Monday, October 31, 2011

TOS Review - Excellence in Literature

As a member of the TOS Crew, I was recently given an opportunity to use and review the Introduction to Literature course from Excellence in Literature.

Introduction to Literature was created as a college-preparatory course.  It consists of 9 units, the first one based on short stories and the remaining eight units are based on novels. Each unit has focus text(s) along with context text(s).  The goal is to have the student gain an understanding and development of literature, and practice literary analysis skills through essays, approach papers, and other writing.

The novels studied are: Around the World in 80 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, and Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.  Alternate titles are included for the Honors program.

Now, I've heard some fantastic things about EIL over the years, but have never used any of their material myself.  When the e-book arrived, I started looking it over eagerly, and was immediately impressed.  BUT... I also knew that my high-schooler would not have time to work through even one unit of this course, and it was still too advanced for my seventh grader.  So... to complete the review I decided to become a temporary student myself.  I've read most of the novels on the list, and a couple of them not too long ago, so I studied the background material and assignments while trying to determine what I would have done with this course way back when I was a high schooler, and what my own students would do with it if/when I assigned it to them.  Since the curriculum is very student-directed, my thinking was that I could act as both teacher and student, and get a feel for how this course would work.  Are the instructions clear?  Does it guide me to enjoy and understand the literature more fully?  Can I complete the written work?  And as a teacher, did I feel that I could adequately evaluate the student's work in order to grade it?  Here's what I found out.

The entire e-book is written TO the student.  And treats the student as a competent, mature learner who doesn't need to be spoon-fed the material.  I really appreciate that.  I believe that by the time a student is in those upper grades, they should be able to manage their own time and complete their own research and assignments for the most part.  Valuable information and suggestions are offered for HOW to read, and explanations given for why art and music are included in a study about literature.  The student is encouraged to understand who the author was and the cultural context and the influences that shaped their worldview and their work.  I didn't feel that the writing assignments would have been difficult, but they certainly require the student to know the material and think deeply.

Some additional resources are suggested in the curriculum - in particular, Adam Andrew's Teaching the Classics (a DVD course that uses children's literature to teach the fundamentals of interpretation and analysis), and Lesha Myers' The Elegant Essay Writing Lessons. From my review of the assignments, I think a good guidebook to writing a well-constructed essay would be essential.  Students who have not already learned the art and skill of writing essays may struggle with putting their thoughts on the literature on paper without this background.

What we liked best:

  • student-directed.  The student takes responsibility to manage their time and complete assignments on schedule, but the curriculum offers straightforward schedule suggestions and practical advice on how to do this and why it's expected and important for high schoolers.

  • it's deep thinking, and it's thorough! Perfect for college-bound students.  The Honors track is excellent for students who plan to take a CLEP test.

  • full of links to helpful websites, and the books are readily available, many of them online.

  • listening to audiobooks, preparing by reading Cliffs notes, and marking up your copy of the book are not only allowed, but encouraged!

  • I loved the approach of looking at the art and music and other cultural influences as a part of the literary study.

  • non-consumable - I always like this feature!

What we weren't crazy about:

  • this is not a good fit for my high schooler right now.  He is studying some literature as a part of his other coursework, so this would be "doubling up" in a sense - and in a discipline (writing) that is not his forte.  I think for a struggling or resistant writer, this might not be best - or that student would need a lot more time and assistance in getting the writing done.

  • not that I consider this a negative feature, but I'm not going to lie - there is a time commitment involved here, so that should be taken into consideration for students who are slow readers or who already carry a heavy course load.  Campbell suggests that somewhere between an hour and two hours per day should be budgeted for reading and responding to the literature.  This is, of course, excellent preparation for a college-bound student, but may be overwhelming for a student who dislikes reading and writing, or who reads at a significantly slower pace.

Honestly, I would have LOVED to do this course when I was in high school!  I would strongly recommend this curriculum for high school students that have a strong interest in literature or in writing.  And I don't think any college-bound student could go wrong by learning thorough and thoughtful literary analysis using this course.  Having had just a little taste of the course, I really am hoping to be able to use it with one of my younger students as they reach high school age!  I think this would be very enjoyable (provided they co-operate, of course!) to do together, being able to discuss the literature and have them write about it on their own.

Want to try some of this excellence? Here's what you need to know:

Visit the Everyday Education website to learn more about the author, Janice Campbell, and to find out more about their products.  The Excellence in Literature series is a complete literature curriculum for Grades 8-12.  The first in the series is Introduction to Literature.  The website also offers a free printable information sheet with the 5-year booklist.

The print book is available for $29 + $4.95 Priority Mail Shipping.  The Ebook version can be purchased for $27 and provides instant access. It is designed to be printed double-sided and put in a 3-ring binder.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog for more info and to read reviews from other Crew members.

Note: As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, we were provided with an electronic copy of this course in exchange for our honest opinions.


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