High School English

Literature Guides: Necessary, or Not?

Question: I have not been able to come up with a cohesive plan for literature in high school.

I like the idea of TheGreatBooks.com combining the classics with worldview, but don't know if either my son or I am up to such a rigorous study (I know he will be resistant).

I also have Invitation to the Classics (by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness), which I've considered just moving through in the next three years, reading what we can and then reading about what we cannot—using it as an anthology of sorts. However, Invitation to the Classics has nothing to say about worldview; it just gives some background on the author and a synopsis of the book which, even for me, is sometimes difficult to follow and get much out of.

Has anyone devised, or know of, a better approach? If you've only followed the HEO list, then have you added study guides to bring out the relevance of these texts? I know my son is just reading for story and entertainment; he is not at all grasping any of the truths these books contain.


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"Has anyone devised, or know of, a better approach?"

Oh, oh, oh . . . pick me, pick me, pick me . . . I know this answer!!! (waving her hand excitedly!!)

First, let me say that two of my FAVORITE subjects are classics and worldview studies. I absolutely salivate at the mere thought of both! (yum!) I just want you to know that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT THAN WHAT IS WRITTEN ON AO/HEO!

I have led a classical study group for nearly 5 years (well, over that mark now). We are currently studying church history, but have completed all of Ancient history so far. After our time in church history, we will begin reading medieval literature. We use a Great Books approach. We read the books as they are listed in chronological order. We do not add commentary to the texts. In a few cases, we do read the introductions (for example, we read CS Lewis introduction to Athanasius). We do include some notes and study/discovery questions to aid in our "thinking" of the book. These are easily found online through various college websites or other classical book archives.

The very best way to read classical books is to read them. I know that sounds simple, but it is true. The very worst way, in my humble opinion, is to digest/analyze them. This is what most literature-based/classicalEd approached courses do—they dissect the work until it has all been chewed up. The problem is that the majority of effort goes into the dissection and not into the actual understanding of the work. This approach is the exact opposite of CM's philosophy. In CM, the student reads" the book first. Then after one has had time to sit with it, they begin to think about it on their own, without the benefit of questions/summaries/analysis. If the student is interested in more, they will naturally develop a desire to study more—and THEN they can start to read other people's criticism about the work.

In my humble opinion, the best way to drive any natural desire out of a classical study is to over-analyze it. I took two semesters of college courses devoted to Greece. The first was a general history course and the second was a seminar in Greek Tragedy. We read all the "biggies" and never once "analyzed" them. My professor taught history, Latin and Greek, and was an expert in her field. She had us read the book and then we dissected it as if we would Seinfeld. We simply discussed what we liked, did not like, and thought was too weird, and so on. In short, we took great delight in each book: in the good, the bad and the ugly. We formed our own opinions about the book. Guess what—no one in that class had any experience reading these works. We were all "nubes"—babes in classical books. We did not need any commentary to help us get through the Iliad or Sophocle's Oedipus Rex. We just read a good translation and dove in. It worked—it hooked me on the benefit of reading great books—reading them—not chewing them up.

My .02 cents . . . use the Invitation to Classics as a resource. That is what it was designed for—to be used by parents and teachers to give YOU some background help. It is not to be a study book.

Secondly, let us talk about worldview. The very best way to teach worldview studies is through your daily/weekly Bible program. You must develop a biblical worldview first . . . before you can even attempt to look at other perspectives. If you do not have a strong foundation in the Bible, do not begin Worldviews yet. Complete two surveys of the Bible first: the Old Testament and the New testament AND cover the Gospels so you are firmly grounded in the teaching of Salvation.

Once you are ready, you will want to begin to read the Worldview books suggested by AO/HEO. Some are easier than others are. Some require a very mature thinker so you need to decide which ones to do first. In my humble opinion, you can simply read these books aloud with your student and slowly, very slowly, discuss them. These books lend themselves to discussion so there is NO PREP work needed. You do not need to do any thinking questions—you will simply discuss whatever pops into your head and then apply it to your daily/weekly life. It is SO EASY!

We have used these books for our Worldview studies:

More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel The Holiness of God by RC Sproul The Universe Next Door by James Sire The God Who Was There by Francis Schaeffer

We read them in this order, beginning in 8th grade. Schaeffer's book is the most difficult. He has an unusual way of explaining his worldview. It was difficult for me, so I would save this book until 10th-12th grades. It is foundational, however, so do not miss it.

Both Sproul and Sire's books were most life changing for my son. He still quotes to me out of Sproul's book.

Overall, I would relax and continue to work through HEO at a steady pace. I combined our Worldview books with our Bible study. I simply ordered them to work along side our study and Devotional choices. This seemed to make the most sense to me and gave us plenty of time each Friday to discuss what we had read/learned.

Lastly, do not go the "analysis" route . . . please . . . please . . . please! It is so unnecessary and it will only serve to drive any desire out of your student. I am in the process of returning to graduate school to study Education and my thesis is going to be on this very subject—I am passionate about how students learn and how traditional academics no longer incites and instills any interest, but simply eradicates it from the curriculum and from the student's mind.

~Carol H. :o)

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Carol, I love your posts. I get so much out of reading them and they have been so influential in our HEO studies. I wish you lived right next door to me =)

I will go back and read and reread this one. My oldest son is applying to two schools for 10th grade next year, though he doesn't even know if he'll go if he gets in. He just seems so intent on needing to try it and yet he's stressing himself out just applying. He has applied to a Vanguard school here locally, which is a small (400 student) public high school geared to, well, pretty smart kids. That process was easy. He's also auditioning to a visual and performing arts public school here and preparing is consuming his time and he's getting stressed. I have so prayed about this, not knowing exactly if I should step in and say, "I think you need to stick with homeschooling" or not because I can't discern if this is coming from him or God. I just know that he is a great kid and is still early in his walk with Christ, trying to figure things out, and I hate to lose the time we have to talk about that like we do now.

So when I read your posts about "this is what we've done" and "this is what I get excited about" and then you give specific information, I just want to reach through my computer and give you a hug.

