Thursday, October 27, 2011

Crew Review: Excellence in Literature

Over the past month, I've had the opportunity to review Everyday Education's English 1: Introduction to Literature curriculum.  This curriculum (available as either an e-book download for $27 or a printed book for $29+shipping) is designed for 8th graders through 12th graders.   

The author, Janice Campbell, suggests that students already have the basic mechanics of writing down before starting. As an additional prerequisite, she encourages your student to already understand the basics of literary analysis and essay writing;  if not, she refers to her favorite prerequisite resources.

The course has nine units, each meant to take approximately one month to work through.  There is also an optional honors track, which adds eight additional works of literature into the program as well as a final paper for additional credit. For the honors program, you child reads the additional work, then writes one 6-10 page research paper about the author's life and influence.

The first unit is short stories (You can Google these works and find them online):
• Sarah Orne Jewett: A White Heron
• Edgar Allen Poe: The Purloined Letter (This one is not scary, if you're concerned about that.)
• Guy de Maupassant: The Diamond Necklace
• O. Henry: The Ransom of Red Chief
• Eudora Welty: A Worn Path
• James Thurber: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The remaining 8 units include Jane Eyre, Pygmalion, The Tempest, and Animal Farm among other equally as important works of western literature. You can visit Janice's blog to learn how she chose the highlights works.

What do you get with your purchase?  
Well, since I have the e-book, I have a  132-page document (I printed out a portion of it to use with my 7th grader) that is written to my student.  This is meant to be a course that your high schooler could walk himself through.  There is a suggested schedule to complete the work within a school year - but it will not tell your student how many pages to read each day (I have this in italics not because it is a bad thing, but it is a distinctive that you should consider when you choose high school level material).  Your student is going to have to manage his time to complete the novel and context readings (which for many works includes an extensive collection of interviews, videos, photos, and written resources -- not all are required).   Although you can download copies of nearly all the works used in the course for free (!!), it is recommended that you have hard copies of the books.

Here's something important to consider if you have a student who benefits from audiobook:  I love that auditory learners are not left out of this very linguistically-based program.  Audio books are discussed as appropriate add-ons for those who would benefit from their use.

The course includes grading rubrics for instructors to use to assign grades to their sudents. The grading rubrics are general guides -- not specific to each piece of literature.  There are separate rubrics for those who use the IEW style of writing and those that do not.

What are the goals and outcomes expected from this course?
• Introduce students to great literature from the western literary tradition.
• Teach students to read with discernment. (She has written a whole chapter in the guide on how to read a book)
• Train independent, self-motivated learners.
• Provide tools that students can use to strengthen their writing skills. (Models are provided of the different types of papers your child will complete.  If you are familiar with IEW's writing program, you will be pleased for an opportunity for your student to use their skills within this course)
• Introduce students to sources for high-quality online and offline research.
• Prepare students for college classes by expecting carefullyresearched, well-thought-out material to be presented

How does this high school literature program work?   
I couldn't find any samples of the literature program at the website, so it would be hard for me to even consider this program without more detailed information. (I will note, however, that the blog posts/ articles that are available at the website are great supplements and tools for teachers and students to understand writing and literature studies) So, I've decided to outline the basics from unit 2 (Around the World in 80 Days) so you can get an idea of whether or not this would work for your student.
Weeks 1 and 2: The first two weeks of a unit is spent reading the book as well as reading/ viewing the context resources.  You are encouraged to actively read -- underline important parts, favorite lines, etc. Also, your student will write an author profile (this course does a great job of providing models of each type of writing that is required, so that you know what you are aiming for) as well as an approach paper (I had never heard of this before, so I did a bit of online research and found this example here:
Week 3: Draft a 500-word essay based on a question given in the guide. (Watching the movie is an additional option, too!)
Week 4: Refine your draft, finish and proof it. The student is to use the rubric as a guide for completion.
How this course worked for us
Um, well, it didn't work for us.  But that is okay, because I have a 7th grader!  We went ahead and started at the short story unit (unit 1), and worked through some of the material verbally. Up to this point, my son (who has excellent reading comprehension) has been reading books just for the sake of reading. He doesn't read and then think about the elements of what he has read.  It quickly became apparent that we need to brush up on our literary analysis skills, and we plan to use a pre-requisite product that Janice recommends:  Teaching the Classics.  Although my son didn't write the approach paper, we did discuss the components of it.  I can see the value of the approach paper, especially in helping a student to think  about the author's work.  Writing out essay questions within this approach paper is certainly a great way to teach a student to think deep and wide!

What I think
I want readers of this blog to trust that I will tell it like it is. 
1.  I think this could be a great college-prep course for a motivated student.
2.  In my opinion, you will want to make sure your student is ready for this course.  Heed Janice's recommendations about prerequisite skills and abilities.  Teach essay writing, teach mechanics, teach how to read literature and how to begin to analyze it.
3.  I would not be comfortable teaching this course without having some background in the stories that are used, especially grading my students essays for content and accuracy.  You might want to get the Sparknotes or Cliffs Notes for these books -- or spend the summer reading them yourself.   

Please head over to The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew to read how this resource worked for others -- especially those with high school students!

FCC statement:  I was given a free copy of this course material in exchange for my honest opinion about this resource -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.  No other compensation was received.

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