeeAnn,

    I haven't posted an update to this review because we're only half-way through the book after a year. I spread the lessons out quite a lot, but overall I've been really pleased. Are you looking merely for something to teach spelling? Essentials does much more than that with the inclusion of Grammar and Vocabulary Development. As a stand-alone spelling program, I find it both too cumbersome and lacking opportunities for practice. We've continued to use Sequential Spelling for daily spelling practice and I guide my son to making the connections between any spelling rules we've learned in Essentials to the words he's spelling. It would be very simple (and much less expensive) to do something like that just by buying Uncovering the Logic of English.

    I have been so pleased with the Grammar portions that we've dropped our other grammar programs. We still do dictation and copywork, though, because most of the dictation in the Essentials book is too easy for my fourth grade son.

    I do think this program is really easy to teach. I have almost no preparation and merely read through the lessons with my son. It's easy and comprehensive.

    Feel free to send me an email if you have more questions. I plan to write an updated review of the program next spring when I've gone through the whole book with my son. But I like it and, at this point, I intend to use it with all my other kids, taking two years to cover the lessons (probably second and third grade, but maybe third and fourth grade).


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