Wordsmiths – Quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English
Welcome to the home of Jensen’s Grammar, Journey Through Grammar Land, Jensen’s Format Writing, and other fine language books.
Our mission is to provide teachers and students with quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English. Home schools, Christian schools, and private schools currently use and recommend our materials.
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Notes from the Smithy… #97
Hello from Southern Oregon. School is back in session, and the rains are here in earnest. My hope is you and your students are hard at it and making great progress.
NEWS what’s happening
JUST FOR FUN logic puzzle
A WRITING CLASS a current experience
CURRICULUM TYRANNY an oldie revisited
RECENT READS a few from me
MISCELLANY as it says
If you have the orange Jensen’s Vocabulary book and want the nine and eighteen week tests, I still have them. They are free but you need to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get them. I am the only source for these tests. You will have to print them off. Each set includes the test and the answers.
I will send them via an attachment in Word or as a pdf. Let me know. I have finished the final test for Jensen’s Grammar. It is 100 questions and quite comprehensive. It is also available for the asking.
My sale continues on Jensen’s Grammar and Jensen’s Format Writing, but things are changing. As mentioned in previous newsletters, the grammar books are new but have a name written on the inside cover. I have only four of these left as I write this. The writing books are also new. Some have a bent corner or some discoloration on the covers, but others have no noticeable problems. I am going to sell them at the regular price but include the JFW DVD for free. The DVD has a flaw in the first lecture, but the content is correct. If you want more than ten of the writing books, email me. I have to charge a bit more for shipping.
Folks, I am winding down the operation. Most of the business is sold, and soon this newsletter will cease coming as well. I am no longer doing a print version.
JUST FOR FUN
Let’s do a short logic puzzle? They are always a bit of a challenge and rather fun. See the clues below. The answer will be available from me if you email me at email@example.com. Enjoy.
Four baseball playing boys are sitting on a bench. Each boy has a different name, wears a different colored cap, is from a different town, and has a different mascot. Your job is to sort them out.
It is a process of elimination. The best thing to do is a build a grid to work from. Make a box of sixteen squares with four in each row up and down. The lineup is from left to right, so that will help you establish the positions. All clues are relevant, but some will not be of help until others have been used. Use your brains and have fun.
Sam is from Selma
The boys with tiger and lion mascots sit next to one another.
The boy with the eagle mascot sits to the left of the boy wearing a red cap.
Fred has a blue cap.
The boy with the tiger mascot is from Merlin.
The boys with the yellow and green caps sit next to one another.
The boy from Selma sits between the boys with the yellow and blue caps.
The boy from Provolt sits next to the boy with the bear mascot.
The boy from Murphy sits next to the boy with the eagle as his mascot.
The boy from Merlin sits on the left of everyone.
The boy with the yellow cap sits to the right of the boy from Selma.
The boy from Provolt does not sit between the boys with the yellow and blue caps.
A WRITING CLASS
Recently I determined to offer a writing class to a few young people in our church along with a few others. I have thirteen students total; they range from 8th graders to a couple who have recently graduated from high school. They are a mixed lot, and they have widely varying experiences with writing and grammar.
I provided each student with a copy of Jensen’s Format Writing and a DVD for each family involved. They have to do some reading and viewing the DVD on their own but as directed by me in advance.
It is a simple arrangement. I meet with them once a week on Mondays. Those days I answer whatever questions they might have, review the general errors that have come up in their writing in the past week, perhaps teach something related to writing, and go through the next type of paragraph they are to write.
Since we are going through the JFW book, we naturally started with the paragraph. The students write three paragraphs a week and submit them to me via email, one each on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I correct them with a check sheet found in the book and email that back to them. It has actually worked out rather well thus far.
Most of their problems are with mechanics, particularly punctuation but also some random usage and spelling errors. However, I found I had to teach a lesson about the relationship between a topic sentence and a concluding sentence in a paragraph. Young folks very often seem to throw in something in the concluding sentence that wants to go on and has little relation to the paragraph itself.
What I did was put together a list of their own topic sentences and concluding sentences and go over them with the students. From the examples they could tell which pairs were better than others. It was helpful to them, and their next paragraphs showed great improvement.
At this point, early November, we are only three weeks into the project, but it appears the class is helping those who attend. I am grateful for the opportunity and happy to see the improvements already. It is actually good for me to go through the book again and a plus for the students.
This article originally appeared in newsletter #6, 1993, and it has been picked up and reprinted elsewhere a number of times. The reference to the phone is a bit dated, but the general thrust is still relevant. It is reproduced below.
In my discussions with many of you on the phone around the country, I have come to see that the struggle of the professional teacher and curriculum is common to a large portion of homeschoolers as well. Let’s look at the problem, decide why it exists, and develop some defenses against it. We should all be over comers in life according to Scripture, so why not in the area of curriculum as well.
