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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Bridge to the Latin Road

The Bridge to the Latin Road
by Barbara Beers is a complete English grammar program designed for grades 3-6 and intended to bridge the gap between Beers' The Phonics Road and The Latin Road. As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was given the opportunity to try out The Bridge with my 3rd grader, David.

First, let me say this: If you are looking to teach your young ones Latin at an early age, that is not the intent of this program. The Latin in The Bridge is limited to learning Latin roots, suffixes and prefixes, a feature that you might expect to find in any thorough English grammar program. The intent of The Bridge is to get your child ready to tackle The Latin Road (or really any other Latin program) by giving him a strong background and understanding in English grammar. You can see the scope and sequence of the program here.

In our kit, we received the teacher's guide (in a 3-ring binder), student notebook (in a 3-ring binder), 6 DVDs, designing cards, the verb memory game, 3 pencils (1 regular, 1 red, and 1 blue) and a scaffolding ruler (used for "scaffolding" or diagramming sentences). The student notebook is meant to be consumable, so you will need one student notebook for each student.

Note: The binders given with the materials are definitely inadequate. They are 1-1/2" (too small for the materials they contain) and not heavy-duty (mine are already falling apart after only a few months). The first thing I would do upon receiving the program would be to replace the binders with 2" heavy-duty binders.

Let's take a look at the program itself:
In the teacher's guide, you will find pockets with your DVDs and then 3 tabs: Framing Codes, Sentences to Analyze, and Designing Codes. The Framing Codes section also contains the daily schedule, which is divided up into 36 weeks with lessons for 4 days each week. There is room to take notes here, and you'll want to take plenty. The program is not really designed to be "pick-up and teach." The DVDs contain instructions for the lessons organized by the week. So each week, you'll want to sit down and watch the DVD track/tracks for that week ahead of time. Each video consists of the author, Barbara Beers, showing you the sheets that will be used for that lesson and explaining how they are to be used. For some lessons, she will also sing a "grammar tune" to be introduced (little memory aids set to familiar tunes).

While the copy on the website states that the DVDs can be watched by teacher and student side-by-side, and that the videos will teach the lessons, I found the videos better suited to preparing you, the teacher, to give the lesson. The DVDs were helpful to me for showing me what sheets were to be used and how, but I did run into some situations where the sheet shown on the video did not match up with the sheet in my materials (a different edition, perhaps?), causing some confusion. There are also instances where Ms. Beers would refer to a sheet from the previous program (The Phonics Road) in passing and I would have to decipher what was meant, since I don't have access to that program. The Bridge is supposed to be a stand-alone program, so I think some improvements could be made there. Overall, though, the combination of teacher's notes and videos did leaving me feeling fully prepared to teach each lesson. No being left in the dark or figuring it out for yourself. And what comes next is clearly spelled out for you, so, while it does require some prep work on your part, the program is very easy to follow.

The worksheets themselves require a good bit of writing on the part of the student, including taking dictation, creating sentences, writing definitions and "marking up" sentences to show different parts of speech. I really appreciated the fact that lessons are broken down into 4-day weeks, giving us some wiggle room. The lessons are designed, however, to be about an hour long each. This might be a bit long for some, even if you count it as handwriting practice as well. I found that I needed to cut down the daily expectations to about half for my reluctant writer. An older student with no writing difficulties could definitely complete the lessons in less than the prescribed hour, but this is something that will vary from child to child. For younger students, splitting the daily lessons in half and taking 2 years to complete the program should work quite well.

The overall program is pretty systematic in covering the different parts of speech and how they work together ("framing codes"---think of it in terms of building a house) and latin roots ("designing codes"---you've got to add the extras after you've got the frame up:-) A child who completes this program will have a very firm grasp of English grammar. But, there are some awkward areas in the program that could use some work. One example is the treatment of "noun objects." From the very beginning, the child is asked to circle noun objects in their sentences, and yet direct and indirect objects (and the other roles of the noun besides being a subject) are not really explained until about halfway through the course...a little frustrating and confusing. I chose to give David a working definition early on and then review it in depth later when we come to it. Another good reason to read through your teacher's notes and view the DVDs, so you know what to expect.

While the sheets in each section are numbered, you will find that the lessons take you back and forth through the sheets, and it's very easy to get lost. The idea is that your child will have a ready grammar reference to refer back to in later years, rather than just a mass of papers to dig through, so, while the lessons build on each other incrementally, the pages themselves are organized differently. I found that the best way for me to keep on top of this was to review the teaching notes the night before, then clip the pages together with a large black binder clip to the page we would be doing the next day (in both the teacher's guide and the student's notebook) we were automatically on the same page. I happened to have the clips, but flags, post-its, books marks or some other creative innovation would work just as well.

And will we continue to use it after the review period? Not at this time. Though I think it's a good program overall, I found it to be a little too rigid for our homeschooling style. David is gifted in language and has a good intuitive sense of the elements of grammar. At this point I prefer to reinforce those skills with reading and copying good literature (in other words using good grammar), rather than filling out worksheets. We will revisit this curriculum at some point in the future, perhaps in 5th or 6th grade if I find that a more formal approach is needed.

The Bridge to the Latin Road is available from Schola Publications for $139.00. Additional student packages are available for $39.00.

To see reviews of this program and of The Phonics Road and The Latin Road, click the banner below:

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