It's obvious that I love to read to my children. Unfortunately, we don't always take the time to really discuss the books that we read aloud. If we do discuss the materials, I usually stick to fact-based questions. Sometimes I take the easy way and ask them to tell Daddy what we read. In the end, we get the basic story-line, but I rarely take the time to analyze the literature.
When I start thinking about what I want Addison's high school studies to include, I often think about how I want to purposefully study books with her. I want her to be able to grasp more than just the basic story line. I want her to be able to think about literature, analyze it, and then articulate a response to the works that she's read. The TOS Review Crew introduced me to a curriculum that will help meet those goals.
Excellence in Literature offers five years of literature study material for eighth through twelfth graders -- Introduction to Literature, Literature and Composition, American Literature, British Literature, and World Literature. Each book consists of nine units, each approximately four weeks long. If you'd like to see a list of literature covered in each book, you can download it here. Of note, each unit focuses on a single text; additional works are studied if you opt to follow the honors track.
Addison started by working through a unit on short stories, and I read through several of the other units. I'm very impressed.
The material is divided into week-long chunks, which teaches time management and also allows for a flexible school schedule. The student must set the pace so that they finish reading the work in the allotted time, and it really doesn't matter if they choose to read it seven days in a row or in just two very long reading sessions.
Each week also has a corresponding writing assignment. For instance, in the unit about Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, the student will write an Author Profile the first week, write an Approach Paper the second week, draft a 500-word essay the third week, and then edit the essay on the fourth week. The essay assignment for this unit asks the student to decide whether Dr. Fogg's valet did more to help or to hinder him on his journey. To complete the assignment, the student needs "to discuss specific events in the story, using appropriate quotes from the text to illustrate your point."
I found the writing assignments to be challenging. For Addison, they weren't overwhelming, but they definitely require her to think. This is a real literature study course. It doesn't simply quiz the student on their recollection of the characters, the setting, or even famous quotes. The author expects the student to think about real literary analysis questions.
Although the materials are written directly to the student, I personally would not feel comfortable using it unless I was familiar with the books and could help Addison along the way. Also, since this program asks analysis questions, there isn't really an answer key to mark objective questions right or wrong. The parent is given some guidance in terms of evaluating the student's essays, but the real evaluation comes from seeing that your student is really thinking about the materials and is learning how to defend their opinions about the it.
Addison and I will take some time to circle back and discuss some of the basics of literary analysis using a different program, and then continue using Excellence in Literature. I believe I have found what we'll use for Addison's literature studies during her high school years. After using these materials for the past few months, I can see how they'll allow her to enter college well-prepared for any literature class that she'll encounter.
Each one-year guide is $29 (or $27 for the ebook) or you can purchase all five years for $139 ($135 ebook). The author also recommends having your own copy of the assigned readings so that you can make notes in the margins, underline, etc.
If you'd like to hear how much the other members of the review crew thought about Excellence in Literature, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.