Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Crew Review: Progeny Press Literature Guides

Seventh grade for Ben has meant a bit of a bump in expectations of the amount of work and the quality of work that is expected of him.  For example, this year he has had to be accountable not just for his history class readings (we have a history discussion session weekly with a couple other students), but for his literature readings as well (because we have been having lit. discussions).  I'm being more intentional about teaching literary analysis.

Progeny Press Study Guides for Literature  are a tool that many use to accomplish this goal.  We used the guide for Across Five Aprilsan historical fiction piece that was part of our Tapestry of Grace reading. Progeny Press sent me a copy of their interactive PDF, but the guides are also available as a bound, paper guide and on PDF on a CD.

The emailed PDF file is $16.99, on CD is $16.99.  The booklet (paper) guide is $18.99 and a combo booklet/ CD is $23.99.  The guides can be ordered at the Progeny Press online store as well as many other vendors. {The PDFs are not instant access, but are emailed to you within one business day.}

I've resisted using these guides over the past few years because they just seem too "school-y" for me, but after having the opportunity to really interact with one, I can see their value!

The guide had the following sections:
Notes to Instructor
auhor biography
Background Information
Pre-reading Activities
Activities During Reading

After the preliminary information (above), the actual guide divided this book into chapter pairs (Ch. 1 & 2 were together, etc.).  Although each chapter pair's sections were different, they seemed to each include:
Thinking About the Story
Dig Deeper
Some chapter sets had sections Connections to History as well as  optional writing sections and discussion suggestions at the end (although not all the writing and discussion sections were optional!).

After the chapter specific studies are done, the guide has an Overview section.  Here's where you really do some deeper plot analysis -- things like discussing the rising action, main conflict, and climax.  Finally, a Biblical worldview is used to assess the book's themes and motifs as a whole -- to focus our students on eternity, not earthly pursuits.

Here's some things I really like about the guide we were given:
  1. I love the type-in, save-able PDF.  (Just make sure you "save as" with a different name so you have your original.) Although Ben and I aren't totally set up to make this work right now (a computer of his own is in the near future), that he can type vs. write is huge and something that makes work less ..... work-like.
  2. I liked the questions that Ben had to define the word in context of the passage, and then look up the word in a dictionary {we used an online dictionary since we were doing this part on the computer}.
  3. The "Question" section deals with comprehension and story development (and some literary devices).  Some questions were straight short-answer questions that asked Ben to summarize a section of the story.  Summarizing is something that is so important to practice again and again!
  4.  I thought the discussion of literary elements was at an appropriate level for Ben.  Although we've not done a comprehensive literary analysis of 1 book, we've looked at bits-and-pieces across a number of books this year.  The terms were explained and defined in a middle-school friendly way (not too simplistically, but I didn't think the discussions were over Ben's head).
  5. Writing from a Christian worldview, these guides incorporate Biblical verses to help students think from a godly perspective about people, issues and situations.  I LOVE this part.
  6. For this piece of historical fiction, the guide incorporates many suggested learning activities to really incorporate history into this book.  I think these guide would be huge helps for those families who wish to have a literarture-rich learning environment.  Since Across Five Aprils is about the Civil War, there were activities for mapping, outside report writing, learning about battles during the war.
  7. Although we did not do any of the writing assignments, for my son these writing assignments would definitely be a challenge -- in a good way.  The persuasive writing assignment asks the student to reflect on a Biblical element of growth and share an opinion about it {this relates to the novel because one of the themes of Across Five Aprils is that of coming of age and maturity}.  The guide gives a general outline of how to write a 3-paragraph essay {intro, supporting details, conclusion}.  This is Ben's first year of writing persuasively, so this sort of assignment would be helpful.

I just want to point out the recommended use of this guide. It is suggested that the student read the entire book first (in a week), and then work through the guide.  I can certainly see a benefit to doing this because you already know where the story is going to take you.  This was a new approach to literary study for Ben, who is used to reading a section of a novel, then completing a literary study on that section only.  He didn't wholly care for this new method, but he can be a fuddy-duddy in his willingness to try something new.  Could we have done the guide just as well if we'd read a section and then answered the questions?  I definitely think so.
    How did this work for us?  I'll be totally honest:  Ben didn't like it, but this was mostly because he didn't care for the novel (which I was shocked at!).  He and I had read this book before as a read aloud (and enjoyed it), so I thought he'd like it again.  But that didn't happen. I think the book just clouded his view of the guide, so please don't let Ben's feelings sway you against the guide.  As a teacher/ mom, I really appreciate the thoroughness of this guide and will plan for ways to incorporate these into our main literature program.

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    FCC Statement: Thanks to Progeny Press, who furnished a complementary copy of this resource in exchange for my honest opinion about it.  No other compensation was received.

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