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Syntax for Sailors Navigating the English Channel Review by Dena Wood and Mrs. Kimberley Wampler

Language Arts CDROM
Bill Miller
Slate Creek Publishing
224640 Highway 385
Rapid City, SD 57702

Bill Miller, author of Syntax for Sailors Navigating the English Channel, has a special flair for painting word pictures and sprinkles them liberally throughout his grammar and syntax curriculum. Upon entering high school, Miller's former students exhibited language skills far exceeding those of their peers and quickly became known by high school teachers as the "Miller Crew". When asked why his students were so advanced as compared to the majority of Jr. High graduates, Miller expressed that most teachers give grammar only minimal coverage and focus, instead, on literature.

Miller explains that all students have a figurative pair of "waterproof boots" which allow them to cross a variety of "curriculum rivers" without ever getting their feet wet. "A language arts waterway, overburdened with curriculum demands, is a mile wide and therefore only an inch deep. Teachers cannot possibly cover any of these requirements in depth, and as a result, many elements are ignored or bypassed in favor of others."

Miller explains that he prefers separating his language arts program with a 70/30 � grammar/literature split. "If you want some water to seep in and some feet to get wet, you need to ford your hikers unhurriedly and repeatedly across the deepest and swiftest sections of the language arts watercourse."

Miller goes on to share that writing is about choices and understanding language offers writers more choices. He compares this to coloring a picture with an eight count box of crayons as opposed to a 64 count box. Naturally, the more options you have, the better picture you can create, either with words or crayons. "Outstanding writers have more choices than average writers." Mr. Miller's goal is to equip students with a myriad of choices.

Syntax For Sailors Navigating the English Channel, is his means of meeting that goal. This extremely comprehensive curriculum consists of over 600 pages of well organized, very specific instruction in grammar and syntax. The curriculum builds on itself, beginning with an understanding of the five noun uses and five sentence patterns and cumulating with independent and dependent clauses. Maintenance and review occur naturally as the curriculum progresses.

Each lesson begins with a good deal of background information intended to refresh the teacher. This includes examples, diagrams, explanations and teaching tips. Next is an "Options for Options" section detailing varying resource choices for each lesson. Lessons generally include notes, guided practices, quizzes, tests and notebook exercises. Each option is explained in detail.

I especially like the fact that students are encouraged to create their own English Notebook as part of the curriculum. Mr Miller states, "It's one thing to be able to identify selected Practice Worksheet elements. It's something else again to use these elements correctly and effectively in original sentences. "Creating original notebook examples that illustrate the teaching points of every lesson enhances both understanding and confidence and further encourages the student to actually apply what has been learned."

These notebooks are compiled of lesson notes and assignments where sentences are created with very specific patterns. Students are encouraged to use colored pencils or highlighters and do their very best work. For example: "Sentence #2 should contain at least one article noun signal word. Highlight or color code the noun signal word and draw an arrow from the noun marker to the noun it precedes. Minimum sentence length: ten words." This notebook makes a wonderful portfolio of what has been learned throughout the study.

Quiz worksheets are introduced in a fun and encouraging style with helpful tips and reminders. Each lesson includes several quiz/worksheets with approximately 30 questions each. This allows for ample practice and review, which I appreciate.

Occasionally, terms are introduced to the student before they are covered in a lesson. For example, the notes for Subjects state, "Nouns function as subjects, predicate nominatives, direct objects".� However, the student is not introduced to predicate nominatives until shortly after these notes. This can cause some confusion as I didn't know what a predicate nominative was either and spent some time searching the index trying to determine if I'd missed something.

In teaching about predicate nominatives (and later, other terms), Miller makes use of unique visuals to help cement the concept. He uses a pen, glue and another pen to represent a subject, linking verb and predicate nominative (renamed noun). A pen, stapler, and tape represent a subject, action verb and a direct object complement. While this may seem a bit odd, initially, I found it quite helpful in understanding the different role each part plays.

One area of difficulty I had with this program was in understanding all the background information that is intended to refresh the teacher. While I am sure a Grammarian would find the information readily understandable, the abundance of grammatical terms was confusing to me and, at times, overwhelming. In addition, understanding of these terms is assumed, which makes sense since the curriculum was written with English teachers in mind.

