Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Progeny Press - Treasure Island {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

We've previously had the privilege of reviewing a study guide from Progeny Press, and were very impressed, but I was still pleasantly surprised when my guinea pig Grade 8 son told me he'd like to review something else from Progeny Press this time around. Without hesitation, he chose the study guide for Treasure Island.
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Progeny Press is a publisher of study guides for literature, and has over 100 guides available covering literature for Kindergarten through high school. The guides concentrate on critical thinking, comprehension, literary analysis, and Christian application. This family-owned business has been around since 1992, when Michael and Rebecca Gilleland had trouble finding high quality literature guides from a Christian perspective.
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We chose to read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, using the Treasure Island study guide. Landon chose this one because he likes Stevenson's classic pirate tale. We received the study guide as a download, and it is an interactive pdf. The guide starts with some notes about how to use it. Progeny Press study guides are designed to help students enjoy literature while learning more about how the authors craft their stories. Students should have access to a dictionary, thesaurus, Bible, and either the internet or an encyclopedia for research, while studying the book. It's estimated that a complete study guide would take between eight and ten weeks to complete. For Treasure Island, the study guide is in six sections, just like the book, with vocabulary, comprehension  and critical thinking questions for each. There is also an Overview section at the end, which may be used as a sort of "final test"; and suggestions for essay topics that may be used for a unit writing assignment.

How did we use it? The beginning of the study guide gives a little background information on the author and the setting of the story, and a brief synopsis of the book. We have already read this book together at least once, and were familiar with it, so after going over that with Landon and Kennady, I gave them the Prereading assignments to work on together, and we started reading the book as a read-aloud. The Prereading activities familiarize students with some of the terms and settings they will encounter, such as the types of ships and boats mentioned. My students looked up the different types of boats, and made quick drawings of a couple of them. (This drawing is Kennady's.) 


The study guide suggests reading the book in its entirety during the first week, and then re-reading in sections while working through the study guide. We couldn't finish the book as a read-aloud in a week, but we got as far as we could, and Landon had his own copy of the book and could read ahead and finish the book. So he has been working on the study guide on his own.

He has been doing very well with the vocabulary questions and the straight-forward comprehension questions, but struggles with many of the questions that require the student to speculate about character's motives or do a lot of 'reading between the lines'. Landon is a very concrete thinker, so describing the change in a character's demeanor, or putting into words why a character may have acted in a certain way is very challenging for him. I did feel that he did a decent job of answering those kinds of questions and the Christian application questions when he could respond orally and discuss them with me a little, rather than writing down his answers.

We have the study guide in an interactive pdf format, which means that Landon could type his answers into the document, but he has chosen not to do that, and prefers to have it printed out so he can write his answers. Part of the reason is that he doesn't have his own computer to work on right now, but I was a little surprised that he expressed a preference for writing rather than typing. Not that he really gave me much of an answer, but I think it's mostly that he finds it easier to have the book and the paper side by side when skimming for the answers to a question than to look from the screen to the book. I can respect that. Still, the interactive pdf is a nice option and certainly does save paper. I think we would have used it if the kids' computer had been in working order. (Especially since when we used this type of study guide a year ago, he really liked using the interactive feature! Our previous review is here: TOS Review - Progeny Press)

We haven't finished the entire study guide yet, but have looked through the Essay suggestions at the end of the study guide. Landon doesn't like to write, especially creative writing, but I think he will do well with one of the research assignments, such as writing an informative essay about sea shanties or writing a report on a famous pirate like Blackbeard or Henry Morgan. In fact, I think he will enjoy writing a report about a pirate or two!
What we liked best:

  • user-friendly, adaptable study guide. I had two students working together on Prereading activities, only one student working in the study guide, and had discussions using the study guide as a starting point. Each worked out very well.
  • literary devices explained in the study guide were easy to spot in the story - one example was foreshadowing, which is something even Literal-Minded Landon was able to pick up! 
  • variety of activities in the Prereading and Essay sections - there were lots of ideas to choose from so there is something that a creative student would enjoy, and something that the analytical student can research.
  • in the Answer Key, there are actually answers given for the opinion type questions! What a relief, and even more so if this had been for a book I wasn't familiar with! It made me very happy to see, "Answers will vary, but may mention something of the following..." Such a simple thing, but so helpful!
What I need to mention:

  • As much as Landon enjoys this story and usually enjoys a good adventure book, he is not interested enough in literature for its own sake to really get into the questions that required more abstract thinking. He said he didn't like those questions and "didn't get it". In my opinion, it wouldn't much matter what kind of study guide he used, he just isn't wired to give a long and detailed answer about why a fictional character might have felt a certain way. My solution was to help him figure it out by talking it through with him. Frustrating for me? Yes, but it did help him give more than "I dunno. Just because." as his answer. If your student is kind of the same way, you might face some of the same frustration. That said, this study guide offered a good balance of comprehension questions - those that more or less asked "what happened here?" and those that asked "what might this character have been thinking?"
  • be aware that the book is not included with the study guide, but can be purchased at the Progeny Press website.
Our bottom line: Although Landon wasn't quite as sold on doing the study guide as he'd originally sounded, this is an excellent introduction to literary analysis for him, and I will insist on him finishing the study guide. I truly appreciate the quality of these guides in teaching literature as well as providing meaningful Christian applications and critical thinking.

Would you like to add Progeny Press study guides to your library? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website: http://progenypress.com

Pricing: The study guide for Treasure Island is available as an instant download or on CD for $16.99; or as a printed booklet for $18.99. 

Recommended ages: This study guide is intended for students in Grades 5-8. Study guides are available for students at all grade levels, from Kindergarten through high school.

You can follow Progeny Press on Facebook or on Twitter.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. Crew members reviewed a selection of products from Progeny Press - so be sure to check out their thoughts on other titles!

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Jenn said...

My Joel loved this one, too. Where did you find that version of Treasure Island? It looks beautiful! I love annotated books!

Cristi said...

I agree that version of Treasure Island looks beautiful. We were reading from a free (or cheap) ebook, and it wasn't nearly as nice.

Great review!

Kym said...

The book is from a series called The Whole Story published by Viking. I have a few titles in the series and love the extra notes in the sidebar. I wonder if this series is not in print any more? My library has a lot of titles in the series too.

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