Thank you so much, Mary Ann

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Oh, I am so glad that I signed onto this list when I did! This was such a timely comment for me as I am starting into HEO this next school year and have been grappling with how to approach the literature studies. I had lost focus of the Charlotte Mason philosophy, thinking I needed to do something 'more' at this level. Thank you so much for your perspective. I feel more confident now in forging ahead. :)


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I agree with Carol wholeheartedly! Just read the books. The only way you can know what an author thinks or is trying to say, is to read his/her words. Don't worry that your son is not grasping the truths that you do out of the books he's reading. He will make the connections one day. He is taking what he needs now. Just provide lots of great books.

'Thought begets thought' are some of Charlotte Mason's words. (this may be paraphrased) I've found that the more books we read, the more the thoughts 'connect'.

You can use study guides as a teacher reference for more information. They can be useful for background and definitions, but use them sparingly. I have experienced that children like the literature straight from the author without any explanations. Hmmm, where have I heard that before ;) I teach a Shakespeare class and the students in the class don't like me interrupting their reading with explanations. I do sometimes, to define a word that has changed meaning or that they have never heard before. But, overall, they want Shakespeare straight :)

HEO has great literature! I wish it had been around when I first started twenty years ago!


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Okay, Carol and others, if you will let me play devil's advocate, or just explain myself further. My inadequacies in this area are what cause me to be too insecure to just read books. All I've done my entire life is just read books, never getting a thing out of them other than the storyline. I make no connections, I develop no thought, I read, say "that's nice" and move on. That is exactly what my son does. He is just like me. He's not a thinker, and he's not a talker. I absolutely marvel when I hear someone talking about a book and its themes, what it mean to them, etc. To me, it was just a story!

He's done AmblesideOnline his entire life, and honestly, must be an exception to the Charlotte Mason rule because he can't spell, he can't even capitalize and punctuate correctly, he makes no connections. For instance, Minn of the Mississippi was not about rivers, their ecosystems or geography, it was about a turtle. Kon Tiki was not about the ocean and its currents or who first inhabited the Easter Islands, it was about a guy's adventure on a raft. That's how he sees it, that's how I would see it too if it weren't for AmblesideOnline and Beautiful Feet showing me that it should be more than that. I am now convinced that there are some people, like my son and I, who don't just naturally make these connections. Our minds have not been trained that way.

He would absolutely hate and despise a time that we sat down to just "talk about a book." I might get a few details about the story line, and that is IT. I can promise you there will be no personal application, no connections, no themes, no evaluation of how it pertains to real life. Nothing. I need help! I'm not saying I want to dissect and analysis each paragraph and chapter, but I need some direction in even knowing how to pick out the thoughts.


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Hi Kim,

My almost 20 year old is like your son. He has some type of learning disability that keeps him from understanding phonics and he has always had a hard time with spelling. He's decided he just needs to memorize words. The difference is that my son gave me a very hard time about reading, so I just read to him. We finally found out that he has some visual distortions that are corrected using colored overlays. Actually, I have the same thing, but to a lesser degree or I've learned to compensate for it.

There was a time once when his competitiveness with his younger brother worked in a good way. My younger son was 10 1/2 and decided he wanted to read The Hobbit. Well, the 13 yo couldn't have his younger brother outdo him! They both ended up reading the whole series. Now, they compare what they've read to the movies. :)

It took time to get him to discuss the books he read himself. He never told me much. He's a man of few words. Plus, I realize now, it took so much effort for him to read, that little effort was left over. He remembered everything I read aloud to him. Even things I didn't remember. I'm thrilled whenever he wants to talk about what he's read or heard now! It's taken years.

Just keep trying with your son and it will come. I have learned things from study guides. You just have to be discerning with them and don't take the author's 'opinion' as complete fact. Because that is all it is—their opinion. The more you try to improve your understanding, the more you can help your son. You have the desire to try to make his readings into more of your ideal, so that is a start. It just takes time and practice.

It took twenty years for us to get where we are. We had to start from the beginning just like everyone else. I was an avid reader as a child. When we started homeschooling twenty years ago, my then-5 year old daughter wanted to read a whole 60 page book to me (first grade reader) and it was very tiring for me! :0 [I guess, it might have also been that I had a three month old too. ;) ] Several years later, I read Ivanhoe and Tale of Two Cities aloud to my children. At first, I couldn't follow either one of these books. Through the years, we've all grown, and now we crave great books and thoughts.

The 20 year old son is now in his second year of college. He still has a hard time with words, but he is excelling in all his other classes.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't give up. Just keep reading all the great books. One day, it WILL pay off:)


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Hi Kim,

Interesting, very interesting. I would only suggest the following:

1) This very well may be a learning disability.

The ability to process details is something that is critical to being able to think abstractly, and if a student lacks this ability, they will indeed struggle with comprehension and deeper understanding. Since you say that both you and your son are the same, my guess would be that you both have some sort of processing disorder (albeit minor, but nonetheless, something to keep in mind).

2) This very well may be a factor of age.

Critical thinking begins around age 12, but some children do not develop deeper thinking skill until age 13, 14 or 15. Your son may just be a late bloomer and may develop a deeper understanding as he ages. I would suggest being patient and waiting to see if this does kick in. This was the case with my son. I was very worried about his lack of skill in this area. He gave me very poor oral narrations, but could write a decent one. I think having the time to think about his reading helped a lot. If I asked him to tell me about his reading, I usually got a one or two line answer. If I tried to ask questions that are more detailed or even a good "thinking" type question, I just got back a blank stare. Now, however, he can put two-and-two together and actually enjoys discussing the books. He will be 16 in September and I would say that it really did not hook in until last fall (after he turned 15). So being patient may pay off for you in the end.

3) This very well may be an issue with home schooling methods.

