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Evaluating Elementary-Level Textboooks

by Esther Wilkison

Choosing textbooks can be a time-consuming frustration. Asking the right questions will guide you to the right textbooks for your child.

When you stroll through the aisles of a home school convention or leaf through the pages of any of the dozens of home school catalogs and magazines that likely find their way into your mailbox, the options can be overwhelming. How do you choose the best textbook for you and your child?

Textbooks for the core subjects, such as English, are especially important. The home schooling parents I’ve met are keenly interested that their children develop the ability to listen, talk, and write with clarity and power. If your end goal is to help your child develop into a Christlike communicator, here are some specific questions to ask as you examine elementary-level English textbooks.

Question 1: Is it relevant?

Many students ask, "What’s the point? Why do I have to learn language?" To help them understand how critical good communication skills are, you need a tool that is specifically designed to help students appreciate language as a gift from God, a tool that will

  • Lead students to understand that through words we understand God, we talk to God, and we communicate God’s truth to others.
  • Motivate students to apply God’s Word in a variety of life situations.
  • Encourage creative-thinking skills along with critical-thinking skills.

Question 2: Is knowledge applied? Is grammar taught as a means of learning how to become a good communicator?

If students can recite all of the parts of speech and all the punctuation rules but still fail to use strong active verbs and correctly punctuate their own sentences, the application is missing. Look for a tool specifically designed to develop a student’s skill in using correct grammar in written and oral communication. Such a tool will

  • Incorporate inductive teaching to help students go from what they already know about the words they use to understanding how those words function and what they are called. (The opposite of this is a text that gives just a detailed list of rules to memorize.)
  • Integrate independent practice only after multisensory, active learning. Some materials simply ask the student to read and fill in blanks. It would take hours of painful drill to make such abstract memory work stick. You’ll want to find materials that have lots of action activities to get your student up and involved in the lesson. There may still be a workbook page or two, but that is for review after you have taught the lesson in a lively, engaging way.
  • Base all lessons on communication and connect all learning to relevant life application. Do the sentences and pictures in the book connect with things your student is interested in? Do the activities include places for your student to write actual sentences?

Question 3: Does this material take my child step by step through a writing process so that he will actually produce interesting and coherent writing?

If you use a well-written textbook, you are putting good writing in front of your student every day. Find a textbook that regularly shows the student what good literature looks like and that is written by authors who know how to engage a student’s interest. Such a tool should

  • Guide the teacher and student through the writing process and provide ideas for publishing student work.
  • Teach various types of expository and creative writing, balancing each grammar chapter with a chapter on writing.
  • Provide a writer’s reference section with answers to recurring questions and samples of each type of work the students are to produce.

Question 4: Will this book encourage my student to write clearly and effectively?

Many students think that whatever they have written is wonderful. They often see no need to revise because they understand what they were trying to say—even if it comes across a bit incoherent. They are used to boundless praise for any work that is creative. Encouragement is great, but to develop skill, students need to understand ways to improve their message and their mechanics. The grammar book will

  • Give students a checklist to use as they evaluate what they have written.
  • Show examples of student work before and after revision.
  • Make the grading process clear for students and parents by providing a rubric that lists clear criteria for evaluating each assignment.

Question 5: Will this book give my child the skills needed for lifelong learning?

Parents want their children to develop good study and reference skills, but so often these crucial abilities are never clearly taught in an interesting, relevant manner. The book you use should

  • Teach reference skills.
  • Guide students through the process of gathering and using research in an interesting, individualized report.
  • Incorporate reference tools.

Question 6: Will this book explain how to listen and how to give a speech?

Children often love to talk—even when they should be listening. But even the most talkative children tend to mumble or rush when they are giving a speech to an audience. Find a tool that will

  • Give instruction in speaking and listening.
  • Provide opportunities to practice and evaluate speaking and listening.

Question 7: Does this book make learning English fun?

All of us learn best when we enjoy the learning. Find a tool that encourages student enjoyment through well-written text, professional design, interesting chapter themes, and relevant connections with other subjects. Such a tool would

  • Include writing and graphics that inspire creative thinking.
  • Use a variety of themes throughout the year to keep interest, show life application, and link English with other subjects.
  • Include easy-to-use resources so that teachers can focus on creativity.

Whenever you evaluate an English curriculum, check to make sure all of these questions are answered affirmatively.

Yes, BJU Press elementary English will help students succeed on standardized tests. But far more importantly, it will help them become creative, effective communicators.


About Esther Wilkison

Esther Wilkison is a freelance writer and an educational speaker in South Carolina.

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