Shurley English is a grammar and composition program by grade level (1 – 8). Each lesson features jingles about parts of speech and other critical facts, sentences to classify, a lesson, and some sort of activity to close it all up. The lessons take about 30 – 60 minutes to complete and are designed to be completed daily for around 30 weeks, depending on the level. The program is heavily reliant on student/teacher interaction, with very little of it suitable for independent work.
I have used Shurley English for first grade through third. Overall, I can feel confident in giving the program a resounding meh. It is a bit dry at times, but I expect that’s just the subject, not the curriculum itself. Even with the dry presentation, my children didn’t hate it, and sometimes even enjoyed it, which is always helpful. The program, however, has some big weakness and some definite strengths that end up canceling each other out to almost perfect mediocrity.
Shurley English does a wonderful job covering the basics of grammar. My first grader can identify prepositional phrases and all the parts therein. He can also identify irregular verbs and explain what the difference is between a regular and irregular verb. He knows how to change verbs to fit the tense of the sentence, and many of the rules to do so. To me, that’s pretty impressive. My third grader can do some equally amazing grammar-fu. Much of his work I wasn’t doing until 7th or 8th grade. When it comes down to it, Shurley is very effective for teaching grammar basics.
However, the journey can sometimes be painful. Students are asked to fill out chart after chart and look up obscure rules. I think my third grader had over 30 punctuation rules he was supposed to know. He did the work, and usually got it right, so I really can’t argue with the results, but often times stating the rule number for each use of punctuation seemed very nit-picky and overly complex, not to mention time-consuming. Maybe that’s just grammar anyway you teach it though.
The jingles in Shurley were a great idea, but the execution was a little weak. They certainly helped; my children learned about parts of speech and how to construct a proper sentence, but the jingles that came with the program were reminiscent of a drug-hazed cult recitation. If you look online, you can find the jingles jazzed up and much improved. Why not just include better versions with the program instead of the awful renditions that they chose? Toss a musician a few bucks to liven them up, and they’d be much more effective.
Most of these criticisms are small, and certainly not enough to break the program. Open book tests for the tedious conjugation and punctuation rules, using Youtube for jingles, and softening up certain assignments are all doable edits to the program. You certainly can’t argue with the results the program gives. However, there is one fatal flaw in Shurley that drove me away. After three years of using the program, I realized I couldn’t get around it anymore.
That fatal flaw is in the writing portion of the program. Shurley gives little to no assistance with the writing process. An example is given, guidelines are laid out, and an editing checklist is provided (mostly for technical errors), but never is a thought given to the writing process. No tips for brainstorming, organizing ideas, or creative voice. Instead, writing is presented almost like a math formula. Where’s the fun in that?
My first grader was writing paragraphs that were glorified mad-libs. They went exactly like this: I have two favorite _____. My favorite ______ are _____ and _____. My first favorite _____ is ______. I like _______ because _______. My second favorite ______ is _______…. and so on. My third grader wasn’t doing much better. It was so boring. It didn’t grab my students and introduce them to the fun of writing.
Now I understand that younger children need quite a bit of hand-holding when learning to write. They really don’t have the comfort levels to explore their voice and break the mold. However, I do want them to have the opportunity to try out new ideas. I need them to have some idea of how to gather and organize their thoughts. Instead, the program provides a color-by-number formula. How awful.
Even the editing process was left fairly formulaic. Yes, students do need to learn how to find punctuation and capitalization mistakes, but they also need to learn how to polish. They need to know how to refine awkward sentences, remove rambling, rearrange sentences, and add detail. All this boiled down to in Shurley was a few items on a checklist with no discussion of how to do it.
I can not say that Shurley was a bad program, but it certainly wasn’t a good program. Maybe in later levels, more information is given on the finer points of editing and style, but I really needed anything in the lower levels. I want my children to love writing, not play mad-libs.
In a perfect world, I would still use Shurley for what it does best. I’d use it to teach grammar and the other technical aspects of writing. I’d use it for certain good editing practices it teaches, but I would also supplement with a program that actually taught the writing process. However, as my budget and time aren’t unlimited, I’m going to have to move on to a program that can yield a net positive, not just break even.
Pros: Effective, good ratio of review to new learning, good price for material
Cons: Time-consuming, doesn’t teach writing process