I know you have used AmblesideOnline from the beginning, but sometimes a method becomes routine and old hat. It is possible that your son has never given a good narration and therefore is in a rut. He does not think he has to give a better one, because he has always been allowed to do the minimum. If this is the case, then I do suggest trying a different method, even if only for a summer. Sort of, shake things up a bit and have him do a different kind of work. I did this with my son when my husband had his heart attack. Though I didn't change on purpose, it actually worked in my son's favor. I had him do A Beka Academy for two months (not suggesting this route). He had two months of tedious, minute detail work and begged me to return to Charlotte Mason. I found that having spent time doing school a different way clearly demonstrated the benefits of our old method. We switched back and the narration inconsistencies disappeared.

Lastly, consider that your own perception may be coloring your experience. I have been in this spot as well so I feel I can speak to it. I am VSL (visual/spacial learner) and I have written much about my own learning experiences. There is great value in understanding yourself and your own learning methods. However, it can be easy to relay that information onto your children, even when you are not thinking that you are doing it. I did it with my son and it did hurt us for a while.

One of the things you need to avoid is comparison with your son. I found that often I would say "he is so like me" and I would then try to change our approach to suit how I would have liked it to be. I found that by projecting my own weaknesses onto my son, I actually kept him from developing fully. It was only when I stepped back and acknowledged that there were some similarities in how we process information, BUT that we were unique people, that I was able to clearly begin to address HIS needs.

I am not saying that you are doing this or have done it in the past, but I just wanted to caution you for future reference. Your son may be like you in many ways, but he is not you. He is capable of a full range of thinking skill and ability. He may indeed have a processing issue that is keeping him from comprehending the deeper meaning of the text (you might as well), or he may simply need to grow up a bit and mature into critical thinking.

My .02 cents would be to wait this out—at least another year. Your son is still young (if he was 16, I would give different advice) and needs time to mature, both mentally and physically. If you really are unhappy about his progress with comprehension, then try using a study guide along with some of the books you are reading. You can choose thinking questions to ask. The problem with this approach is that it is that it will not help him think deeper (this is a brain function), but it will give you some handholding and some questions to ask. If this still does not give you the confidence you need, then consider a critical thinking program (not an entire curriculum). There are some good books and workbook type programs that will encourage critical thinking. They do not rely on literature, so you can work through them as an additional study and keep on doing AmblesideOnline . This might help push your son into thinking a new way.

I hope this helps . . . I am not an expert in this field, but I can tell you that this is just what I have observed with my son and with other kids his age. They all seem to peak about the same time and go from being the zombie-student to a more thinking type student overnight.

~Carol H. :o)

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As I was writing my email, apparently Carol was too. ;)

Anyway, a learning disability did come to my mind also as I was writing about my son. We never did find out exactly what his is. My husband seems to have the same symptoms. My son was diagnosed with Irlen syndrome, which I have also. He thinks he just needs his reading glasses, but will use an overlay together with is glasses whenever he has tons of reading to do for school. The overlays also help my husband, but he won't use them either.

I took my son for some free testing around age 14. All they said was he had a learning disability. No details until the Irlen testing. Eye exercises help. We have used what is sold as a speed reading program, but has eye exercises too.

We are all also Visual Spatial Learners (VSL) around here too. :) It just helps to understand why things need to be done a certain way. Like how my son memorizes words.

Age does have something to do with it. I can attest to that because we're on the other side with the 20 year-old son. My younger son hasn't had trouble with any of this, but then he's lefthanded. He's supposed to be right brained. ;)


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"All I've done my entire life is just read books, never getting a thing out of them other than the storyline. I make no connections, I develop no thought, I read, say 'that's nice' and move on"

Ditto this for me and my son. But I say, but I'm by no means an expert here, what's so wrong with reading Paddle to the Sea and not learning the lake names? My son is now familiar enough with their shapes to point them out on a map on his own. "Hey that's from Paddle to the Sea." I figure that's a connection, and he's more likely to remember the names later when he encounters them again. I think learning comes in layers. The brain absorbs all it can the first pass, but then lay it aside for awhile and come back to it, and the brain picks up with where it left off and builds onto previous knowledge and understandings. That's what I think making connections are. They aren't things that you force; they just happen.


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Whereas we don't need to swoop down and fix a child's attention when they don't learn 'the names of the lakes' or whatever, one of the points of a Charlotte Mason education is to learn how to attend to proper names and then to use them in narrations.

This occurs over time with gentle guidance from the instructor during narrations.

In the Eve Anderson videos discussed from time to time on the main AmblesideOnline list, Miss Anderson shows us some ways that the instructor can gently more towards that:

1) she very specifically pronounced the words with a touch of emphasis at times while she read (I strongly believe that this teaching then was designed to transfer to the child's attention during reading)

2) during the narration, IF the student used a place name or proper name, it was specifically praised at times

3) during the narration process, she would go back and ask for such names to see if anyone in the class knew the name(s) involved—emphasizing the fact that this skill is important

4) if a child was struggling with a name, she would suggest the first sound, trying to help draw out from the child's own memory what was hiding itself from the child—but which WAS in the child's own mind

With older students who have not had this type of training, I might suggest the discipline of writing a list of proper names UNTIL the child learns to attend on his own without the list.

For what it's worth this IS an invaluable skill.

Yes, young scholars can get by in the world without the skill, but it is very valuable.

Lorraine (mother of children who struggle with the names of their own friends . . . so this isn't easy in our home, but it's still a worthy goal for us, and skills are increasing in this area regularly . . . if not in one child this week, then probably in another child next week . . . )

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I do agree, but Charlotte Mason also used a geography books to single out lessons for geography.

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And now I agree with you, but Miss Mason also wanted very living tellings about specific places in the world shared first hand. She spoke of this in theCharlotte Mason Series—summed up something like this:

1) Miss Mason also believed that children should get much of geography from the parent's sharing about various places where they live and have travelled a bit (e.g.—the smaller country of England—as opposed to the North American Continent). The child was to have the place described to them in light of very lovely, vivid picture, so that when he saw the place name and the city-symbol on the map, he would be able to visualize the place . . . that it was not a 'name', but an 'idea'—so to speak.

