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Should You Continue to use Michael Clay Thompson After Age 11?

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

I’ve read comments made by many homeschooling parents in Michael Clay Thompson Facebook groups, and most of those comments center around Levels 1-3 (Island, Town, Voyage).

However, there is very little conversation about levels 4-7.

My hunch is that the level 1-3 books present a foundation of grammar, writing skills, reading skills, and vocabulary that parents frequently feel comfortable teaching independently to their young ones. Those levels are fun, and the information in Levels 1-3 is fresh for young minds, yet it serves as a fruitful review for former pupils such as ourselves.

However, with level 4 and onward, rigor really ramps up. Right now, you may wonder:

Should you continue to purchase and teach this curriculum?
Do you have the excitement and motivation to teach these upper level books to your child?
Can your student work independently through these books?
Or, do you need an online educator from J. PEZ Tutoring to help use these books to provide high-quality guided instruction and support?

My name is Jessica Pezold, and since 2018, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching this curriculum to many of my online tutoring students. Although MCT presents a high quality set of books, I have opinions about which books in the series are worth your time and money, and which ones can be skipped.

Level 4:

Good news and bad about this level. Overall, I enjoy it. My favorite book in the series is the Vocabulary of Literature. These lessons feel more organized than the upper level books because they are laid out in a direct, simplistic way that makes both the teaching process and the independent learning process straightforward.

Each lesson provides vocabulary from previous levels, so if you’ve been in the MCT world, the “repeater” words serve as reinforcement, but if you haven’t, your student gets to learn an additional set of words that are slightly easier than the new ones presented.

The layout for each lesson consists of ten pages that include a brief author bio, sentences that beg for each part of speech to be labeled, poems with the new vocabulary embedded, writing prompts that inspire creativity, and more. This is a useful and effective range of activities that could last for a day’s lesson, or even a week.

This stuff is great, if you like consistency. The bad news is that it can get repetitive, particularly the writing prompts.

If you can, order the ebook. The only books you really, really need in paper form are the 4 Level practice books, but even then, you could order the instructor manual (which has the blessed answer key) and simply give your student the sentences on a white board or type them on a Google doc and have students label them on notebook paper.

Additional less-than-favorable news about Level 4:

The novels recommended in this level are… oof.

These works are either difficult for upper elementary/middle school readers to relate to, or they are seen as quite violent and harsh to take in.

I’ve had students do well with these books, but for others, I’ve chosen replacement books at or above their level that also fit their interest. The Michael Clay Thompson world has a clever business move:

They print and sell their own publications of these novels. You don’t have to buy these particular publications, but if you purchase an entire MCT level’s bundle, you may end up with them anyway.

Personally, I pick and choose the books I want to buy from the Royal Fireworks Press website, especially the ebooks, because those are cheaper and they take up less space than the print version. Plus, I teach online, so ebooks work for my tutoring business.

For the novels, I recommend getting them from the library, from Amazon, or on the Kindle. Fortunately, many classic books have been in circulation for so long that they’re easily available.

Level 5 :

I’ve talked about this level before in another YouTube video, which you of course are invited to watch.

Level 5 and 6 contain a series called Word Within the Word. The video posted here in my blog will show a sample of these pages.

The truth is that if you want to learn more stems/roots/suffixes, that info is there. If you need practice work to pick and choose from, trust me..... it’s there. These books are so dense with work that you could spend weeks on just one section if you chose to do so.

Both Word Within the Word texts are organized by lessons that include a list of 25 stems, and each stem includes 5-8 example words.

That’s a lot for a student to memorize, and it makes teaching harder.

Do we have our students learn and memorize the entire list?
Do we pick and choose our favorite words from each list for the child to focus upon?

Homeschooling allows you to choose, but it can be tough to be responsible for such a choice.

Both Level 5 and 6 Word Within the Word contain bits of classic history. I feel these are quite dull to read, but ironically, I've had multiple students enjoy these excerpts! So hey, if they enjoy it, we certainly read the excerpts, and we discuss them too. The cool part of these sections is that they help shed light on how so much of the world was shaped by western customs, culture, and language.

Oh, and there are pictures in these texts, and everyone likes pictures!

When homeschooling, some parents follow the weekly projection plan that is recommended on the MCT website, but with my students, the lessons are tailored to their needs, so we may only use one or two MCT textbooks at a time, and we speed up or slow down our pacing based on the student’s frequency of study or their level of understanding.

All kids learn differently. However, all students do best when they are held accountable.

Even self-motivated or academically advanced kids overlook things and might learn better with a tutor.

I offer a few hours a week for ELA students ages 11 and up, and I use these books to coach students through their vocabulary growth, their writing ability, and their reading comprehension. I wish I’d had these books as a kid because they’re so thorough .However, don’t buy all of them. Don’t.

Here are the ones I've found most useful:

Building Poetry (level 2)

The Vocabulary of Literature (level 4)

The Magic Lens (level 5)

Word Within the Word (levels 5 & 6)

Some tid-bits to think about:

The Advanced Academic writing books leave much to be desired. More on that in future videos/blogs.

Taking a MCT online course will cost more money and time compared to learning this content with me.

MCT is great, but they’re like all businesses where they’d love for you to be in their world and buy all of their books and products. If you’re savvy, which I’m sure you are, you’ll pick and choose what is best for your child.

With that said, you are invited to reach out! I love answering questions about how I can help you child enjoy their earning experience.

Here's my email:

Thank you for reading :)

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