Sunday, July 7, 2013

{Crew Review} Teaching the Classics: Learn to Teach Literary Analysis to All Ages

Although I love to read, I had never really “gotten” literature analysis until I began homeschooling my boys.  Isn’t that a horrible thing to admit?  Transparent moment here:  I took two literature classes in college and never really understood what to do when I was in the class!  I was never taught literary analysis.  I just read the book, listen to the lectures, answered questions.  Get an A on the test and move on.  Next!

I certainly do not want that for my boys.

A few years ago I was introduced to Teaching the Classics ($89, TTC), a DVD curriculum that primarily teaches teachers how to teach literature. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to be offered the opportunity to review the DVD set and seminar workbook and  USE this with my kids!

The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) offers this program in their catalog as a superb way for homeschoolers (and other educators) to gain the tools in Socratic dialog to help their students really understand literature.

“Socratic dialog?” you might be asking yourself.  “What is that?”  Briefly, this is a method of teaching whereby students answer open ended questions which lead them towards learning and understanding.  Adam and his wife Missy Andrews, the author of this program, prefer this style of teaching because of these points (taken from p. 12 of the seminar guide):

1. It is an effective way of engaging students in the learning process (instead of having students passively listen to lectures).

2. The Socratic method allows teachers to use literature to help instruct in character and worldview. Other teaching techniques tend to tell students what to think about literature.  

3.  It allows the teacher to help teach the student how to think using literature as a tool.

Here is an introduction by Andrew Pudewa from IEW explaining Teaching the Classics:

What is included in this product: You’ll receive a set of 4 DVDs, which contain Adam Andrews giving a 6-part seminar to other parents/ teachers about his Socratic method for literary education.\:

  • Disc 1: Session 1 (Preparing for Literary Analysis) – This section is the longest (approximately 1:30 hrs.) but it gives you the rational and basics for learning from literature.  You can also listen to Mr. Andrews as he leads the seminar participants in a Socratic dialog about “The Ride of Paul Revere.”  Truly, after listening to his discussion of Longfellow’s classic poem, you will never look at it the same again! (Hint:  It’s theme of freedom has nothing to do with the Revolutionary War!)
  • Disc 2: Session 2-3 (Plot and Conflict; Setting) – Session two introduces a story sequence chart which students can use to discover the basic parts of a story (such as exposition, climax, and denouement) as well as the idea of conflict in a story.  Session three explores the effects setting can create in a story.  These sessions are approximate 60 minutes and 40 minutes, respectively.
  • Disc 3: Session 4-5 (Character; Theme) The next two sessions are each approximate 45 min. in length.  Session four focuses on characters and their attributes.  In session five, the idea of universal themes is discussed.
  • Disc 4: Practicum “Casey at Bat” – This hour long final session gives you the opportunity to participate in a discussion of all the literary elements of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s famous poem.  Mr. Andrews guides off-line participants to answer questions, use the story sequence charts and draw out information to enlighten you about this piece of famous American poetry.

You’ll also receive a seminar workbook, which contains session by session handouts, notes from the seminar lectures, and several helpful sections:

  • A Curriculum for Literature
    • Scope and Sequence
    • Daily Lesson Plans
    • Story Chart (blank for copying)
  • Appendices
    • The Socratic List of questions
    • Reading Lists
    • Glossary of Literary Terms

Here is a sample of Mr. Andrews at work:


How we used it:  This is not a workbook approach to teaching literature.  You, as the parent/ educator, will need to engage with your students to help them uncover all the author is saying through a piece of work.  I think this is a method of teaching that will help your children learn how to think about literature and will help them as they mature in their education as well as help them be great thinkers.

So even though I was familiar with this, I wanted to walk through the lectures with Ben and help him apply the information to some samples.  Happily, I knew that the awesome people at IEW had put together a student packet to help parents use Mr. Andrews’ lectures as a teaching tool.  You can download it for free at the IEW website [TCS Lesson Plans here].