First, what is the problem? It is the relationship of the teacher to the curriculum. In too many cases the curriculum rules the teacher. This is highly unfortunate. The books and outlines and so forth that a teacher selects should be a tool, not a master. The goal of the educator should be to provide the best possible series of events and information so that maximum probable benefit to the student is achieved.
Of course, the student will somewhat determine what is actually learned, but the point is that we, as teachers, need to give the student the greatest opportunities for learning. We need to structure the education of our charges in such a way as to maximize their potential in the areas in which we think they should grow and learn. This is one of the prime reasons for home schooling or sending a child to some alternative to the state schools.
The problem is that we teachers too often surrender ourselves and our students to the curriculum. We simply accept the book and then try to teach our way through it. We look at the outline and attempt to implement it in its entirety. We are slavish to the point of having the student do all the exercises and all the questions and all the reading and everything else according to the schedule laid out in the book or the curriculum guide. The result is that we often become facilitators instead of teachers. We adopt the book and its methodology and give up some of our freedom and purpose for teaching.
Now let me say that following a book or an outline is not necessarily a bad thing to do. On the other hand, it is not a cardinal sin to deviate from the book or the suggested procedure if your situation warrants it. In the books WORDSMITHS produces, there is a freedom to use them however you see fit. We suggest a methodology or maybe two that have worked for us, but you are the ultimate determiner of how the material will be presented. The books should be able to fit into your system and fill your needs. For instance, even though I always used the five day plan for the vocabulary, others have done equally well with the ten day plan. I covered all three of the Jensen’s Grammar series in a year doing it three days per week. Others have elected to cover the three books over a two year period. They take periodic breaks and do the lessons at two per week. Still others just jam through by doing a lesson a day until all books are completed. The point is whatever works best in your situation is what should be done.
Second, why does the problem of curriculum tyranny exist? I believe there are two reasons: tradition and lack of confidence.
The first reason is simple. That’s the way we’ve always done it. That’s the way it was when I went to school. That’s the way I remember my teachers doing it. In essence, we simply do what our past experience has shown us to be the acceptable methodology. But, for almost all of us, that way was geared to a traditional school classroom setting. As homeschoolers, we have freedoms which are lacking in the traditional setting. Why not use them rather than forfeit them? Just because it has been our experience and the experience of many others doesn’t mean that it is right or best or even proper at all times and places.
The second reason is quite natural, especially to newer homeschoolers. We wonder at our ability. We are not professionals. Are we keeping up with what others are learning? We don’t have the training or the expertise in a given area, or any area at all. The above are all natural thoughts or doubts that come to mind. They are part of the myth that only experts can teach. Even professional teachers trained in college have struggles. Some change as they seek to improve their methods. Some get frustrated and quit. Some just find a comfortable routine and stagnate.
Confidence should come with experience and being able to see accomplishments. Complacency, however, should be avoided. Teaching is both an art and a science. Desire and skill go hand in hand, and skillscan always be improved or honed to a sharper edge.
Third, having defined the problem and determined why it exists, we can come up with some defenses to defeat it. Allow me to suggest four.
- Each teacher has to have well-defined goals for their students and their school. Once the goals have been established, curriculum can then be adapted to fit those goals. For instance, a history text may be chosen, but certain questions, activities, or exercises may be added, altered, or dropped as you see fit. Perhaps your student will build a replica of a frontier fort whereas another student might give a flip chart presentation or do a book report on Davy Crockett.
- Each teacher needs to recognize that all commercial materials by definition are produced for a wide audience. Since each home school has its unique students, teachers, and circumstances, no off the shelf curriculum can do anything more than provide a resource or framework that can be adapted to fit the home school situation. As teachers we need to fit that curriculum to our needs and those of our students, not the other way around. Let us recognize the particulars of our individual situations and utilize the materials provided by others to our best advantage.
- Each one of you who teaches your own children should realize that you know them better than any other teacher and certainly better than the author of a book who has never even met your children. You, therefore, are the best judge of what your children need, how the existing curriculum might best be adapted to their needs, and at what pace, duration, and extent the material will be covered.
- Finally, each of you parents should realize that God gave you exactly the children He wanted you to have. He did not give your children to the state, the church, or some other entity; He gave them to you to be a part of your family. God knows best in all situations; He does not make mistakes. He knows that of all people in the world, you will be the most interested in what becomes of your children. Have confidence in what God has wrought and trust in Him to do the best job you can. Eph 2:10
Remember, use the curriculum; don’t let it use you. It is the tool, and you are wielder of it. Be confident, do your best, and reap the rewards of a job well done.
This past quarter just seemed extra busy. As always I did squeeze in some time to read books, but I only managed to read four. My reviews are below.
The first book I read was Dr. Al Mohler Jr.’s book, We Cannot Be Silent. The subtitle states the thrust of the text: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong.
This is an important book for Christians to read. The first part is rather depressing, but he offers hope at the end. Dr. Mohler identifies the church’s role in the rise of the new definition of marriage. He offers two basic arguments.
