Thursday, August 27, 2015

Illuminating Literature {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

For years I've struggled with figuring that all-encompassing subject called Language Arts. I've given up on finding a single program to cover spelling, grammar, composition, literature studies, and everything else I should cover for a high school (or even elementary school) English class. I'm excited that I've found an excellent way to fill the literature study hole in our school plans.

We have been using the new Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide course from Writing with Sharon Watson for the past several weeks, and I'm looking forward to using it with Brennan all this year.

Our Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide materials included the Student Book, the Teacher's Guide, and a Quiz and Answer manual. I was also able to download and print the corresponding Novel Notebook. For review purposes, we also received copies of the first two literary works for this year -- Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.

The backbone of the course is the Student Book. It's written directly to the student in a "relaxed, unstuffy tone" (according to the back cover of the book). I definitely agree with that description and Brennan admitted that the reading assignments in the Student Book were "not quite torture." My husband and I were laughing over some of the discussions in the introductory materials. Sharon Watson readily admits that teens often do not enjoy reading the literary classics that are often assigned. In a multiple choice question about what the student wanted to learn from the course, Brennan chose "I want to learn how to get through a literature course without losing my mind." I suspect there was quite a bit of eye-rolling as he read through the rest of the choices ("learn what a symbol is and how to recognize it", "ditto for theme", "learn how to pass a literature class", etc), but I also know that he started thinking more about this material than many of the other lessons that I've assigned.

After covering some of the course basics, Sharon Watson introduces the concept of conflict in literature. The books chosen for this study were picked based on the conflicts we see in the story -- worlds colliding. As the Student Book continues to discuss conflicts, I noticed how the student is not required to have a strong literary background to follow along. The biggest example used is the story of The Hobbit, and the student does not necessarily have to have anything more than a general idea of the story in order to follow along. In fact, a student who has watched the movie and not read the book would be able to follow along with the discussion.

Brennan was pleased that the first written assignment about evaluating conflict did not have to be about a book. He chose to write about a movie he had seen recently. I also heard that there was a lengthy conflict discussion at dinner one night when I wasn't at home. I believe Brennan was trying to figure out which Dr. Seuss books he could use to show that he understood the major types of conflict. (For the record, Green Eggs and Ham was easily analyzed but Go, Dog, Go! didn't have enough of a story to find conflict.)

As we moved from the introductory section of the Student Book to the actual literary study, Brennan continued to declare the written material "not torture." I think he appreciates that the material is short and to-the-point. In addition, the background material included seems to be specifically chosen to be the most interesting facts.

As a teacher, I appreciated having further explanations and answers available in the Teacher's Guide. For instance, Brennan and I noticed a lot of examples of conflict while reading Pudd'nhead Wilson together, but Sharon Watson points out still more examples in the Teacher's Guide. The Teacher's Guide also contains sample grading scales, the passwords to online quizzes, and a sample schedule for using these materials for a monthly literary discussion group. Our new book club group is still in the beginning stages, and I appreciate that we'll have a direction to go when we can gather to discuss some of these works.

The third component of the Illuminating Literature component is the Quiz and Answer Manual. The quizzes and opinion surveys designed to go with this course are available for students to access online at no charge, and this book is simply a physical copy for people that prefer a pen-and-paper option. I prefer for Brennan to take the quizzes online, but I also appreciate the opportunity to glance over the questions before I tell him to take the quiz.

I love the Illuminating Literature materials, and it has Brennan's stamp of approval too. Sharon Watson's "unstuffy" writing style is perfect for a boy who can come up with a dozen reasons to avoid reading. I also appreciate that she's picked books with a reluctant reader audience in mind. I've noticed that girls will read books geared to either boys or girls, but that boys just aren't interested in the classic romance themed books girls enjoy. None of the books in this course scream "girly," "romance novel," or even "a kissing book" (to borrow a favorite Princess Bride phrase). Therefore I can sell them as interesting to Brennan. Finally, these materials impress me because the literary knowledge isn't "dumbed down" -- it's quality instruction in literary analysis made accessible for my student who doesn't love books.

The Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide course is suited for high school students. I'd recommend using it for a freshman English class so that the student has a solid knowledge of literary devices that will be found in the books studied in later years. The Student Book costs $39.49, the Teacher's Guide $16.49, and the optional Quiz and Answer Manual $8.49. The Novel Notebook can be downloaded for free. This course also requires eight books which are available to purchase at prices ranging from $1 to $15.

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

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  1. I am cracking up over the analysis of conflict in Dr Seuss books!! LOL Great review, and you're right about the girls books vs boys books. That didn't stand out to me so much because I have a daughter doing the course.

  2. Hi, Cristi! I think Brennan's right--there's more conflict in Green Eggs and Ham than in Go, Dog, Go! Believe me, I've read both of these books many times to my granddaughters in the last few years!

    Thank you for your great review, and thanks, too, for including so many things about what Brennan thought about it. "Not quite torture"! I LOVE it!

    How did you find the time to write anything other than the label on a moving box?!

    Enjoy your new location and the new school year with your dear family!



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