And in her own geography book, she draws the child to the idea with this poem (only an excerpt of the poem):

Lesson III

The Sailor-boy's Gossip

You say, dear mamma, it is good to be talking
With those who will kindly endeavour to teach.
And I think I have learnt something while I was walking
Along with the sailor-boy down on the beach.

He told me of lands where he soon will be going,
Where humming-birds scarcely are bigger than bees,
Where the mace and the nutmeg together are growing,
And cinnamon formeth the bark of some trees.

He told me that islands far out in the ocean
Are mountains of coral that insects have made,
And I freely confess I had hardly a notion
That insects could world in the way that he said.

(The rest found here—and that particular geography book by Charlotte Mason really has more to the structural aspects of 'geography': universe, movement of the earth, points of the compass, etc.)


2) Miss Mason would make sure that the geography books used included books that described (using words only for the most part) the types of huts/homes/and-larger-structures used in various portions of the world. If I knew of such a book in public domain, I'd be applying it in our home, with the follow up 'narration' being sketches of what had been read.

So Miss Mason believed in a varied approach to geography lessons.

BUT MORE TO THE POINT, Miss Mason wanted a picture of a place associated with the name of the place!!! Really a cool concept.

Personally, I need help providing *many* pictures to go with place names for my children.

Since there are so few places in the North American Continent which I have visited personally (many, but relatively few), I value the vocabulary lessons which can be gained from the 'living lessons' offered by great authors who have a passion for their subject (caring about it greatly), and who can then share that passion via literary form—authors such as Hollinc C Holling and other authors (AO has a nice line up of such authors, though the listing could be much broader I'm sure).

[It is a good thing, that the AmblesideOnline selections move away from 'picture books' in my humble opinion—as the child was to learn to see via the words, as I understand it.]

So, in my humble opinion, though geography books were employed by CM, she was very much into actively pursuing opportunities to make places very real to the child.

Hope that clarifies my meaning,


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"He would absolutely hate and despise a time that we sat down to just 'talk about a book.' I might get a few details about the story line, and that is IT. I can promise you there will be no personal application, no connections, no themes, no evaluation of how it pertains to real life. Nothing. I need help!"

Critically thinking, about anything, involves questioning and probing for answers. Unfortunately, in our society, this is not encouraged. Especially in public schools, where you are told that you need a teacher/expert in order to learn, that you won't know the right the way to learn something w/o the teacher/expert's help, and so on . . . I think many of us grow up afraid to question. Afraid to question the teacher, the parent, or the pastor. They are all the experts, and I may not be able to understand it on my own.

It takes a certain amount of rebellion, I think, in order to question anything, even the books that we read. I often find myself wondering, who is the person that wrote this book? Why did they choose to write it that way? What was their life like that they saw things that way? What is the author really saying? Is he hiding something, or telling another story beneath this story? What else is here?

Literary Analysis is nothing more than: The separation of an intellectual or material whole into its constituent parts for individual study.

Most of the literary analyses are just someone's opinions on the various parts of the literary work. They just break it down into sections:
1. What do you identify with?
2. What seems to be the most important idea?
3. Why did the author use that phrase or image?

Some good websites to check out: http://www.goshen.edu/english/litanalysis.html

There is no right way to think about Literature. Just relax and ask questions. And this is the best part—there are no right or wrong questions! I would suggest starting to ask your son questions about the author. This is the easiest, I think, since you can 'see' the person behind the words. Start with simple questions, Did he like what he wrote about? Did he seem enthusiastic about it? Do you think the author was a teacher and was trying to teach a lesson? Or was he a swashbuckling hero in his own story? And remember, just as there is no right question to ask, there is no right answer. Whatever you and your son come up with is correct.

Just one more note: Carol is right in that critical analysis is a skill that comes in time. My son, who is 15, still couldn't quite grasp how to write an analysis of a character. He can rewrite the plot, showing the character's qualities, but when he attempts a distant, objective view of the character, he flounders and his writing is halting and unsure. He can discuss with me all day long, the qualities of a character, the author's choice of setting, etc. . ., but when he has to write about it—well, it needs work.

All that said, just to say—be patient. It will come for you both in time.

Hope that helps,

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I just had to laugh at your message, because I know exactly what you mean! This may sound like anathema to many, but when we've done books for a book or film discussion group, we've gone to Sparknotes. We don't do it all the time, or with every book, but doing it once in a while it gives you a clue to the kind of things to look for, and gradually you can begin to apply that to other things you read.

Another thing which has been useful has been to compare book to movie. Two I especially remember doing this with have been To Kill a Mockingbird and The Old Man and the Sea. How is the movie different from the book? Why do you think they made those changes? Why are things left out? Is it because the story needs to be told in a smaller amount of time? Or is the director making his own statement? Is his idea different from that in the book? etc. The current Narnia movies would also offer fodder for this kind of discussion, as would Harry Potter.

I also agree with the mom who said you must be doing something right: your kids love to read! So keep up the good work!


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I would be very cautious about suggesting that someone has a learning disability simply because they don't "get" certain understandings from reading. This smacks of the public school tendency to label any child as learning disabled just because they don't fit into the small percentage that learn the same way the teacher is teaching.

I am a voracious reader, always have been. But when I read fiction, I visualize a certain story, and don't analyze what the author might have meant. As my daughter might say—"I don't really care" what the author was trying to convey. I enjoy what I enjoy and leave the rest. I do re-read over and over. I seldom discard a book unless I've found that I really get nothing out of it. So upon re-reads I often pick up something that previously had no significance for me. And sometimes, as an adult, I might read an interpretation of something I had read, and then I might say "hmmm, how interesting". But that does not motivate me to then look for interpretations of other works I have read.

People have different strengths (which does not mean a lack of a strength is a disability). Some people can instantly see connections. Others may never get the connection, but that does not mean there is anything wrong with them. I like looking at art (a "real" picture, not abstract). While it is enjoyable to read Sister Wendy's discussion of famous works—after which I might say "hmmmm, how interesting"—I do not "need" her interpretation to enjoy the work. I can enjoy viewing nature without studying the why's of methods of pollination, or the need for certain colors to be seen by certain pollinators—if I analyze too much, I'd end up stressing out about why cockroaches were ever created.

