Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Excellence in Literature:

I have just been looking at a curriculum by
 ...a product line called Excellence in Literature, by Janice Campbell. The specific product I was given to review was called Introduction to Literature - which is a college prep course in literature for the 8th grade level.

If you have been reading my blog for any time at all, if you have ever read my profile, then you will know that my homeschooling philosophy is a complicated mix between Charlotte Mason and a Classical Education approach.  Because of that, I have been totally intrigued and delighted by this

My son is not in 8th Grade yet, and for this year we are already firmly enmeshed in our current year’s literature curriculum for 6th Grade.  For that reason, my review will be more of a personal review, rather than a review of, “This is what we did, and here is how it went…”
That being said, I can very easily look at this curriculum and envision choosing to use Excellence in Literature for 8th – 12th Grades, to give my son an excellent grounding to prepare him for college. And the thought excites me because of what I have seen!
The Excellence in Literature program, a five year program of reading and writing through the classics, offers the following courses:
8th Grade - Introduction to Literature;
9th Grade - Literature and Composition;
10th Grade - American Literature;
11th Grade - British Literature; and
12th Grade - World Literature.
Each year's plan is broken into nine 4-week units. For Introduction to Literature, Unit 1 contains short stories, and the units 2-9 are each devoted to a key piece of great literature from the western literary tradition: Around the World in Eighty Days (Jules Verne); A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Mark Twain); Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte); Pygmalion (George Bernard Shaw); Treasure Island (Robert Lewis Stevenson); Animal Farm (George Orwell); The Tempest (William Shakespeare); and Gulliver's Travels (Jonathan Swift).

Even within each of the above units are instructions on how to adjust the unit if the student wishes to take an AP or CLEP test at the end of the year. (An AP test can give the student up to .5 more points on their grade, so a 4.0 in English Lit. can become a 4.5, which helps overall grade point average. A CLEP test can get a student college credits for work done before enrolling in college.)
Even before introducing the student to the great works themselves, though, the author does an excellent job of explaining to the student what his/her responsibilities and goals are. The student taking this course is going to learn how to learn, so he doesn't have to be spoon-fed, so he knows how to dig in and tackle new material without a teacher/mentor prodding every step of the way. The author wants the student to understand that this is his responsibility. The importance of understanding the historical context of the work is explained. I wish, when I was a student, it had been explained this way to me. I remember thinking, as the setting of a work work was explained, "Stop talking, already, and let me read the book!" In my education I had learned that "getting it done" was the goal, not literary understanding.
Steps and procedures are laid out in the beginning chapters instructing the student to set up a notebook, divide it into certain sections. The student is instructed to read with 3x5 cards, write down new words, look them up.
The introductory chapters are key. The whole process is seeking to get the student to understand the importance of and take responsibility for their own education with the goal that they become a life-long learner.
From the book:
"The Learning Process: The Roles of Excellence in Literature, the Student, and the Writing Mentor
"This book will:
• Establish the scope and sequence for the class.
• Assign appropriate readings.
• Provide a suggested schedule for assignments.
• Provide time management and organization tips.
• Provide a rubric for objectively evaluating completed assignments.

"The student will:
• Study this book and understand the sequence and timing
of assignments.
• Ask questions of the writing mentor when something is not
clearly understood."

The writing mentor will provide follow up and feedback on writing assignments, accountability and grades.

The curriculum provides historical context for the assigned literature, instruction for literary analysis, and assignments for writing assignments. The great works themselves, however, are not included. Janice Campbell recommends purchase of books, so the student can mark in the book while reading, applying what is defined as literary reading. (Libraries frown on readers doing this to library books... ) Even with books, the author is able to recommend certain publishers, steering the reader toward well produced versions with a good introduction, possibly a small author biography, and print that is not hard to read, margins that are large enough to make notations in.

Introduction to Literature itself has only 139 pages, which is broken down into 27 sections... not exactly chapters... Nine are the actual units, but before the units there is a section providing valuable information to the student, and after the units are sections of resources, tools, and important information to help the student with the various different writing assignments.

There is so much to this book I cannot possibly cover it all in this review without your eyes glazing over. But Andrew Pudewa, from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, created a video to tell about the course, which is a much better medium.  It is a "Viddler" video, not "YouTube", and I can't figure out how to load it to my page, so I'll just have to link it: Andrew Pudewa on Excellence in Literature

There is so much about this curriculum that I like. I really straddle here between Charlotte Mason and Classic -- Charlotte Mason promotes slow reading with careful digestion of the material; Classic methods promote in depth study of a work that you read fast and then go back and re-read while you analyze.  I love the way this curriculum brings the homeschool to a higher level of educational excellence.

The only thing I dislike, which isn't the curriculum, but only the form I received, I dislike having the material in PDF form, because now I need to print it out. (If I had it in print form I would probably be dissatisfied with it because then it wouldn't be searchable... Maybe I just want both print and PDF format...)

In many ways this requires very little teacher prep and hands on work. In other ways the teacher's job goes to  whole new level as writing mentor, unless an outside service is used, and options for that are mentioned in the curriculum. Many moms are scared to death at the thought of grading their own children's high school writing assignments, even though clear rubricks are provided showing the student what is expected and showing the parent-teacher how to score different aspects.

If I have at all intrigued you, then why not take a closer look? You can download a free sample unit! Take a look at the material, and then come back and leave me a comment so I know what you thought.

Introduction to Literature is available from Everyday Education for $135 as an e-book, or in print form, in a big, beautiful, professionally printed binder with tabs, for $139 (plus shipping). I received the e-book, but I'm sure wishing I had the printed version, because I'm going to spend a ton printing this out!

In addition to the Excellence in Literature Series, Everyday Education also carries:

Grammar Made Easy: Writing a Step Above by Connie Schenkelberg
Spelling Made Easy: The Homonym Way to Better Spelling
Transcripts Made Easy: The Homeschooler's Guide to High School Paparwork by Janice Campbell
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Introduction to Literature in exchange for my honest opinion and review. I received no other compensation (other than the aforementioned), and this page contains my honest opinions.

This has been a TOS Homeschool Crew Review.

To read more reviews of this product, visit the TOG Crew Review page for this product.
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