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August 3, 2022

Building a Stronger Foundation for Future Communicators

by Sheila Key Thoburn, Curriculum Director


The 2022-2023 school year is about to begin.  Part of our work as school staff and teachers is to evaluate the previous school year and see how we can improve on the education we offer families at Oak Hill.  This summer we have made some changes to our English language curriculum that we feel will give each student, no matter the stage of learning, a better foundation for being an effective communicator.

Stages of Learning

Children go through different stages of learning, each stage building on the previous one. These stages are based on the abilities children have, increasing in depth as their minds mature and as a store of knowledge is built up and built upon.  According to a classical method of teaching, these stages are recognized as poll parrot, grammar, logic and rhetoric.

The first stage of learning begins even before schooling; it is a time of vocabulary building, the poll parrot stage.  Babies and toddlers learn how to speak. They learn to associate spoken words with tangible things.  This is the stage in which children pick up pronunciation of words including accents of parents and the dialect of a culture (even from various forms of media).

The second stage is the grammar stage.  During this stage students begin formal education.  Children in the grammar stage continue to learn by example, expanding vocabulary and constructing a foundation of language skills.  Students in the grammar stage love to saturate their minds and cement information via repetition: singing, chanting, reading and repeating rhymes and dialogue heard from conversations and stories.  Repetition and imitation are superbly fun at this stage.

In the third stage, logic, children begin to work with ideas.  Students question the why of things including rules. It is important that children have a strong foundation from the grammar stage, a large vocabulary and an encyclopedia of information to pull from, as they learn to have discussions and practice communicating their thought processes and own ideas.

Finally, the rhetoric stage pulls it all together.  Students learn and refine techniques to communicate clearly, persuasively and beautifully.  The strong grammar stage foundation gives students a library of information to work with during the rhetoric stage.  Practice taking apart ideas and discovering the how and why of them during the logic stages gives students in the rhetoric stage clear thinking making it easier to become effective communicators.

Components of English Language Education

English lessons are often called grammar lessons.  To clarify, English is the study of the grammar of the language as well as composition, poetry and speech.

Beginning in the grammar stage (roughly equivalent to elementary school) students learn the basics of English grammar, learn language patterns and vocabulary through literature, poetry and composition, and practice small speeches through common things such as show and tell or oral reading.

During the logic stage (approximately middle school) students learn more rules of English grammar, how and why they apply, and the exceptions.  Students should have plenty of practice in composition, learning techniques via reading and discussions.  They also learn by example from a variety of poets and authors, learning different styles for different purposes of writing.  And, students are given more opportunities to speak in front of a group, building skills and confidence.

Composition and speech are emphasized in the rhetoric stage with few lessons on the rules of English grammar.  Students practice using correct grammar and figurative language learned in previous stages in their own writing and speech delivery.

Changes to English Language Curriculum at Oak Hill

We have made some changes to the English curriculum at Oak Hill that we believe will benefit students in the grammar stage and help them become strong students in the logic and rhetoric stages.  In elementary school, we are moving away from a grammar curriculum that is better suited for the logic stage.  Instead we are choosing a curriculum for the elementary students that is more definitely a grammar stage program.

Making this change will give the elementary students multiple benefits including 1. Allowing students to more completely know the rules of English grammar, 2. Giving them more time for composition, 3. Offering more time for poetry memorization and recitation to learn language patterns, and 4. Affording more opportunities to practice simple speeches in a small group setting.

We have chosen to switch to a curriculum by Memoria Press, English Grammar Recitations, for most of the elementary grades' grammar instruction.  With the basic presentation of grammar concepts younger students will not be overwhelmed with the reasoning of the grammar rules and application.  Shurley Grammar will continue to be used in fifth in sixth grades as students by that age are ready for the logic of grammar that Shurley incorporates.

For composition, students in elementary grades and middle school will mostly use books from the Writing & Rhetoric series by Classical Academic Press.  Students will learn by example, using classical writing exercises from the progymnasmata as well as learning techniques to share their own thoughts more clearly.  Teachers at Oak Hill will continue to use methods and exercises from the Institutes for Excellence in Writing to help students learn notetaking, outlining, as well as the art of giving a short speech from an outline.

Additionally, we have added specific poets and eras of poetry to our curriculum lists.  Teachers will work throughout the year to help students analyze and understand the poems.  Students will memorize verses and use great techniques for reciting the poetry.

In the upper school students will have an opportunity to analyze various forms of communication, not just writing in prose and poetry.  Students will look at the persuasive abilities used in speeches, movies, paintings and music.  In this they will be learning from different forms and finding techniques they can use in their own work to be future leaders in the world.


We are always exploring ways to improve the education we offer for Oak Hill students.  Year to year different methods and curriculum may better suit the needs of our families and teachers.  We encourage parents to be a part of our curriculum decisions and their student's education.  Current curriculum is on display at school and easily accessible to families.  We look forward to another year of being a part of your children's education and working together with you, the parents.

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