I am not an expert. And I am not an Essentials tutor. I'm just a mom.
This year marks Stephen's fourth year in Essentials (which means this will also be my fourth year in Essentials - because we started in 3rd grade, back when Essentials was recommended for 3rd-6th grade). I have thought so much about words of wisdom I could offer to others who have asked, but it really has all boiled down to just this. The most significant thing I've learned over the past three years to make Essentials easier for you and your child is...
Read your Essentials Guide.
Simple, right? But… let me be honest. I only read a small portion of the Essentials Guide our first year. I came up with my own way of wrestling with scheduling, my own way of scaling down assignments, my own way of figuring out how the layering process was supposed to work. I could have saved myself the trial-and-error method of learning by just reading the Essentials Guide. Quite possibly, no one else in the world has made this same error. Surely, no one out there is as hardheaded as I am?
If you are new to Essentials, here I offer a reading plan to tackle before your first week of Essentials. This should not take more than one evening - maybe just an hour or two of your time. And then you can revisit this again after your community's Essentials class has started because all things seem to click better when you're in the midst of it.
So, grab a highlighter and/or pencil, and let's get started.
Take a quick trip through your Essentials Guide
Page numbers are for the newest 4th edition revised. The old 4th edition page numbers are in parentheses.
But first: Do you need to understand all of what you're reading before you start Essentials? NO! But reading these pages will help you to grasp what this huge, intimidating guide is all about; it will provide a context and hopefully dissolve any apprehension you're feeling as you approach your first week of Essentials.
Read Pages 1-25 (1-23). This will not only give you an overview of the Essentials program along with some great encouragement starting out, it will also provide you with a proposed plan and schedule for the English Grammar portion of Essentials (Essentials of the English Language, or EEL), and a proposed plan and schedule for the IEW writing assignment portion of Essentials. Would you believe the schedule I came up with using my trial-and-error method is almost exactly the same as the one already listed on the Week-at-a-Glance sheet on page 24 (22)? *sigh*
If you read nothing else in this section, please be sure to read page 25 (23), How Essentials is Like Monopoly, which explains the three-tour approach of Essentials. (But, seriously, read the whole thing!) Note: The three-tour approach refers to three years of Essentials.
"Thirty minutes a day of practice together on one chart and one sentence will produce great results: children who know grammar and love learning." (page 25 (23), EEL Guide) Isn't this what we want - not just simplicity, but also children who love learning?
Read Page 399 (397). This page will give you an overview of how to practice writing out charts each week. The only difference I would mention is that it is now encouraged to use a blank sheet of paper for charts instead of the fill-in-the-blank charts in the guide. So.. I'm not sure that page protectors are even needed. We are using a spiral notebook full of blank ruled paper for chart practice this year… just a stick (pencil) and the sand (paper).
Read Page 434 (432). This explains the Task Analysis you will begin during Week 3. It fully explains the three-tour approach intended for the six analytical tasks and how to expand upon them as your child enters the second and third tours of Essentials. Honestly, because I did not realize the purpose behind the task analysis (which is having a dialectic discussion with your child), I did not optimize the time we spent during our first year or two of Essentials. We were more focused on getting-it-done-so-we-could-check-the-box than we were on developing our questioning and thinking skills.
Read (or at least skim) Pages 51-56 (49-54). This explains in great detail the Analytical Tasks you will use for sentences starting in Week 3. Later, you will add in the remaining tasks as identified on pages 57-63 (55-61). Place a paper clip on these pages so that you can easily refer back to them as many times as needed. It is a very important part of your Essentials Guide!
Read (or at least skim) Pages 457-464 (455-462). Although the Essentials program assumes that basic punctuation and capitalization rules are taught at home (not in class), the EEL Guide provides the opportunity to teach these concepts using conversation between teacher and student through editing exercises. This chapter gives an overview of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling and provides insight into each of these aspects of English grammar. It also explains how to use the EEL Guide for spelling instruction should you choose to use this part of the guide instead of using a different spelling program at home.
My last note about reading your Essentials Guide would be to read each week's lesson before Essentials class. You can make notes of things you don't understand so that you can best utilize the time with your Essentials tutor. This program is meant to be a layering process, so reading the lesson ahead of time will give you another layer of learning that you would not otherwise have!
Now… a few things that help me to stay organized.
First, speak with your tutor about how to organize and scale back if needed. They are there to help you!
Our Essentials Guide notebook is still organized like I listed in our Preparing for Essentials post. I think our Essentials tutor asked us to do this not only to help us find things easily, but also to get us acquainted with our Essentials Guide before we came to class. But… I no longer think it's necessary to have a student binder. This could be because we're on our fourth time through the program, but I think it's because I now realize that all we really need is a stick and the sand (and our Essentials Guide) to learn the grammar.
I have an extra copy of page 20 (18), EEL Scope and Sequence Chart for quick reference. This helps us to ensure we are focusing on the correct information each week. It's just a great at-a-glance page! (I also have an extra copy of pages 433-434, Weekly Practice Sentences for quick reference.)
My Personal This-Worked-for-Us Tips
You master the curriculum. Do not let it master you. Adjust things as necessary for you, for your student, for your family, for your life, for whatever circumstances you may be facing. [Sometimes this means missing a writing assignment, or practicing certain charts on a different week, or using abbreviations on almost everything, or doing almost all of your Essentials work as an oral recitation, or typing the writing assignments for your child as he dictates...]
Take the time to watch the IEW TWSS (Teaching Writing: Structure and Style) DVD Seminar (ask your Essentials tutor about it!). Andrew Pudewa is so down-to-earth. These videos gave me so much encouragement just to know that my son was a normal boy with a normal aversion to writing - and that we could still tackle the assignments even though he would rather build forts all day.
During Week 9, when you start practicing the Verb Anatomy chart - and if you are using the charts in the EEL Guide (instead of a blank sheet of paper) - I found that it was much easier to fit the information on the "advanced" verb chart FF. It's the same thing but in a 2-page format. By the way, there's a lot of great information in the advanced verb charts (Chart BB, for example), that you may want to read during Week 9 (or when you get a chance to do so during subsequent weeks).
One thing that helped us with task analysis (starting in Week 3) was to do an oral Question Confirmation Drill on simple sentences. We started with question confirmation on subject-verb sentences and practiced those until they were mastered. Then we added direct objects, etc. until we had the entire set of questions memorized. You can download a sample Question Confirmation Drill here.
Listed below are some past posts I've written about Essentials, but my best piece of advice, before reading any of the following, is to read your Essentials Guide. And… don't be overwhelmed or apprehensive about what is in store for the coming year(s)! Essentials is a great program, you don't have to do it all (actually, if it's your first year, you are expected to scale back significantly; you will be back through this exact same stuff two more times!), and your Essentials grammar lessons should take no longer than 30 minutes. Not only that, your tutor will show you how to do it! [That was easy!]
*** I've decided that a student notebook is no longer necessary, but maybe it was necessary for me to stay organized during previous years?? This year, I did not feel like making copies of anything, so I didn't. I just bought a spiral notebook with three sections for Chart practice, Sentence Task Analysis, and IEW Key-word-outlines and rough drafts. So, we're cranking up this year with just a stick, the sand, and our Essentials Guide.
Let me know if you have questions! I know a host of great Essentials tutors I can ask! :)