As homeschooling parents we often tend to learn along with our children, especially in areas where our own education was weak. Frankly, I was unable to digest all the background information for the lessons. For instance, I've never in my life diagrammed a sentence. (Yes, I'm sure I should have!) Therefore, the sentence diagram examples were largely Greek to me. I was also quite often at a loss as to the meaning of grammatical terms. Once I ceased being overwhelmed, I realized that if I simply went to the actual lesson and worked through it I would understand the material.

While I didn't understand the diagramming examples in the background information in the early lessons, the curriculum teaches the process of diagramming about 1/3 of the way through. If, like me, your education in grammar is lacking, I suggest simply working through the exercises with, or just prior to, working with your child. Don't get bogged down trying to understand the background information first. You can't "refresh" what doesn't exist to begin with.

As homeschool families we are often teaching more than one child at different levels. This requires a lot of planning and good schedules. Syntax for Sailors does not come with a teacher schedule or lesson plans so this would be up to you as the teacher. What to cover when, what age the program is designed for, how much to do each day is all up to you to decide. Though the program is laid out in an explicit, logical order, there is no schedule, per se, and this may be difficult for some families to overcome. It would be a great addition to future releases of the program.

I emailed Mr. Miller and received the following responses regarding the above concerns.

"I developed Syntax For Sailors Navigating The English Channel over the course of better than three decades of personal experience in an eighth grade classroom. Our eighth grade curriculum covered everything that is introduced, stressed, or maintained at both middle and high school levels, so the program is perfectly at home in both settings."

" a homeschool mother who is using the program with her two girls estimates it will take her at least three years to complete the program. They do language arts three times a week. That's really one of the nice features of SFS, you can set your own pace, go back and review as needed, and still provide firsthand experience with a comprehensive body of material without having the pressure of being at a certain point by a certain grade level."

"Most homeschoolers will complete the program over the course of several years and rely on their trusty old SFS CD to keep them going basically as long as they wish."

Mr. Miller also commented on spending additional time in certain areas if the students needed it and not moving ahead until they were proficient. I simply used the material as presented. Since there is no additional material, I'm assuming that many teachers don't use all of the practice worksheets, notebook assignments and notes unless they feel their students need them.

I can honestly say that if your child learns the material covered in this program they will be better prepared than any high school graduate I know. If a thorough understanding of grammar is important to you this program is likely among the most thorough, least dry and least expensive that you will find.

-Product Review by Dena Wood, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August, 2006

And another homeschool mom's perspective:

Syntax for Sailors Navigating the English Channel

Language Arts CDROM
By Bill Miller

Slate Creek Publishing
224640 Highway 385
Rapid City, SD 57702

Syntax for Sailors Navigating the English Channel is a English Textbook on CD that you can print straight from your computer. This textbook is complete with answers to the worksheets. Syntax for Sailors Navigating the English Channel is for children in 8th grade and up. The price of this CD Textbook is $65.00.

Syntax for Sailors is very easy to use. You place the CD is your CD or DVD drive, it can be a Mac or PC computer, and up pops the PDF file that you need to click on to get to the textbook. When you click on the file it opens Acrobat Reader and they ask for your password. Now you are in the program with over 600 pages of English grammar that have been professionally made by English teacher Bill Miller. Bill Miller has taught 8th grade English for over 30 years and was nominated twice for Teacher of the Year. There are 20 different chapters for you to choose from. The textbook has learning option pages in each chapter that try to make learning easy and fun. They also put in pages that you can print out to make doing the homework easy. For example, when you are learning about sentence diagram, they give you a page with the diagram already made and you fill in all the spaces. There is also a page with the fundamentals on it, which is a help sheet for you to completely understand what they are trying to teach you.

I really like the way Syntax For Sailors is made. It is made so you can print one page at a time, you can print the whole chapter, or you can print the whole 612 pages to teach your children. He starts in his textbook with the very basics of nouns and ends his textbook with complex sentences. He has taken a lot of time and effort and put it into this textbook and if you have children in 8th grade and up you will benefit from his work. I think that he has tried to make this as simple and easy as he can for the student and the teacher. I am very impressed with all his hard work. It is well worth your money.

-Product Review by Mrs. Kimberley Wampler, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August, 2006