Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of Analytical Grammar's Beyond the Book Report

Analytical Grammar Review
Analytical Grammar is well-known in the homeschooling community. It has one of the most comprehensive and rigorous programs out there. I have often considered it for my kids, so I was quite excited when I saw that the Crew was going to review it this year. My excitement turned to intrigue when I saw that Analytical Grammar had a program that I had somehow completely overlooked before! Beyond the Book Report is Analytical Grammar's middle school/early high school language arts curriculum, and it's ideal for 6th-8th grades.

Designed to work with Analytical Grammar, we have found that Beyond the Book Report stands quite well on its own! In fact, for Nicholas (11) it was ideal to use it on its own, as I have found a grammar curriculum that is perfect for him and, unlike my other kids, he does not thrive on having his curriculum switched up frequently (OCD, ADHD, Tourette's...take your pick). The scope and sequence of Beyond the Book Report demonstrates that it teaches so much more than its name might imply. 
Analytical Grammar Review
What is Beyond the Book Report?
Beyond the Book Report is comprised of three "seasons" (each of which costs $24.95, or all three of which can be bundled for $69.95), and includes both video lecture and printable assignment components. If you have previous familiarity with Analytical Grammar, the Teaching the Essay and Teaching the Research Paper components of the program were folded into this program.

Season One of Beyond the Book Report includes The Basic Book Report, The Pamphlet Book Report, and The News Article Book Report. Season Two includes The Poetry Book Report and The Drama Book Report. Season Three includes The Oral Book Report, The Essay, and The Research Paper.

Within the construct of each type of book report, a student learns about many different related concepts. So, for instance, as Nicky went through Basic Book Report, he learned basic literary terms like conflict, point-of-view, and protagonist and antagonist. He demonstrated his command of these terms in two ways. First, every time he has read a book since, he has loudly proclaimed who the protagonist and antagonist are, but, and more to the point, he completed the Literary Terms worksheet that is part of the Basic Book Report unit. 

For this first book report, Nicky chose (with some assistance from me!) to read Tom Sawyer. Thank goodness that wonderful book starts with Tom whitewashing (or not whitewashing, to be more accurate) the fence - I knew that scene would grab Nicky -- and it did. One thing that I did not use from Beyond the Book report (although I would have used it for a kid like Therese) was the Reading Log. The log uses a formula of how many pages a book has versus how many days you have to read it, thus giving you the number of pages you must read per day. You then log those pages each day. The grading rubric wants you to assess a 3 point penalty if it is not filled out correctly. With all of Nicky's behavioral issues, there was no way that I was going to make something this rigid a priority, although I can definitely see the benefit of using it with a kid that just needs structure or motivation. As long as Nicky is reading a book he likes, he'll read plenty per day. He's a slow reader, though, and no amount of requiring pages is going to change that.

There are two components to Beyond the Book Report - the written work (like the Literary Terms worksheet and the Book Log) and the video instruction. The video instruction is done by the mother-daughter team behind Analytical Grammar, and the lectures (for lack of a better word) are interesting and comphrehensible. Nicky enjoyed them. My only complaint is that I found the sound quality pretty inferior. It was hard to understand at times. It seems possible that these DVDs were dubbed from earlier VHS recordings or something of that nature, as the sound seemed quite muffled. Apart from that, though, Nicky was always anxious to "watch my videos" when it was time to do BBR.

Nicky's Experience with BBR

If you read my blog, you know that Nicholas is my challenging child. And challenging is an understatement. Hence, while I appreciate rigorous grading rubrics like the ones BBR includes (part of the one used for the Basic Book Report is shown here),

I only need to look at them for one minute before realizing that I can't use anything like them with him. For one thing, the use of exclamation points (Must include the ending!) just seems so...extreme. I think rubrics like this are great for parents who don't have much experience teaching writing and who have kids who don't tend to have any special needs when it comes to schooling. If you are comfortable with teaching writing and/or have a high-strung, obdurate, or otherwise difficult child, rubrics like this one are recipes for dead-end learning days.

Hence, I took a bit of a looser approach with Nicky, and he still learned a ton with BBR and, more importantly, he enjoyed the process enough to want to continue after the review period! He followed the schedule and watched the videos and completed the activities (which we printed off of the DVDs). The main difference between the program as written and the program as we used it is that I did not use the scoring rubric at all. I made him correct his spelling and grammar errors, of course, but I did not deduct points. I didn't "grade" his Literary Terms worksheet at all. I just went over it with him to make sure he understood what he had learned and could correctly identify all of the "players" in Tom Sawyer. Granted, Nicky is on the younger end of the recommended age for this product, having just turned 11 a couple of weeks ago and just heading into 6th grade, so I don't know how I might approach things if he were older. I guess much would still depend on his personality.

I thought that we would have finished more than one book report during the review period, but one is all we have done. Still, I am happy to say that Nicky is gearing up for his second and is excited to continue (he has quite an affection for the video lectures!). Having looked ahead to the next two seasons, I am glad he is happy with the program. Season Two covers poetry and drama, teaching things like haiku, limerick, and sonnet. Students learn poetry terms and poetic devices, along with drama, melodrama, comedy, and farce. They write four different types of poems and study A Midsummer Night's Dream. Season Three covers the Essay and the Research Paper, with an emphasis on writing essays on short stories and, finally, a step-by-step process on how to write a research paper. This season includes all new video lectures.

All in all, Beyond the Book Report is a very thorough writing program that covers a wide variety of writing topics all under the rubric of the book report. It is a neat way of teaching writing in a way that makes it less "boring" for kids who might be inclined to view it that way. The best thing of all about it is that it meshes well with any other program you might be using. Yes, it integrates seamlessly with Analytical Grammar, and it probably makes the most sense to use it with that program. If you already have a grammar program that works for you, though, as we do, it is not hard at all to fit it in. My best advice would be not to get too caught up in the apparent rigidity of the program. Just because there are scoring rubrics aplenty with strict rules (1 point off for this, 1 point off for that) doesn't mean that you have to use them. They are a resource that will be great for some parents, but they are, in my mind, optional. They shouldn't put you off the whole program if you don't tend to like such things.

Beyond the Book Report was surprisingly successful here. To see lots of other Analytical Grammar programs in action, click the banner below.

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  1. Great review. Thank you for sharing how it worked for you. I needed to read a real life experience, besides all the reviews of just someone 'looking' at the program. This was very helpful.

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