Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Excellence in Literature: A Review

For the past several weeks, I've had a chance to review a wonderful product,  Excellence in Literature:  Introduction to Literature.  It comes to us from Janice Campbell at Everyday Education, the parent company that has brought the world such treasures as the Institute of Excellence in Writing, Phonetic Zoo and much more.  EIL:  Intro to Literature is the first stepping stone along a path of literature courses designed for the upper middle school/high school set.  The courses are designed for the college prep student.

Introduction to Literature is a 9-week course.  The first unit eases into literature with a collection of short stories written by various authors (deMaupassant, O. Henry, Poe, Welty and J. Thurber).  Units 2-9 focus on classic novels. The novels that are used in this course are:

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Each Unit is meant to be self-paced.  Most "traditional" school years (ours included) have roughly 36 weeks.  That means, we could spend about one month on each selection.  But it is certainly flexible enough to fit your homeschool schedule's unique needs.  For each unit, there is a "focus text" (the books listed above).  For honors students, and to receive honors grades (.5 weighed grade points), the student will need to do read the additional text and produce the assignments listed.  For instance, in Unit 7, the honors student will need to read 1984 in addition to Animal Farm by the same author.

Excellence in Literature has been written TO the student.  Right off the bat, it prepares the student for college-level workloads and college-level responsibility by making them own their work.  Oh how I wish I would have had this kind of instruction in school (or maybe I did, but I was too concerned with boys--LOL).  I actually went on to major in Literature in college and love it wholeheartedly to this day.  But in hindsight, I now realize it is not merely enough to be assigned a novel by a teacher, procrastinate, read the Cliff Notes and watch the movie the night before an assignment and slide by with a "C".  Mrs. Campbell explains to the student that reading a book isn't just about deciphering the words, but to completely understand the context, the author's purpose and its place in the world of art, music and history surrounding the circumstances of the work as well as how it fits in with the other literary movements that have gone before it.  Why was Renaissance literature different than the Medieval works such as The Canterbury Tales?  What effect did the Industrial Revolution have on literature?  You'll find out!  That is why she faithfully provides resource links to learn more about these things for each unit.

For Jane Eyre, we learn how "gothic" literature blended with a novel of society and manners to produce a new kind of heroine, one whose qualities were not wrapped up in her "beauty or charm, but intelligence and integrity".  The guide gives the student things to look for in the book, things to think about and biographical information.  When available, there are links to download the book for free (thank you!), sources to order various film versions of the novel, painted depictions of the novel, music of the Victorian period, etc.  It really creates a rich learning experience for the reader.  The use of Cliffs Notes and Sparknotes are even encouraged (to supplement, not substitute).  I know I often like to read literary commentary on a book I've read.  If it helps me, an adult, have deeper understanding of a novel, why wouldn't I want my child, the student to have this same advantage?

Click here for a printable 5-year reading list that will take you through all 5 courses!  Get a feel for what reading adventures are in store for your child!

Each unit has four weeks' worth of assignments, with the fourth week culminating into a well-written, well-edited original essay.  Sources are provided to help the student gain a solid background in writing essays (Adam Andrew's excellent Teaching the Classics DVD course).  The assignments are paced in such a way that time-management skills are learned. The reading and pre-writing are accomplished in manageable chunks of work, the student feels successful and therefore feels motivated to go on to read the next story.

The Writing Mentor (the parent or tutor) has a role as well.  And that is to provide the necessary tools to help the student be successful.  Among them are:  a chair, a reading light, reference materials including an OED dictionary and thesaurus, a writer's handbook, Post-Its, a computer and a notebook.  Give your student these things, along with Excellence in Literature and you've got yourself a recipe for a successful year in literature and writing.

If you decide to go on, the subsequent courses are Literature and Composition (English II), American Literature (English III), British Literature (English IV), and World Literature (English V).  By the way, the American and British Literature courses are co-written by the incomparable Andrew Pudewa.  That fact alone should attests to the quality of these courses.  Everything Andrew is a part of, I love.

Highly, highly recommended by this Mom, Excellence In Literature:  Introduction to Literature sells here at Everyday Education for $29 as a printed book and $27 as an e-book. 

See what my friends at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine had to say about this product here.

Disclaimer:  I was provided the e-book version to review in exchange for my honest opinion, which I've provided here.


Penny said...

This looks intriguing. It may be just what we need for our high school course. Thanks! I'll check it out!

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