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Secondary Curriculum Guide
The secondary tier of the MCT curriculum includes the upper four levels, for children approximately ages 11 to 18 (grades 6 to 10): the Classic Literature Level, the Lens I Level, the Lens II Level, and the Lens III Level. Level 4, the Classic Literature Level, differs from the lower three levels and the upper three levels and acts as a bridge between the two. We will discuss the upper three levels first and then Level 4.
All MCT language arts texts are based on the belief that children need challenging, classical academics and that academics are inherently exciting. But what are the principles of a powerful academic program of language arts? How do the MCT texts fit together? What is the sequence of instruction?
Start with Grammar
Grammar is the language of language arts—the foundation for punctuation, writing, and vocabulary usage. The key to using the MCT language arts curriculum effectively is to teach grammar first. Unlike traditional grammar texts that drag grammar instruction out for an academic year—until it is too late to apply it—the compact MCT grammar texts are designed to be launched rapidly so that students can use their newly acquired knowledge of grammar during vocabulary and writing instruction. Accordingly:
- Teach the grammar text first. Complete it before turning to the practice, writing, or poetics books. Remember that when you teach grammar, you are teaching writing, even if you do not mention writing. Academic writing must be grammatically correct, so every grammar lesson is a writing lesson.
- There is no hurry. The small dimensions of the grammar texts, The Magic Lens books, make it possible to pause on one term at a time, reading and talking, thinking of examples, reflecting on why it is good knowledge. The practice and writing books will provide extended reinforcement and exercise.
- All MCT texts use Michael’s four-level analysis strategy for comprehensive grammar instruction. This method focuses on the four ways in which to analyze a sentence: by the parts of speech, the parts of the sentence, the phrases, and the clauses.
Do not begin the vocabulary text until you have finished teaching the eight parts of speech in the grammar text. Once you have introduced the parts of speech in the grammar text, and you have begun to study the parts of the sentence, you can begin working with the vocabulary book. The parts of speech are the instructions for vocabulary usage, so it is important for students to have a firm foundation in the role of nouns, adjectives, and verbs as they move into advanced vocabulary.
The vocabulary of great fiction alone is not sufficient for college preparation. The secondary vocabulary texts, The Word Within the Word books, introduce hundreds of Latin and Greek stems that are the foundation of English academic vocabulary. Research shows that each stem is the key to as many as fifty academic words—often more—so this is the ultimate power-learning strategy. It is the stems that are the content; this is not a word list program but a deep exploration of how and why words are made. The goal is to create a profound and permanent expansion of students’ academic vocabulary.
These texts contain an extensive array of activities—more than you can reasonably do—to provide flexible choices for extended encounters with the stems. You can select those activities that you feel will be most beneficial.
To establish permanent retention of the knowledge, The Word Within the Word books use a cumulative approach to chapter content; every quiz requires students to review the stems and words back through the first chapter of the book, creating an ever-increasing body of knowledge.
These three vocabulary texts contain an extraordinary collection of photographs taken by Dr. Thomas Milton Kemnitz in Greece, Rome, and other parts of the ancient world, as well as his incisive comments and essays about ancient Greek and Roman history and culture. This component makes the texts even more exciting intellectually and provides students with a clearer understanding of the beginnings of English vocabulary.
Reinforce the Grammar with Practice
Once you have finished the grammar text, begin the practice book to maintain students’ comprehension of the four levels of grammar. There are 100 sentences in each practice book. These sentences are organized by emphasis, with the first twenty-five featuring the parts of speech, the second set of twenty-five focusing on the parts of the sentence, the third set emphasizing phrases, and the last set focusing on clauses. These are ideal for homework, small-group work, or Socratic discussion. It only takes a few minutes to do a four-level, so they are great as warm-up activities.
The four-level analyses in the practice series combine and reinforce the grammar and vocabulary contents. Each sentence contains words or stems from the vocabulary series.
Begin the Writing Text after Finishing the Grammar Book
Formal, standard, academic writing is the essential genre of writing for all students who intend to advance through challenging high school classes and on to college. Most college papers must be submitted in standard academic English. The secondary writing texts, the Advanced Academic Writing books, are a rigorous introduction to writing academic research papers using the method of the Modern Language Association (MLA). Each of the three volumes of this series provides students with an extensive introductory section, followed by four research assignments to be completed in accordance with the MLA format rules.
