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Brenda Shurley, veteran teacher of 20 years, received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Arkansas State University, with additional coursework toward her specialist’s degree. She is the creator and author of the successful textbook series Shurley English: English Made Easy (K to 8). Ms. Shurley lives in Arkansas, where she continues writing and enjoys being with her family.


 

CBD: In 1971 when you were teaching 8th-grade English in the public schools, you developed your own curriculum. What caused you to become dissatisfied with the way English was being taught in the school system? How does your method differ from traditional curriculums?

BS: I became frustrated when my eighth graders, though having had language instruction since their early elementary years, needed help remembering and applying the conventions of written and spoken English. It occurred to me that remediation and interventions would be less necessary if I could strengthen students’ understanding of basic English concepts throughout their formative school years. As the adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This holds true in my experience as an educator; consequently, I sought to apply this philosophy to my curriculum. That’s what makes Shurley English so different from traditional programs. I developed and refined several different teaching models in my classroom, utilizing feedback from my students. Now, my curriculum features a good balance of what I consider to be the most effective teaching models, some of which didn’t even have a “tag” back in the ‘70s.

One of these teaching models is Direct Instruction, which simply means that I don’t leave any information or prerequisite teaching to chance. Each and every lesson has enough scripted instruction so that, eventually, the instructional vocabulary becomes natural for every teacher who uses the Shurley English process.

In addition to Direct Instruction, I rely on the Memory model heavily. We know that memory is the mother of all learning. We also know that memory systems can be nurtured through the use of innovation, repetition, rhythm, music, and all the senses. For this reason, my curriculum uses Grammar Jingles and the Question and Answer Flow to group information in understandable segments, which facilitates mastery.

Probably the most significant teaching model evident in Shurley English is Brain-Compatible Instruction. In the ‘70s, I didn’t call what I was doing “brain-compatible.” I just knew it was effective teaching that really worked! It worked because I refused to teach grammar, skills, and writing as separate concepts. Understanding the parts of speech, definitions, and functions is absolutely a prerequisite for learners who wish to become fluent writers.

Without the language of instruction that knowing grammar provides, teachers are hard-pressed to converse with students about their writing. In Shurley English, once a grammatical concept is taught, the teacher never abandons it because it is the steppingstone to the next level of instruction. Our language is actually quite well-organized and can be manipulated easily by students who understand not only the semantics, or vocabulary, of English, but who can also apply the rules and conventions of English to writing.

 

 

CBD: The research cited on your website states that frequency, intensity, cross-training, adaptivity, motivation, and attention are important elements in learning. How does the Shurley approach incorporate these elements to improve learning? In your opinion, what are some of the most difficult obstacles for students to overcome when they are learning English?

BS: It’s quite obvious that most students don’t adequately practice standard English enough to truly master it. Mastery involves an awareness of semantics and syntax on several levels. The way I accomplish this in Shurley English is by presenting information in a logical, manageable order and frequency. Practice makes perfect, so it has been said, but I think that perfect practice makes perfect. So, in my opinion, the correct way to teach English is to use innovation so that the brain wants to attend to it. The Grammar Jingles are one of the primary ways this is accomplished. They’re musical, they’re rhythmic, and they’re fun! Students actually begin to subconsciously rehearse them. The program picks up momentum when the Question and Answer Flow is introduced, practiced, and mastered.

Cross-training and adaptivity are by-products of the program because students begin to demonstrate a real sense of “knowingness.” You can see it in their eyes when they truly understand your language of instruction. Eventually, the skills the students learn through this method begin to generalize or cross over into other areas of their learning. This is especially important for students today because one of the obstacles for learning English, in my opinion, is the overemphasis on high-stakes testing.

Learning English is a process—a very long process—and we, as educators, are tempted to skip through some of the most crucial building blocks for learning English, namely grammar, conventions, and overall comprehension. Another obstacle, as I see it, is inadequate modeling of correctly written and spoken English. This can be seen with the onslaught of communication technology, which doesn’t require or even promote the use of standard English in order to communicate. With such obstacles before us, it is more important than ever to train teachers how to instruct the language in such a way that its standards for correct usage can be retained for a lifetime. Shurley English is one of the ways to combat these barriers to learning and using standard English.

 

CBD: You note “the teacher is the key that unlocks the full potential of Shurley English. Other homeschool curriculums sometimes place more of the responsibility on the students. Why is the teacher’s role so important? How can parents make learning grammar fun for their children?

