I use Rod and Staff’s English program to teach grammar and some writing.
This curriculum uses a very traditional approach to grammar and writing. In this approach lies both its strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s first look at what I consider to be its strengths.
Nouns, verbs, subjects, predicates, objective, subjective, tense, punctuation, diagramming, and many other details are all taught. Each grade level goes into a bit more depth, sometimes leading the student to think they already know the lesson when in actuality there is a little new information at each level. By the time they get to seventh grade, they are learning about coordinating conjunctions and adverb phrases, but since they’ve been studying conjunctions and adverbs for years, they are not overwhelmed.
Diagramming is taught from a very young age. This helps the learner to see the sentence and its functional parts in a different way and, though it’s challenging, teaches at a level that cannot be equaled.
Now let’s move on to its weaknesses. In my opinion, these books are extremely outdated and limited in their presentation.
This series is blatantly conservative Christian. It may be surprising that I list this as a weakness because I myself am also blatantly conservative Christian. However, the lengths to which they go to address EVERYTHING from a Christian lens gets old quite quickly. I do not have a problem with them using scripture references occasionally and talking about Christian values in some examples, but in my opinion they are out of balance and use it way too much, at times almost exclusively. They also teach KJV English along with modern English. Included in pronoun lessons, for example, are instructions on how to use “thee” and “thou.” This is not a real problem, but it can be distracting for kids who don’t use a lot of the KJV.
Also, being Mennonite, which is not too far from being Amish, most of the few examples that are not scriptural or religious are rural in nature. Farming and country life is often the subject of the exercises, and since my kids have only set foot on a farm a few times, and then only for a few hours, they have a hard time relating to sentences about fields and cows and harvesting.
Also, some of the lessons have more to do with etiquette and nothing to do with grammar or writing. In my opinion, lessons on how to answer the telephone or how to introduce people to each other do not belong in an English book.
This curriculum teaches not only grammar but writing. Since it is coming from such a rural Mennonite setting these writing exercises mainly address paragraph structure, book reports, and letter writing. Essay writing or writing for any academic setting is not developed at all. Any college-bound student is going to need additional training in how to write for an academic setting.
So why do I use it? I continue to use this curriculum because I haven’t found anything that teaches grammar in such a robust way. I use a separate writing program and skip most of the writing exercises in Rod and Staff. We also skip the outdated and irrelevant etiquette lessons. I wish that I could find a more modern program with a higher-level writing program. Until I do, I will make do with this one, picking and choosing, adding and subtracting, making it work for us. I will accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.