Four research assignments might sound overwhelming, but the formal academic paper is too complex to master in one pass. Academic writing takes time and practice. Children must be given layers of opportunity to accumulate mastery. Rather than doing one major term paper during the year, students get four, giving them a chance to learn this complex skill in increments. A combination of quarterly major papers and more frequent one-page MLA point papers, with formal essays on literature tests, provides a continuous program.
The writing assignments become increasingly complex and intellectual as students work through the series. The strategy is to focus on short papers of exceptional quality, allowing students to master precision of detail. The texts emphasize deep appreciation of the principles and processes of academic writing, from the clarity of the essay structure, to the honor of not plagiarizing, to the deep understanding of knowledge that comes from knowing one’s way in a library, to the independence and academic confidence that this advanced work imparts to children.
Begin the Poetics Text after Finishing the Writing Text
Poetics are not just for poets. Great novelists incorporate poetic techniques into the prose paragraphs of their novels, adding soundtracks to their plots. These techniques are not learned from prose, however; they are learned from a serious study of poetry and poetics. Poetry is an academic training ground for great reading and great writing.
The secondary poetics texts take students beyond the limits of previous poetics texts in this series, examining new techniques, providing more advanced and complex examples of poetry, and giving children deeper insights into the way great writers control the sounds of vowels and consonants and the rise and fall of stressed and unstressed syllables. The highest-level texts of the poetics strand—Poetry, Plato, and the Problem of Beauty and Poetry, Plato, and the Problem of Truth—combine an advanced investigation of poetics with the philosophical foundations of Western civilization. Applying the wisdom of Plato and Socrates to the poetic endeavor allows students to see the profound purposes and difficulties of great poetry. Children also will find that an understanding of poetic techniques prepares them for all genres of writing, not just poetry.
Supplement the Curriculum with Literature
The MCT classic literature series features trilogies of great literature with vocabulary support and MCT language illustrations that highlight the author’s writing techniques, grammar strategies, and poetic devices. Cumulative thinking questions develop literary comprehension. This reinforces the importance of all aspects of the curriculum for children because they see all of the things they are learning being used by the greatest authors.
The books in the literature trilogies are classics that have been loved by readers for generations. Michael has provided one trilogy (complete with an instructor manual) for each level of the curriculum, but students should be encouraged to read far more than that. In fact, students should supplement the curriculum by reading an extensive list of classic works that are the common experience of educated individuals in the world, and they should be encouraged to choose their own classics with guidance. These “outside classics” are designed to double the reading quantity and to give children a reader’s—rather than a student’s—experience. They are therefore best evaluated with amiable conversations—book talks. After all, as Michael points out, “It is by loving to read that children become literate.”
- Do grammar first.
- Begin the vocabulary text after you finish the parts of speech in the grammar book.
- Begin the practice book after the entire text of the grammar book is complete.
- Begin the writing text once four-level analysis is strong, as seen in the practice sentences.
- Begin the poetics text after the writing book is complete to develop expertise in controlling the sounds of sentences.
- Extend the curriculum with literature.
What about Level 4?
The same principles and concepts that apply to all of the MCT books also apply to the texts in the Classical Literature Level; the difference is that Level 4 is not meant as an introductory level for children who have not yet mastered the elements of language arts that make up the MCT curriculum. Comprehensive grammar, vocabulary, writing, and poetics instruction is best found at the other levels. For this reason, Level 4 does not necessarily need to be done in order. It acts as a bridge between the elementary and secondary levels of the curriculum, but it is so enriching and engaging that children who have advanced beyond this level would benefit from going back to it and completing it.
The Classic Literature Level is based on Michael’s decades-long research into the vocabulary of the classic English and American novels and the far-reaching database that grew out of it. When Michael pinpoints the most-used words of the classic English and American novelists, he is not guessing or even making a rough estimate. He knows precisely how many times they were used, by whom, and in what piece of literature, and he can cite each sentence in which they appeared. This provides an unmatched, solid foundation for the texts at this level.
The Classic Literature Level offers children a unique, in-depth look at some of the greatest works of literature available in the English language. It will impart an appreciation for the diligence and dedication of the authors of those works, revealing techniques that readers will look for in future books and will employ in their own writing as well.