Monthly Archives: November 2011

TOS Crew: Excellence in Literature

I was so excited to hear the Crew would have the opportunity to review Excellence in Literature from Everyday Education!
You see, we’re already familiar with excellence in writing, specifically, the Institute for Excellence in Writing. IEW’s Andrew Pudewa co-published the American and British Literature levels, and his involvement was enough of a recommendation for us to want to jump into this program.

There are five levels in this college-preparatory course:

– English I: Introduction to Literature
– English II: Literature and Composition
– English III: American Literature
– English IV: British Literature
– English V: World Literature

Each level follows the same format, and levels do not have to be completed in order, but can be matched, for example, to your history studies. The author chose the literature covered in the curriculum  “because they reveal truth through the power of story.” The material is directed at students in Grades 8-12.

Our family received English I: Introduction to Literature.

What I like:

The book is written directly to the student, not talking down, but as the meeting of two minds, in a workmanlike yet conversational tone, with the occasional flash of humor. (Yes, the author is a human being, and not a textbook committee!)

Literature studied in context, not in isolated snippets or excerpts.

Emphasis on discerning worldview in literature. That fits right in with the moral philosphy we’re learning through our King’s Meadow studies (formerly Gileskirk).

Lots of links to Internet resources. These make the studies more interesting, for one thing, with material that relates to the literary works (“virtual field trips”!) in particular and literature, analysis, and writing in more general terms.

“Something to think about” and “Be sure to notice” notes to the student, setting the stage for deeper study, not just surface reading.

Suggested schedule to follow; well-organized lessons that follow a standardized format for each of the nine units

Built-in writing projects (more about that in a bit), and included rubrics to help the parent/teacher evaluate student writing

Reading list for English I (from the website)  

(plus a few comments from our perspective):

Unit 1: Short Stories by-
• Sarah Orne Jewett: A White Heron
• Edgar Allen Poe: The Purloined Letter (This one is not scary, if you’re concerned about that.) (a classic that I’ve seen mentioned in a lot of literature, but I’d never read it before now)
• Guy de Maupassant: The Diamond Necklace
• O. Henry: The Ransom of Red Chief (hilarious! I remember reading this in my grandfather’s library and laughing out loud)
• Eudora Welty: A Worn Path
• James Thurber: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (I’ve often quoted from this story to the girls, and now they know why.)

Unit 2: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (As a teen, I enjoyed Jules Verne, and am glad to introduce the girls to his writing)
Honors: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Unit 3: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (fun, but wry and thought-provoking, too)
Honors: The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

Unit 4: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Honors: Shirley or Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Unit 5: Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Honors: Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot

Unit 6: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Honors: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Unit 7: Animal Farm by George Orwell (I hated both of these in high school. We might read Animal Farm, which I hated just a little bit less than 1984, or we might skip this unit until Youngest is a bit older.)
Honors: 1984 by George Orwell

Unit 8: The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Honors: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Unit 9: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (I already know we’re going to have to go with Pilgrim’s Progress when we get to Unit 9. The girls detest Gulliver’s Travels from a previous exposure, and it’s not worth the battle to try to get them to read it again so soon. Maybe they’ll enjoy analyzing it at a later date.)
Honors: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

An introductory section tells you (or more specifically, the student; though it’s all stuff the parent should know, too) how the course is set up, what materials you need, and some basic underpinnings, like how to read a book in an analytical way. Each unit is divided into four weeks of work, and includes reading the main text and additional reading for context, as well as writing assignments. Background information might include websites, biographies, videos, and encyclopedia articles. Extensive resource lists are provided, with suggestions for finding more material.

And now, the “more in a bit” about the writing portion of the course you were waiting for…

While a “Formats and Models” chapter explains the basic format for writing assignments, the material assumes your student is already familiar with writing basics: how to construct a paragraph, how to write a five-paragraph essay. The author recommends writing lessons and handbooks to be used in conjunction wtih Excellence in Literature.  Samples of student work are included to give you an idea of how your writing assignments should look.

I have to admit that this course is a bit of a stretch for our eighth-grader. I really appreciate the multitude of resources, including videos and Internet audio links, and the author’s suggestion to use audio books for a student who struggles with reading. It makes a real difference! Writing is still a struggle, but with techniques and resources from the Institute for Excellence in Writing we’re keeping our heads above water. Mostly.

Excellence in Literature promotes just that: thoughtful reading and interacting with classic texts, on a high school level. It’s been a bit of a stretch for me, not just Youngest (high school was such a long time ago, and I’m not sure how much I actually learned, much less retained…), but it’s been a good stretch. I’m learning right along with my students.

Purchase information

See a free sample unit here.

English I: Introduction to Literature is available both in print form for $29 plus shipping, or as an e-book for $27. Click here for the order page. You can order any of the five levels individually, or a set of all five together, either printed and bound, or in downloadable e-book format.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Excellence in Literature at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received a free PDF copy of English I: Introduction to Literature for review purposes. No other compensation was involved.