Sunday, July 7, 2013

Teaching the Classics

Teaching the Classics, by Adam and Missy Andrews, is a publication of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).  It is a complete curriculum for teaching literary analysis to all students grades K-12.  How can one curriculum for literature be applicable to all grade levels?  It is a method for teaching using classic literature appropriate for the student’s grade level. 

I received a physical copy of the curriculum for review which included 4 teaching DVD’s and a course workbook.  The DVD seminar & course workbook set retails for $89.00 or you can just purchase the workbook for $29.00.  All materials can be purchased from 

Teaching the Classics examines the 5 elements of literature using classic children’s literature.  There are 5 lessons in all.  Each lesson is devoted to one element of literature following an introductory lesson on literary analysis.  The lessons are organized around three important ideas:

1.  All works of fiction possess common elements:  Context, Structure, and Style.

2.      Because of their clarity, children’s stories are the best tools for teaching the recognition and evaluation of these elements.

3.      The best classroom technique for presenting and analyzing literature is the Socratic Method.
After watching the DVDs the teacher can use what she has learned to teach literary analysis to her students.  The teacher can go through the DVDs at her own pace as the DVDs follow the scope & sequence of the lesson plans. 

I must admit I am not a fan of teaching to the teacher DVDs.  The same information Adam Andrews covers in the DVD is in the workbook.  I’d rather read the material in the workbook and implement the plan after I’ve studied it.   I get distracted when watching teach the teacher DVDs.  There are audience distractions.  I stare at the background.  My brain drifts.  I want the speaker to get to the point and let me go off and do it.  I know for other teachers they may need the careful detailed instruction a DVD provides along with the instructor modeling concepts before venturing off on their own.  It really just depends on the teacher.  Either way you can learn the material in the best way that suits you.

The meat of this curriculum is the Socratic Method list.  Simply put, the Socratic Method is a series of thinking questions that aids the teacher and student in discussion of the literature being studied.  The author states that the Socratic Method encourages good reading by developing a student’s ability to observe, deduce, and evaluate. 

The Socratic List is included in the appendix of the workbook.  The list of questions is arranged in order of complexity and therefore can be used for students of all grade levels. The appendix also includes reading lists and a glossary of literary terms.

The author has included a scope and sequence suggesting how the elements should be introduced and a sample lesson plan for 10 weeks of study.  Once the techniques are learned the same process can be applied over and over again to different works of literature.  The reading list comes in handy for choosing good literature to read and study.

As a loose structure for studying works of literature students:

1.  read the assigned literature
2.  teacher discusses literature with student using the Socratic method
3.  student completes story chart based on discussion
4.  student completes writing assignment

The author has included what the writing assignments should look like based on the writing level of students.

I like this loose structure.  I can see using the reading list in the appendix to choose which books we want to study for the year and just go for it using the loose structure and perhaps adding the movie versions of the classics for viewing when finished with our study. 

The author states that every piece of literature read doesn’t have to include a formal study.  Students should be able to read some books for pleasure without being burned out on formal study.  I know this is true of my students.

I used Teaching the Classics a year ago after searching for a resource for good literature study.  I completed two of the five lessons with the kids covering the literary style of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by H. W. Longfellow and setting using Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.”  The kids and I loved Kipling’s story.  The lesson included discussion questions which I used and based on our discussion the kids used the story chart (included in the workbook) to complete our study of the lesson. 

The author states that through the continuous repetition of using the story chart for every story read, the student gets into the habit of interpreting any work of fiction in terms of these categories. 

This time around with Teaching the Classics I as the teacher, brushed up on the skills I needed to be an effective teacher of literature.  I must admit with three different students reading different books I can’t always read every single book myself.  It is ideal for the teacher to do so in able to know the answers to the questions being asked but not realistic for me.  At the very least with the Socratic Method list, I can help my student discuss the works in an effort to get them thinking about the material they’ve read. 

Final thoughts:  For any teacher desiring an in depth formal study of literature, Teaching the Classics fits the bill.  It is economical and in line with the homeschool teacher who want to cover the classics in her homeschool.  The techniques and methods once learned applies to any piece of literature a teacher wants to cover.

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