Ben and I would watch the lectures (there were a couple he watched by himself) and then he would test out Mr. Andrew’s Socratic questions through the TCS Lesson Plans.  Ben is a fan of O. Henry’s short stories, and I was pleased that he would be able to engage with some familiar literature.  After he had a chance to read the stories, Ben answered the accompanying Socratic questions, which we talked about the next day.

It was great to be able to dialog with Ben about different aspects of the story.  What was neat was to be able to see areas where Ben needs a bit more support and help in his understanding of literature.  For example, character studies are harder for Ben than understanding the story arch.  This teaching method gives me ways to help Ben gain an overall better understanding of literature.


A critical part of TTC is the Socratic List in the appendix.  This nine page long set of questions is the heart of TTC.  Here, Mr. Andrews has proffered Socratic questions which will make your students think abut what they’ve read, wrestle with the characters and their conflicts, and probe the author’s background to bring to light new insights into his/her work.  Throughout the course, you will gain familiarity with these questions and learn to use a small selection of them to encourage discussion.

And, just so that you can understand how to incorporate this methodology into your homeschool, Mr. Andrews provides an outline of how to use the program in a literature program.  If you feel you must have a laid out lesson plan, Mr. Andrews’ suggestions will probably not be enough for you;  however, if you are willing to using the method and adapt it to your situation, I think you’ll be fine.  {I’ll just add that at the beginning of my homeschool career, this lack of structure would have driven me crazy;  I know feel confident enough to use the suggestions consistently.}

Some things I liked about the course:

  • Mr. Andrews is an engaging lecturer.  Although the first lecture if quite long, he is engaging and fun to watch.  Mr. Andrews’ passion for the subject is infectious – which makes learning from him a delight. 
  • I love that Mr. Andrews uses children’s literature to teach these elements of analysis.  I think it makes the topic accessible to timid literary students (like my Ben, who loves to read, but hesitates when asked to do much more than indicate if he liked a book or not).
  • I also appreciate that in each lesson about literary elements, Mr. Andrews also stretches teachers and students to apply the information in adult literature.  This helps me as a mom of a student who is or will be reading adult literature to understand how to apply these questions.
  • I appreciate the way that the IEW staff has incorporated a gentle lesson plan to help those of us implement a Socratic education with our students.  I feel like I’ve had additional hand-holding that will make moving out on my own a little less traumatic.
  • Since I’m learning with Ben, I enjoy having conversations with him.  I love that he teaches me things.

I’m happy to say that I could not make a list of things I didn’t like!

My recommendations & thoughts:  I love this product.  I think it is a must have for those who plan to engage with their children in a discussion of literature – especially those mamas who follow a Classical, Unit Study, or Literature-based style of homeschooling.  If you are more comfortable having your student work through literature guides or a literature textbook program, then this may not be a must have for your homeschool. 

I also really want to recommend that you consider starting slowly with your children.  I plan on using this with Luke and Levi in the fall and following Mr. Andrews’ suggestion out picking out several key stories to work through with them – maybe just 2 a quarter.  Likely, they will be far below the boys’ reading level, but that is OK – I won’t be asking them to read these books to practice reading fluency, but rather to practice reading comprehension and analysis.  Ben and I are going to do one last literary analysis before the summer is over – we’re going to use Mr. Andrew’s recorded lecture which uses A Bargain for Frances as the literature piece.  I plan on us each reading the short book, engaging in a dialog with Ben, then listening to the relevant part of Mr. Andrews’ lecture so we can both gain more insight into how the Socratic method works.  In the fall, Ben and I will be using the Socratic List to help him parse out the topics about which he’ll be writing bi-weekly and weekly papers.

IEW blessed many other TOS reviewers with the opportunity to try out their writing program in addition to Teaching the Classics!  If you are looking for a writing program that will help you teach writing to your students, that is engaging and enjoyable, click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

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