Friday, November 23, 2012

Teaching Literary Analysis at the High School Level

One thing I have worried about is my ability to teach literary analysis at the high school level at home. I paid for outside classes in the past, such as a high school level course my son did in grade 8, and this year tried an online class for him, which was not a good fit, so we pulled him out of the class. That left me in charge again.

A few years ago I heard Adam Andrews speak at a homeschool conference about teaching literary analysis using classic literature at home. I was inspired. His company sells a program for $89 but I didn't really understand what the program was and all I could think was that it seemed expensive. So I left the conference feeling ill equipped to teach my own kids.

The next time I went to that Massachusetts conference I heard him speak again. This time I looked the program over in my own hands and decided to make the purchase. Then life got chaotic the following month, when we had the sudden move. I never used the program last year.

So in fall of 2012 I got the program out and began watching it. I looked over the written materials with a clear mind and realized what a gem this program is and realized I was stupid to not have put this to use earlier.

I decided to have both kids watch the program along with me, so I went back to the DVD disc 1 and we have been watching it, one hour a day.

My confidence in my ability to teach literary analysis is growing. The mystery of what a decent English course should look like is fading. I am actually getting excited to teach literary analysis now.

The only books we will analyze together are books that I have read. I am re-reading the books that I previously read, not trusting my memory for much detail.

This program uses Socratic discussion. The homeschool parent discusses literature with the student. When first introducing the program we analyze a few children's picture books because they are fast reads and easy to analyze. After that the more rigorous readings begin.

I plan to have my sons write out the answers to the questions that we discuss so they create a body of written work and so they get used to writing essays about literature.

The program is called Teaching the Classics. The company is called Center for Literary Education. The program authors and company authors are husband and wife, Adam and Melissa Andrews. The DVDs are lectures of Adam Andrews teaching a class of adults. The spiral bound book that accompanies the program has the written materials for the course as well as lists of discussion questions which are the basis for the Socratic dialogue discussions. The DVD is intended for the parent-teacher to watch and to educate themselves with. It is not intended for students but I can't see a reason why they should not also watch it as the introduction to things such as theme, plot, setting, and so forth.

I wanted to share my experience with this so far because I thought perhaps other homeschoolers would like to know about this program. I think I was stupid to try to have saved money by avoiding purchasing this in the past. My avoidance of this in the past has led to a few years too many of feeling low confidence levels about teaching literary analysis.

My current project is designing a literary analysis program that has an appropriate number of novels, short stories, and poems. I am trying to figure out what the magic numbers are for a basic education vs. an excellent education. If anyone has ideas about this please leave a comment. It is possible that my sons may have to get approval through the NCAA to play college sports so their educations have to be on par with public schools. Sadly, the NCAA doesn't seem to like anything too alternative or creative, or readings that are considered below grade level. Thank you.

Note: This is not a paid ad, I purchased this program for my own use.


Ahermitt said...

I have a friend who's daughter will also need to go through NCAA clearinghouse. She is using Harcourt and Glencoe books as that is what public schools use. ...Those books will have literature suggestions. Personally, I chose old college Literature Anthologies for their classical novel selections.

Deborah said...

I don't know what the "magic numbers" are, but I did learn one thing from homeschooling that I never figured out in school: the value of re-reading. As a young person, I'd read something once and consider it done, not realizing that a book could be anything other than a straightforward story whose secrets were all disclosed by the last page. I loved Sam Swopes' description of the way he introduced third graders to the poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" in his book "I Am a Pencil". We often do things that are thematically related...all the books of a series, or reading books and watching their related movies, or looking up books/poems/etc that are mentioned in our reading. Right now we're listening to "Another Faust" at the recommendation of my 18 year old daughter...we were delighted to find that a private school in the book is named for Christopher Marlowe, author of "Dr. Faustus". We saw Gounod's "Faust" at the Chicago Lyric Opera a couple of years back (thematically related also, to its concurrent production of Berlioz' "Damnation of Faust")...connections just keep building up. Harry Potter is far from great literature...but the whole family read the books over and over, leading not only to lots of good discussions about the nature of good and evil and what makes a story, but also to other fiction (much of it better written, but most less re-readable and compelling). For us, I think that quality/depth was more important than quantity, and that endless discussion was a necessary precursor to creating a written analysis or response. As a reader (from a family of readers) you have an enormous edge here, in that you are already interested/invested in the material. It sounds fun.