Monday, July 8, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Institute for Excellence in Writing's Teaching the Classics

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What do you get when you take a Norton Anthology, add Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, mix in a bit of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, and put just a pinch of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit all together?  Oh, wait . . . don't forget Mark Twain's classics -- Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.  And maybe throw in a pinch of Tolstoy's War and Peace, as well.  When you add them all together, you get a recipe for sucess like none orher.   Reading breeds excellence and by sharing a mixture of good stories with your children, you will find out just how wonderful literature can be for students of all ages.  If you teach your children how to tell for themselves what a really good book is, then they will spend a lifetime reading great literature.  And how do I know this to be true?  Although I'd never personally used any of the great resources from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW), I'd certainly heard of them and was thrilled to review Teaching the Classics: A Socratic Method for Literary Education which reminded me of so many things I had long forgotten. After completing this seminar, I have a renewed vision of the importance of literature AND a new passion for making sure that my children are well read.

Teaching the Classics: A Socratic Method for Literary Education ($89.00) was written by Adam and Missy Andrews for those who teach students of all ages and abilities. That's me -- and you. Truly, there is something in this seminar for everyone. As a mom who enjoys learning, I have come away from this in-home seminar full of new ideas and plans to implement.  

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The Teaching the Classics set contains a 97-page, spiral-bound, softcover workbook full of notes, lists, and printable charts that goes along with the 4 DVD set (over 6 hours of quality instruction). Designed as a weekend seminar {Adam Andrews usually does this Teaching the Classics seminar over a day and a half}, you will find much benefit in spending time following along and taking notes in the comfort of your own home. Beginning with the first session on why it is important to introduce our children to the study of literature and literary analysis and ending with the sixth session of hands-on practice for all that was taught, I enjoyed the challenge to give my children the very best literary education.

Andrews begins by emphasizing that you should begin to teach children literary skills at age 8 so that they'll totally get it by age 18. He challenges parents to help their children 

  • understand the author and context surrounding a literary piece AND 
  • read closely and recognize the five elements of fiction
from the very early stages of reading and comprehending what is being read. Andrews contends that students should be able to recognize the elements of fiction in ANY story that they read or hear and that they should be able to pick out the following:

  • Conflict -- what the entire story rests upon
  • Plot -- what happens in the story
  • Setting -- details of time and place; the world of the story
  • Characters -- people in the story. Children should learn to interact with characters by watching them as they grow and change.
  • Theme -- the main idea that the author wants to get across to the reader.
It is the main goal to have students recognize the theme of the story they are reading whether it be Casey at Bat or The Iliad. Isn't it refreshing to know that students of all ages can think and learn no matter what they are reading? The elements of fiction are the same for children's stories and literary classics -- from Beatrix Potter to Tolstoy. We can teach our students how to think and allow them to interact with ideas from the very beginning of learning. One of the most important ways to do this is to discuss, discuss, discuss.

Before my review items arrived, I studied the website and watched the sample videos available with my daughter, the Senior.  As we watched, she was continually nodding her head and saying "Oh, yes,  that's right" as we listened to Mr. Andrews talk about the importance of literature.  We loved the C.S. Lewis quote "My own eyes are not enough for me.  I will see through the eyes of others" and agreed that that was exactly what we would do -- see the world through other's eyes as we read stories from near and far.   

As I read through the workbook sample and the lesson plans provided, I had planned to use Teaching the Classics with all of my children and thought we might speed through it during our summer break.  Once it arrived and I had the chance to sit and begin watching the video teaching, I knew that I wanted my children to get MUCH MORE out of it than speeding through in a modified format over the summer would afford.  

Mr. Andrews is engaging and funny and personable and real.  His seminar videos are filmed before a live audience.  He stands before the "class" at a podium and uses a dry erase board for notes that you fill in throughout your workbook.  Although the audience is never seen on camera, you hear them ask and answer questions as they interact with Mr. Andrews.  He holds your attention throughout the sessions and makes you smile and laugh along.  He reads several literary selections aloud and leaves you spellbound as he draws you into the story itself.  An excellent teacher, I enjoyed all of the seminar and can't wait to share it with my children.   I want them to hear the passion for reading great books that Mr. Andrews shares throughout the DVDs.

His Socratic method of questioning students about what they've read will also help me as I continue to facilitate discussions in our homeschool group's Book Club.  We are completing our second year and looking at books for next year's club.  I know I'll be including several of the selections from the "must read Reading Lists" found in the back of my Teaching the Classics Workbook.  

Before Teaching the Classics, I had NEVER used IEW in our entire homeschooling career.  I know, I know -- where have I been?  Now that we've had the opportunity, I'm so excited for the potential growth possibility that I see for my children's studies -- and I want to make sure that you have the chance to use it in your school, too.

You'll want to take a look at the sample of Teaching the Classics provided on the website along with the sample Lesson Plans that can be used for Middle or High School students to see how you can best use Teaching the Classics in your home.  I've enjoyed studying it for myself to help make me a better teacher and a better Book Club facilitator and I can't wait to go through it again with my children (7th, 9th, and 12th graders) once we kick off the 2013/2014 school year at Long Leaf Academy.  It's been a wonderful refresher course for me (it takes me back to college literature and writing classes) and I'm excited to see just how much more of literature my kids will grasp once we've completed the seminar together.  I've already scheduled the first 6 weeks of our new school year to include an in-depth study of this teaching seminar and know it will be a "gentle entry into the world of literary analysis" for my students.  I look forward to watching them "see through the eyes of others" as they find many AH-HA moments of their own.  

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 I was given the opportunity to use Teaching the Classics from Institute for Excellence in Writing as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew.   You can check out the Crew Review and see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of this and other products as well (or just click on the banner below.)

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