First, he claims the church was too accepting of the use of contraceptives, which lead to the separation of sex from reproduction. That in turn led to more promiscuity and greater acceptance of sexual acts outside of marriage. He also admits that the church has not behaved well towards the homosexual community in the past and that needs to change. A primary result is that the church has lost much of its credibility on the issue.
Second, he shows how the homosexual community, the LGBTQ… folks, had an agenda that was well planned and orchestrated; the courts, academia, the media and the liberal churches all played their parts.
The challenge in the future is for Christians to speak the truth with grace. Dr. Mohler doesn’t dodge the issues, and he gives some good advice. The penultimate chapter is entitled, “The Hard Questions,” wherein he asks thirty questions and gives answers. It is enlightening reading, and I recommend it.
This book was a print on demand edition from Lulu. It is only 86 pages which includes a dozen or so introductory pages by C. Matthew McMahon. It can easily be read in one sitting.
Harrison presents nine arguments for infant baptism in three chapters, the first two of which cover one argument apiece while the third chapter covers arguments three through nine. He wrote this book in 1694, so defending infant baptism against the Anabaptists was a going concern at the time. He devotes one chapter to answering their objections. His final chapter is on the mode of baptism, and he comes down quite in favor of pouring and against immersion.
At points the language is a bit convoluted, but he was a Puritan after all, and 1694 was some time back. The spelling is modernized, so there is no issue with that.
Harrison uses a good amount of Scripture, and his arguments are quite tightly constructed. If you want to know the foundation of paedobaptism and its practices, this is a good book to read.
The next book I read was a biography. It was titled People Before Profit: The Inspiring Story of the Founder of Bob’s Red Mill by Ken Koopman
While visiting Bob’s Red Mill with a friend, I opted to buy the book since I enjoy reading most biographies. Certainly I could identify with Bob to some degree as he is only 10 years older than I am. His early struggles did not mirror mine, but they were familiar in our family and friends. His ultimate success outstrips anyone I know.
I liked the fact that he had vision, a wife who was an excellent partner, and a good philosophy of serving others to become successful himself. He was obviously a good marketer, had a good product, and was savvy enough to find and hire good people to work for and with him. I also appreciated the fact he gives much credit to the Lord for his success.
For me the story moved along at an uneven pace. The spots where it spoke of his increasing business were a bit heavy on the math and numbers. I suppose that was in character with his idea of total transparency. The chapter on the CRX lady wasn’t so much about her as it was the fire, which she may or may not have started. His early issue with the IRS spoke volumes about bureaucratic indifference. I also wonder what happened to his youngest son, who is mentioned briefly and then disappears from the book.
It is a bit of a puff piece since his ad man wrote it, but the Red Mill and his operation are real and doing a bang-up business today. I didn’t take the tour of his operation but would like to in the future. His entrepreneurial spirit is evident throughout. He is an inspiration both because of his success and because he overcame his reversals. I liked the book; it was a good read about a real man who did well.
The last book I read this quarter was a long one, 774 pages of text with another hundred or so of names of characters and a glossary of terms. Like a Mighty Army by David Weber is #7 in his Safehold series.
I like the author, and I like the series, but it is an endless war. This book didn’t move the story forward too much; a couple of setbacks for the Army of God and like advances for the Imperialists about sizes it up. Yes, there was a marriage and an attempted assassination, and a new PICA shows up. And at the end it appears that Aivah, the spymaster, has penetrated one of Merlin’s alternate personas.
What’s not to like? For one, lots of names and their respective ranks and titles who make cameo appearances but really account for nothing. Once in a while it might be ok, but it seems almost every military action has some of these folks. Perhaps it is to give the battles some reality. In Weber’s defense, it is a global war, so action takes place in a whole lot of areas.
I do like the development of Ahlvarez, similar to Thirsk, as good guys on the wrong side. I also liked a couple of the theological discussions. Weber must have some reformed religious background to make those statements. I found that interesting.
Will I read the next book? Probably, but I will wait until it is in paper. And how many books will it be until the Gbaba show up again? Likely the whole of Safehold has to be unified and upgraded in technology; perhaps by that time the Gbaba will have declined. Read on, stalwarts.
- This newsletter is posted quarterly on the website, and it is emailed free to those who wish to subscribe. You will note my website and this newsletter are free of commercials except for my own stuff; I plan to keep it that way.
- Remember, if you have questions, I am only an email away, firstname.lastname@example.org. I am your support, so use me when the need arises. I try to email a response within a day or two. The more specific the question, the better my answer will be. The folks at New Leaf will also be answering questions as time goes by.
- Thanks so much to those of you who purchase, use, and recommend my books. I met a former student this past week who told me a story about how he had been complemented by a college professor on his writing, and the fellow gave credit to me for teaching him. It is gratifying to know that so many have been helped over the years.
- The next issue of Smithy Notes will likely appear sometime next winter if I manage to keep the schedule. The future is unknown, but for now I plan to do a few more issues, maybe get it to 100 and stop. We will see.
By God’s marvelous grace,