Some people love math. They live, breathe, dream about math. Others, if they're fortunate, get through the lessons, but don't voluntarily think about math. Some people are musical. I read a discussion the other day on another forum about whether a kid should be forced to continue piano lessons. No one would think of forcing a child to continue art lessons if it was discovered they had absolutely no ability to produce anything remotely artistic. So why would one assume that a child has musical ability, not yet revealed, when we don't assume unrevealed art ability? Why do we expect a child to have unrevealed math ability? Why do we expect a child to have unrevealed insights to literary works?

I think we do need to expose kids to music, art, sciences, maths, and literature. Failure to be gung-ho about any of these does not mean they are disabled. Perhaps uninterested, but not disabled.

So in my humble opinion, I'd let them enjoy what they get out of it, but not stress if they don't "get" what you or some assumed expert get out of it.

Just my thoughts,


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I do not think I am out of line here suggesting that there may be some minor processing issue at work. The only reason I suggested it is that Kim said that this has been a problem since they have homeschooled, which I took to mean, since the beginning of this child's formal education. If a child has never grasped anything significant from a book, and we are considering children's fiction as well as older works, then indeed there could be some "other" issue at work. I would certainly not suggest a child has a learning disability as I am not an expert or even in that field. However, it can be "assumed" that most children without learning disabilies are able to understand works of literature and get something more than "one or two lines" of plot.

As a long-time teacher and educator of children, I have worked with kids who do have a variety of learning disabilities. Normally, children can grasp a story with some measure of understanding. A child who cannot do this usually has some issue (how much, that is best left up to the expert). It is important to note that understanding comprehension of a story takes a variety of formats. Critically thinking about or analyzing a story requires much more maturity and my point was that this does not normally appear until age 12 or older. The issue at hand is why a child, apparently normal in all respects, cannot grasp a story consistently (from AmblesideOnline Y1 and up). This to me appears to be some sort of processing deficiency. The other option is as I stated that the child has come to expect that he can do less than satisfactory work or that he has just settled into a routine of giving short non-detailed narrations.

I am sorry if my post sounded as though I was passing judgment on Kim or her son. I was just suggesting a possible reason why a child might not be able to give narration consistently, especially after 5-7 years of proper training in the technique.

~Carol H. :o)

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I wonder if there is some kind of book club or middle/high school homeschool (CM style) literature class he can join in your area? It might help him to participate in a group that discusses the ideas in books (in a relaxed way, of course). You would have to be careful not to get into one that moves too quickly through books, or gets too technical/analytical, but I would think that sitting in on that kind of discussion might benefit your son. Sometimes you can find an online lit. class like that, too. I've seen things like that offered online by Bravewriter at times. Or even a community book club, as long as you can trust that the ideas that will be offered are consistent with the ideas you want your son ingesting at this time in his life. Just some thoughts. I agree with you that thinking about books in terms of theme, etc., comes harder for some than others.

Katie Barr

Katie also found this blog post about Flannery O'Connor that illustrates the danger of too much literary analysis.

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Hi Kim,

I wholeheartedly agree with Carol on the dangers of over-analyzing classic literature. In addition to teaching my own children with AmblesideOnline for over a decade, I've been teaching literature in a group co-op setting for the past three years. One of the fastest ways to kill a love for reading is to force literary criticism on young minds like a necessary evil. Literary criticism is a wonderful tool, and sometimes a requirement in certain circles of higher learning, but it is not the be-all-end-all of literary acumen (as some classic curricula suggests).

When I put together my courses each year I spend quite a bit of time reviewing what's "out there". On the market currently there is not one, but several highly-rated Christian worldview-based literature curriculums which advocate reading at least 200 pages per week (in course literature alone, not including other subjects) and writing at least one, to as many as five formal essays on the material each week. If I tried to advocate this approach in my classroom, I'd be lucky to have three out of fifteen students in class all the way through the year (and I'd spend so much time grading essays I'd have no time for my own family).

Every year I find myself resting more and more upon the laurels of Charlotte Mason's Philosophy in my high school classes. Yes, I do teach proper essay format and require several essays throughout the year. I also give weekly vocabulary quizzes, an occasional pop quiz (to keep them on their toes—the internet and cell phones are mighty competitors for these kid's attention) and term exams. But, the one constant tool that provides the truest gauge for how much a student has comprehended in their reading, what they have gleaned personally, and the worth (or lack they esteem thereof) of the work—not to mention their technical skill in public speaking and discussion, spelling, grammar, and writing form—is clearly and perfectly communicated through their weekly oral and written narrations.

I try to teach what I know will be most useful (and what is required by many of the ISP's my students belong to) for my students who are heading off to college. But I refuse to do so at the expense of slaughtering a love of learning. I've learned that lesson the hard way. Case in point: Against my better judgment, I assigned an essay over Walden for my American Lit class (the topic suggestion pulled directly from the pages of one of those classic curriculum guides I mentioned), with the full knowledge that 95% of my students absolutely hated the book and had expressed their belief that the man was a "lazy, self-absorbed nincompoop who prattled on forever about nothing in particular, trying to make it sound like something extraordinary" (direct quote from one of my students). Nothing could have been more excruciating than writing those essays—except having to grade them. What was I thinking? My students had already expressed themselves quite clearly in their narrations, but I was going to follow the traditional classical format no matter. Of course, I managed to kill Thoreau all over again in the process. Gross exaggeration? Well, considering one of my students gave a copy of Walden for our white elephant gift exchange and it was met with gasps of "Oh no, take it away, that's just cruel!"—well, you get the point.

I do teach the elements of literature and literary terminology to my students, but I always try to do so in a way that is natural. My student's all loved reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because they thought it was a great story. Talking about Realism, satire, antagonists, characterization, and first-person narration were easily accomplished as we read the story because they were clearly visible within the story. There are countless free study units available online to help teachers introduce literary concepts to their students, and I use many of them on a regular basis. But I firmly believe students must be allowed to read and respond naturally to books before they are required to respond in a formal analysis (and formal analysis should be an occasional endeavor, not a weekly task).

