Kolbe Reviews: Vocabulary and Composition

In Part 1: I tell you about the Vocabulary Book.

In Part 2: I speculate about Composition.

Kolbe uses the Sadlier-Oxford Vocabulary Workshop series.  If you used a vocabulary book in middle or high school, it’s just like that.

Each chapter introduces a set of unrelated vocabulary words with definitions.  There are exercises to help the student learn to use the word.  At the end of the chapter, Kolbe directs you to give a spelling test and then have the student use the words in original sentences.  A teacher’s manual is available, but it never occurred to me to look for one.

My kids work through their books independently 95% of the time.  My 6th grader finds it easy, even relaxing.  The 4th grader sometimes has questions, and needed some coaching through the first set of exercises on analogies.  You can use the book as a consumable or not — it is easier on both student and teacher if you let the kid write in the book, but not impractical to write answers on a separate sheet of paper.  I relented and let my fourth grader write in hers, because she found the back-and-forth overwhelming.

Useful Tip: See if you can get hold of a used copy of Spelling Power.

We lucked into an older edition a few years ago.  It has massively detailed, well-researched instructions for how to help students learn to spell.  Having used the method for a couple years, the kids now know how to study a word.  It makes a difference.  I do know a mom who found that although SP worked great for her first three kids, her youngest child needed to study words grouped by spelling rule.  Having memorized the method by then, she sold her copy of SP and got out a rhyming dictionary for creating word lists.

There may be other good resources for teaching the methods of learning to spell.  If you know of one, please share a link.  But this one I’ve used and found it informative and helpful.

The Course Plans

The fourth grade course plans for vocabulary include a list of words from the National Catholic Reader to be copied, defined, and studied for the vocabulary test.  My fourth grader was getting bogged down and frustrated, and so we took the advice at the introduction to the course plans and now do only the words in the vocabulary book itself.

The fourth grade course plans assign work for each day according a set method for studying (pre-test, exercises, study, graded test).  If you are not enrolled in Kolbe,  I would skip these plans and just devise your own.   (If you want the convenience of everything all written up for you, enroll.)

The sixth grade course plans assign work from the vocabulary book three days a week, and on the fourth day, an assignment from the Sadlier Writing Workshop Level A.  You could comfortably skip the plans and assign pages yourself without difficulty.

When I bought books, I failed to realize we needed the writing book.  So I took out the boy’s copy of Voyages in English and used the composition portion of that text to write a set of assignments for each Thursday of the year.  Thus I have no idea what’s in the regular book.

More Composition Programs I Know Nothing About

This fall Kolbe rolled out a new Classical Composition program.  You can only read about the fourth grade program on the Kolbe site, because no matter what grade you begin, the instruction is to start with Year1 of the program.  Here is the publisher’s info at Memoria Press, which provides some more details, though it looks like even there, information is limited.

Now let me start by saying that I don’t go in for this hyped-up We’re So Historic Look At Us Being Classical thing.  I’m utterly unmoved by someone using words like “Fable Stage” and “Narrative Stage”.  You could as soon call it “Minty Fresh” and “Tastes Great Less Filling”, and I’d be just as convinced.

–> But when I see the course descriptions in the Kolbe catalog, this looks exactly like what I find new writers need to learn.  I say this based on my experience with editing, critiquing, and bringing grown-ups to the point where they can write clearly and well.*

I just took a look at the pdf preview of the student guide, and it looks kind of painful.  But thorough.  Seriously thorough.  This is what editors do to people.  If you want to write well, this is the process.

Done with too much intensity, however, I find children can quickly learn to hate writing.  On the other hand, the methodical approach to working with words may appeal to some students who freeze up at Creativity On Demand.

Looking at the rigor of the program, I have mixed feelings about who would really benefit most from this course, and how parents ought to teach from it.  If anyone has any experience you’d like to share, please do.

*This is the point where I congratulate myself for not using swear words and “five paragraph essay” in the same sentence.  It’s an insult to the swear words.

7 thoughts on “Kolbe Reviews: Vocabulary and Composition

  1. I looks kind of intense to me, too. I haven’t held it in my hand, so maybe we’re missing the big picture. But I’d guess that in my fifth grade CCD class, there might be 10% of kids who pass through who might be able to do this, if you built a course around it, with enthusiasm, and backed off on other work?

    I’m very interested to hear if other parents have had success with it on younger kids. I should go check the Kolbe forums and see if there’s any noise there.

  2. Hi Jennifer…thank you for your comments on the fourth grade day…we just began Kolbe as a fourth and first grader…having a hard time with the composition program…wondering if I we should go back and work through something else?? The answers/explanations just seem to come out of nowhere?? Hmmm.

    1. Are you using the classical composition program? I don’t have any experience with it. My first glance was that it made sense to me, but I haven’t sat down and done all the exercises. I knew it would be overwhelming for my kiddos. Honestly I just teach writing out of my head. But I’ll tell you what, head over to the Catholic homeschooling forum on Delphi, and post your question, and I and several other moms will try to figure it out if you like.


  3. Jennifer,

    I happened across your blog when looking for reviews of Classical Composition. I decided I liked you when I read, “*This is the point where I congratulate myself for not using swear words and “five paragraph essay” in the same sentence. It’s an insult to the swear words.”

    1. Hehe. The irony being that this year (7th grade) I’m doing the full court press on Mr. Boy to get him to learn how to churn out a five-paragraph on demand. Not because it’s great writing (though in charity, it can be, sort of, or at least not overly bad writing), but because, you know, money. It’s what you do to please the masters who hand out the scholarships. :-).

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