BS: While it is true that Shurley English starts with Direct Instruction, which is primarily teacher-centered, it simply builds the foundation for students to navigate independently. Shurley English requires a certain amount of “front-loading” of information, which the teacher provides throughout the curriculum. Homeschooling parents are probably quite familiar with this strategy. Once the teacher has demonstrated the jingles, orchestrated the practice schedule, and taught the Question and Answer Flow, grammar instruction is largely an independent endeavor for the students until a new concept or definition is introduced.

Let me reiterate that the teacher truly is the key that unlocks the full potential of Shurley English. The teacher is charged with keeping the learning environment emotionally safe, a place where students can take risks, make mistakes, learn from the mistakes, and know that all of their efforts to learn are important. These are fundamental ways to make all learning enjoyable. Of course, if the homeschooling parent or any other teacher is bored, disinterested, or unenthusiastic, the learning experience will reflect this. On the other hand, Shurley English teachers, who are involved in the process, who actively participate in the movement and rhythm of the jingles, generate a positive learning experience for the students.

 

 

CBD: In today’s era of instant messaging, many teachers complain that their students’ language skills are declining—especially in the areas of grammar and spelling. Can you comment on this trend and suggest ways parents can offset this cultural phenomenon?

BS: I briefly touched on this issue earlier, and I am concerned that there is no real way to control the incorrect use of standard English with such innovations as texting and instant messaging. However, that being said, people who don’t know they’re using incorrect English are powerless to improve it. This is the onramp for learning correct English. There are a lot of components to Shurley English, but the total value of learning English with Shurley is greater than the sum of its parts—the skills readily cross over into all types of communication, when the “code” has been properly taught and practiced over time. The “code” is the vocabulary of our language, which is grammar.

For some practical suggestions for parents who want to counteract the influence of the above-mentioned technologies, I think it’s essential to rigorously model and require correct grammar in both written and spoken responses, depending upon the audience. The reason I say “audience” is because sometimes colloquial language is entirely appropriate. The goal should be to train students to recognize their audience and to tailor their responses accordingly. You will be engaging in an all-out battle if you incessantly complain about your students’ or children’s incorrect language usage. With calculated parental responses, however, corrections can be suggested in an unabrasive way.

The best advice I can give is to start modeling correct usage when your children are still in the cradle. If you don’t feel secure in your own knowledge of correct grammar and usage, just teach Shurley English for a year, and you will begin to become an expert in your own right. For older students, use well-placed questions like, “Did you know that the number one job skill for the 21st century is communication?”

You can further support standard English in your home by establishing it as a “house rules” type of approach. It must be agreed upon within your family that since communication skills command such a high premium in this world, then it stands to reason that standard English will be encouraged in the home.

Try not to get caught up in the “corrector” trap. It’s upsetting to those who are being corrected, and it doesn’t really help. Instead, have open-ended conversations about the way certain ideas are expressed. Analyze how information is being communicated within the family and bring it to a conscious level so that it can be discussed. Keeping the threat low will increase the odds that a more correct standard will be used the next time.

It helps to know where the major errors in correct grammar usage occur. For instance, mastering grammar demons such as subjective pronouns versus objective pronouns, subject-verb agreement, and certain irregular verbs, can really raise the correctness ratio in daily oral language. A practical way that may help is to make a list of common mistakes made in the spoken language. Practice saying the corrections aloud as often as possible until they become your new standard. Using oral language correctly will transfer into writing.

 

 

CBD: What encouragement or tips can you share with parents who may not feel confident in teaching their children the intricacies of the English language?

BS: As I mentioned above, parents or teachers who commit to at least a year of teaching Shurley English can begin to repave the foundation of standard English that might not have “stuck” during their own schooling. You will learn along with your students. Learning is innately a social engagement. Students love knowing that we, as parents and teachers, are far from perfect, but we are still willing to learn new things. Modeling an eagerness to learn is a gift that you can give your children.


 

 Shurley English

Shurley English Level 1 Kit
Shurley English Level 1 Kit
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Shurley English Level 2 Kit
Shurley English Level 2 Kit
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Shurley English Level 3 Kit
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Shurley English Level 4 Kit
Shurley English Level 4 Kit
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Shurley English Level 5 Kit
Shurley English Level 5 Kit
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Shurley English Level 6 Kit
Shurley English Level 6 Kit
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Shurley English Level 7 Kit
Shurley English Level 7 Kit
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