I believe Miss Mason spoke to the fact that we cannot spoon feed ideas to students. Place the ideas—in the form of great books—in front of your students and allow them to partake according to their own appetites. You will be amazed at how their appetites will grow and mature, all on their own. Allow your students to digest and respond to the foodstuff in great books . . . then marvel at the results. It is a process I never tire of watching, both in my own children, and others.

Blessings, Christine in CA

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In my humble opinion I have to agree with Linda. Didn't Charlotte Mason warn us not to interfere with the child and let their own minds meet with the author in their own way? i can remember reading Oliver Twist by Dickens to my daughters when they were 71/2yrs and 3yrs and my then 3yro would beg me not to read any more in case she missed Fagin's speech (she liked the mouldy sausages part—I didn't read some other parts to her) She got out of it what she liked, her sister enjoyed it on another plane, and me on another. All in all, we all enjoyed it and now both girls love reading and fine classic literature.

At least following this curriculum our children will be well read.


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You guys have given me some great things to think about. An analogy I thought appropriate to describe our difficulty is the difference in just reading the Bible vs. doing a Bible study. I've done both. I "just read the Bible" most of my life. However, in the last few years I've used various tools and Bible studies and have been amazed at the connections that have been brought to my attention and my increased appreciation for how it all flows together.

To clarify, my son can understand what he reads very well. But he's only reading for story, nothing more. I do the same thing. I remember HATING reading Moby Dick in high school because the teacher was trying to get us to read more into it, and all I saw was a story about a guy and a whale—I just couldn't get anything more out of it and it made me feel stupid and frustrated in class.

I don't know if that's just how we are, or if it's because our minds have not been trained to anything more. Me not knowing how to do it myself, I have not passed along this skill to my son.

I read a few Sparknotes while we were reading The Once and Future King, and was amazed at what we were "supposed" to be getting out of this book about governments and how Merlin was training Arthur for the day he'd be king. We truly were reading this book just as a story and nothing more would have ever occurred to me. Do you think that's a learning disability, or simply not being trained to anything more?

I do not want to parse a book to death, but I would like to find something that had a few well-placed questions to consider to enhance our appreciation for what the author intended. Reading things like Sparknotes overwhelms me, plus does not at all discuss the worldview.


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"I read a few sparknotes while we were reading The Once and Future King, and was amazed at what we were "supposed" to be getting out of this book about governments and how Merlin was training Arthur for the day he'd be king. We truly were reading this book just as a story and nothing more would have ever occurred to me."

Kim, confessions from a non-reader . . .

I read The Once and Future King and did get some of the symbolism from the text. I did not get anything like what Sparknotes suggested (or for that matter, even what Wendi included in her notes on this book). My son read this book, one of his favorites, and ONLY got the story. He loved White's writing and he has begged me to buy this book for him so he can read it again.

I read The Iliad in college and suffered through it. I have since re- read it several times (four now, I think) and have to say that it has grown on me. I recognize so much more now that I am familiar with the story and the characters. I still do not get everything that the "criticism" says is in that book.

As an English minor in college, I had to read for context and then analyze everything down to the nth degree. I did learn to do this, but it was not my favorite thing to do. I liked "thinking" about the book and really enjoyed discussing it—but not the actual analysis. This was one of the reasons I chose not to go to graduate school and get my degree in English Literature.

I do not know how to develop deeper thinking skill. I think some people are born with it. I do think it can be learned, and that the best way to do that is simply by paying closer attention to the work itself. However, not every book is going to lend itself well to a deeper reading. Some will; some will not. I recall having to read some feminist literature in college and it did not take too much training to be able to tear the work apart. It was SO obvious to me. My other books, especially some of those from the mid-late 1800's were so difficult. Not only was the language a barrier, but the context was difficult to grasp. I struggled through those books and never really got a lot out of them (just surface details and the plot). I do not see this as a negative at all—I think some books do lend themselves to a deeper reading; others are just good stories.

I think the crux of Ms. Mason's writing was to encourage reading, all kinds of reading. I think you can over analyze books and agree with Christina that most of the "critical thinking" programs on the market today are not reader-friendly. They are intense writing programs and are designed to teach a student how to tear apart a work (not necessarily to enjoy the story). I personally think CM's approach is the most gentle and it does actually work. A student will get some deeper meaning from the readings over time. My son now reflects back on some of the books he read a couple years ago. Some he cannot remember at all; others he still says were favorites. All of this I say . . . just to encourage you. He actually complained through all those readings and told me then he did not get anything at all. Go figure.

I really think you need to wait this one out and see if your son does improve over the course of this year. Boys mature at different rates and your son might just grow up a bit this spring. You never know . . .

If you still are worried next year, then consider using a study guide to help guide your discussions. I have actually written questions down and given them to my son to answer. It is not very CM, but it does work. I have to say that some kids need to be "led" through this process. They need to be given easy questions to answer. The more comfortable they are with answering questions, the better they will do later on.

~Carol H. :o)

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"I don't know if that's just how we are, or if it's because our minds have note been trained to anything more. Me not knowing how to do it myself, I have not passed along this skill to my son. . . . We truly were reading this book just as a story and nothing more would have ever occurred to me. Do you think that's a learning disability, or simply not being trained to anything more?
I do not want to parse a book to death, but I would like to find something that had a few well-placed questions to consider to enhance our appreciation for what the author intended. Reading things like Sparknotes overwhelms me, plus does not at all discuss the worldview.


When my learning disabled student had to learn to write, I broke down the writing/essay into various steps, so she could handle the writing process. It sounds to me like that's what you need to do with your son. Teach him to think through the process of thinking about the story.

Let me give you an example from our lives. With my daughter, I used the "5 Ws and a H" to begin to teach her how to study the Bible inductively. I printed up a sheet with the words: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How, with lines on which to write. Then, we started with an easy verse or two and just talked through it. We practiced asking the questions, and answering them. Sometimes we would focus on how many What or Why etc. questions we could make up related to the verse. We didn't always use every section either.

