Friday, April 2, 2010

TOS Review: Critical Thinking Co. Language Smarts C

If, for some reason, I'm looking for a workbook-based something, I usually make Critical Thinking Co.s website my first stop. The simple fact is that among the offerings you can peruse for math, reading, and yes, critical thinking, their books are stellar. They are colorful, innovative, and require the kind of deeper thinking skills that make me feel somewhat less guilty for using a workbook when I wish I could come up with another way to teach that involves interaction.

Over the years, we've sampled a huge array of their products. I fell in love with Mathematical Reasoning as a fabulous supplement for Logan, and we've all enjoyed the Mind Benders and Red Herrings series. Editor in Chief and Word Roots are also in rotation around here. All of these books offer up the kind of extra practice and fun thinking skills that are the hallmark of Critical Thinking Co's products. I'd recommend any of them to just about any homeschooler.

So I was totally expecting to adore my free copy of Language Smarts Level C ($39.99). Imagine my surprise when it wasn't at all what I had hoped it would be.

All of the elements you'd expect from this company were present: catchy illustrations. A limited number of problems. Friendly pages. Kid-oriented explanations. A handful of varied thinking games thrown in to spice things up.

But, well ...

For a second grade text, I found this book to be markedly below what I'd anticipated. The topics covered were meager representations of more meaty programs: a handful of phonograms, some comprehension skills, contractions, homonyms, etc. In addition to not really providing much in the way of challenge, the topics were hardly glanced over in terms of instruction or practice. For example, one page on contractions focused on each type of word to be shortened ("is" to "'s," for example). After than initial speed through the concept, the child is then darted on to another set of words to deconstruct. Then another. And on and on, with very little regard for retention or review.

This seemed to be the case with nearly every concept studied; mastery was by no means the goal--sheer exposure was the order of the day.

While the book's cover touted that it could be used as a core curriculum component for second grade language arts skills, I personally would be very reluctant to use this series as my sole guide to teaching this subject. A child handed this book and assigned a few pages at a time would easily be able to fill in some blanks with correct answers while learning very, very little. On the other hand, as a supplement, I can see how this kind of brief exercise would be valuable--especially when a child pretty much has the concept down. This is actually how I ended up using the book with Logan. He continued to use his core LA program, and I pulled selections from Language Smarts to spice up his daily application time.

As a supplement, this book is a pricey addition to any curriculum. Perhaps a parent using this book as a spine and not purchasing anything else--but providing lots and lots of hands-on instruction time coupled with many opportunities for writing and using the learned skills--could manage a balanced program for an 8 year-old. But knowing how workbooks are normally used ("Here, Johnny, go do your language arts.") I really can't recommend this particular book to homeschoolers. Stick with the other superb products offered by this company.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

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