The point here is that asking the questions was instrumental in teaching her how to think through something. It seems to me that's what you're wanting to develop in your son . . . and yourself. Using a simple tool like the "5Ws and a H" is a great way to help you think about something, and because there are no prepared questions, there are no wrong questions!

This method really does help "cement" the material into your mind because you are asking questions that relate to what YOU got out of the story!


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Oh! Oh! Can I be in Christina's class?!? I see Charlotte Mason methodology in application and it just reminds me that this is what draws me over and over: CM methods seem to be the balanced approach. I think we try to throw things in an "either/or" category (society in general seems to) and struggle for the balance; it is imbedded in what/how we are trying to accomplish and implement a Charlotte Mason education!

Specific to literature, the person who mentions "layers" of learning is exactly right in our experience with regard to "levels" of reading. By the way, Adler's How to Read a Book gives the proposition for this idea and, in my opinion, supports it pretty well—we have taken the 4 year schedule (Years 7-10) and I am struggling to see where this can be a re-read for year 11 or 12. I know, "one time reading", but I think this might fit into a different category because of maturity levels and I think Charlotte Mason did advocate re-readings for this purpose (I am still learning about Charlotte Mason method on this, so correct me if I am wrong).


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"I do teach the elements of literature and literary terminology to my students, but I always try to do so in a way that is natural. My student's all loved reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because they thought it was a great story. Talking about Realism, satire, antagonists, characterization, and first-person narration were easily accomplished as we read the story because they were clearly visible within the story."


"He can discuss with me all day long, the qualities of a character, the author's choice of setting, etc."

This is EXACTLY my point! I would be completely clueless how to do this or even see it myself. I need help!

The questions Jessica offered were a good start:
1. What do you identify with?
2. What seems to be the most important idea?
3. Why did the author use that phrase or image?

My son is doing nothing other than a written narration about once a day. They are not more than a paragraph and just contain the basic plot or story. I've also been asking him for narrations on history or science to help vary what he's writing about because he'll typically just choose the easiest piece of literature (Rasselas at the moment) and just give me the short version of the story line for that day. He's offering no insight, ideas, etc.

Would it be possible to come up with some various narration prompts to help him dig a little deeper, such as the questions above that Jessica offered? I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't pick up Abeka's Elements of Literature or similar type of help. I feel these are things he's going to need to know for standardized tests and in college courses, but that I am not equipping him for.


High School Writing and Analysis Skills?

I've been up reviewing our Louisiana Core 4 English 1-4 requirements. In our state, English 4, 12th grade, is British Lit., which we are now doing in HEO year 7 with my 9th grader. He is reading and giving decent content narrations, but his writing skills (and my teaching them consistently) are lacking, and, from looking over the curriculum outlines on our state site, so are our analysis skills. I know there is much more to just reading and narrating and I feel like I don't have the necessary knowledge to draw from to guide him in detailed analysis. I guess I am looking for some definitive structure to "progress" through.

I am well-versed and read in CM's guiding principles in theory, but it is scary in real life. Should I use guides and offer guiding questions, or should I rely solely on what he comes up with on his own? Since I haven't taught specific analysis skills and devises per se, should I, so he will know more things to look for in his readings?

Appreciate any advice,
Kathy in Baton Rouge

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"Should I use guides and offer guiding questions, or should I rely solely on what he comes up with on his own? Since I have not taught specific analysis skills and devises per say, should I, so he will know more things to look for in his readings?"

This is a good question! I was just thinking about this very thing yesterday, so here is my .02 cents.

[Background info: This is my son's 5th year using AmblesideOnline. We started when he was 10 and finishing up 5th grade in public school. He has finished Y6, Y7, Y8 and we are currently working through Y9 (we did some cm-ish studies in between these years). I have had my son narrate orally and in writing since Y6. He has written many summaries of his books, but has just recently begun to write expositorally and analyze his readings.]

1) For pure CMers, allowing your student to read and then narrate IS enough. Over time, and with much practice, your student will begin to develop a critical mindset and will be able to offer analysis without the use of guides or other directives. It does not happen automatically (though critical thinking does, but the application of it takes practice). Parents who are "analytical" tend to be able to teach their children this skill without having to use other resources. Typically, they can poke "holes" into theories, spot inconsistencies, etc. on their own, so they naturally train their children to do the same. Discussions on the books often lean this way (why do you think this is the case? Do you agree with the author's point of view?) The student learns from his parent how to "analyze" or "look" at a particular theme, event, or person's character simply by reading and then talking through the book.

2) Some parents are not analytical or they do not feel confident to lead their students through the AO/HEO books. The advisory recommends using TruthQuest, which asks the BIG question (everything relates to a Biblical worldview) in light of history. TQ will give you some points to consider regarding HISTORY. It is a good jumping off point. Another option is to use a study guide (free through sparknotes.com or you can use a purchased literature guide) which will also ask more in-depth/probing type questions. The downside of a study guide is that often they ask such deep questions, that the reader cannot follow along (they presume the student can analyze or has a certain level of critical thinking skill—some will/some will not). Guides can be useful to help supply "thinking" type questions and should be used if the parent feels "helpless" or just unprepared for walking through the "deeper thinking" part of a high school program.

3) Critical analysis can be done in two ways:
1) reading the book and then discussing the key points, elements, characters, and theme/plot
2) in writing (along the same lines).

The parent/teacher can decide "how deep" they want to go with both of these items. One parent may find a conversation enough for them and may not feel the need to probe any further. They may also recognize their student's skill level and understand that "discussing" the book is enough for them (at this age or all together). Other parents may have a student who enjoys this type of work, therefore, they may choose to spend more time in discussion or may want to give their student some writing assignments (note: this is OK—it is CM to assign specific writing assignments!) In my humble opinion, this is really up to the parent. I personally feel that a combination of both, reading critically and discussing ALONG with some writing analysis is the best preparation for college. Students do not need to over-indulge in this skill—so a moderate approach, in my humble opinion, is best. For the gung-ho student . . . take it as far as they like/enjoy. For the timid or unsure student, gently introduce them and give them time to practice. As long as they have sufficient time to develop this skill naturally (reading about age 12-14; writing skill some time later, age 15-16), they will do just fine in college.

For my student, critical reading skill did not blossom until age 13-14. His writing skill is developing (age 15.7). We are now beginning to write more critically, slowly working in more "thinking type" questions. He was not able to do this prior to this year and whenever I tried to introduce it, he literally could not understand what I was asking him to do.

Here are some ways to introduce critical writing to your student (I am already assuming that you will be reading and discussing the books a la CM or will use a study guide to help you get started):

1) Reflective Essay (or Exemplification Essay)
These are probably the easiest essays to write and they require NO prep work on your part. They ask the student to reflect on something they have learned, enjoyed, or studied previously. The topic can be anything and the student can write as much as they like or need to write (about 1-2 pages is a good length).

My son is writing a reflective essay this week on:

What are you going to do in the future (next year, 5 years, 10 years)? Why do you want to do this? What have you done to get to where you want to go? How can you make your goal realistic? How have your plans changed throughout your high school years? What do you need to do next to meet your goals? Explain.

I borrowed this essay topic from a high school senior portfolio project. I consider this practice for writing a college entrance essay.

Other topics might be:
- something you have learned in life
- an experience that has shaped your character
- describe a process or journey you have taken (spiritual, etc.)

2) Analysis Essays
Analysis essays are more difficult to write because they require knowledge of a particular subject. For beginner writers, my preference is to have them analyze poetry. Poetry is the easiest literature type to write on because it is self-contained. I have assigned a Poetry essay to my son this week:

Evaluate Robert Frost's poem, "After Apple Picking."

He will need my help to do this, but I want him to start writing about literature and to begin to evaluate it critically. The great thing about this type of writing is that it is purely evaluative. The student does need to understand the poem and they do need to be able to "read" a bit more into it than just "words at face value." However, they do not have to be able to analyze it completely or need to write a lengthy thesis on the poet's motivation, etc.

This type of essay also is good practice for MLA (modern language association) format training. The student does need to know how to indent and cite inline references to a passage of text. They also need to know how to format their paper correctly. A short poetry essay such as this should be about 1-2 pages in length and contain proper references to the work.

3) Biographical Essay
This is another easy essay to write. Again, the student does not need to have any prep material because the topic is all about THEM! This essay is important to write, at least once before college applications are sent out. Most colleges ask for a biographical paper on the student, so this is a good type to practice on once or twice during the high school years.

Topic: Introduce yourself to someone you do not know. Make sure to tell them about your background, your family, your interests, your achievements, your future goals, etc. Consider your audience—this may be a college admissions officer, a future employer, or be used to determine your credentials for a scholarship. Be specific and remember to use proper formatting technique (transitions, etc.)

4) Evaluative Essay
The last type of essay to work on is evaluative (like the poetry essay). It relies upon the student's understanding of a particular work of literature, history or other concrete subject (ex. Philosophy, science, etc). The student MUST be able to do the following BEFORE they can begin this type of writing (literature example used):
- Read the work and understand the plot
- Gather the author's point of view or persuasion towards a particular viewpoint
- Differentiate between characters *Spot motive, character flaws, character development (multi-dimensional personality)
- Relate the work either to the time (historical) or to personal experience (spiritual journey)
- Develop a theory of plot importance: who, what, where, why, when and how
- Lastly, have something insightful to say about the work (or else why write about it? KWIM?)

I believe that this type of essay is the most difficult for students—all students (home school, public/private school, etc.) This type of essay requires a great deal of understanding and objectivity. The student must be able to read the book, poem, document, and begin to explicate (tell something important about it). It requires a great deal of abstract thinking ability and the desire to communicate the outcome verbally and through writing. Not all students will enjoy this type of writing assignment (many will groan exceedingly when this kind of paper is assigned). However, the process of writing this type of essay is no different from any of the others—it just requires a more mature thinker and more willing student (one who is willing to give it a good "GO!")

The best preparation for this type of essay is READING good books. The student who has a broad range of literary information and who has spent time reading good books (different genres, styles, and subjects) will be better prepared to handle this type of assignment. The process for writing this kind of paper is simple: use a good 5-paragraph essay format (though the outcome should be five or more pages to explicate the topic).

In my humble opinion, if you are concerned about covering critical thinking/writing with your student, then this would be the best approach to take:
1) Continue using a CM styled curriculum
2) Read plenty of good books (literature, history, nonfiction, poetry . . .)
3) Discuss the books using evaluative type questions: easiest are the who, what, where, why, when, and how questions. Comparison/contrast questions are more difficult, so save those for later. Argumentative questions are the most difficult—these should be done last.
4) Add interest with deeper value-type questions: personal reflection, integrity/character issues, and morals
5) If you need a study guide to give you questions to ask, use one. After a while, you should be more comfortable and be able to come up with your own questions (the best questions are personal ones—how does this book or subject relate to my child?)
6) Teach proper writing format—a good grammar program first, followed by a good writing program. Cover the basics so the student knows how to write an essay.
7) Slowly introduce writing assignments to the student:
   - narration (plot summary)
   - reflective and biographical (personal interest)
   - evaluative (begin with poetry, move on to fiction, save history for last)
8) Practice, practice, practice. The old axiom "practice makes perfect" is true with writing. The more your write, the better you will write.
9) Don't get hung up over rubrics and other assessment tools used in the public school system. These are highly overrated and they were designed to help school teachers evaluate a group of students. You know your student best, so begin where they are now and work towards the goal of writing fluently by graduation. It is not a horse race, so take your time and teach your student to be careful and consistent. It will pay off in the end.

Lastly, I would not stress over this issue at all. In my humble opinion, it is not a big deal and it is not worth worrying or fretting over. English courses need to consist of the following components: literature (AO covers this well), grammar (AO covers this well), and composition (AO covers this well). The critical thinking that so many schools and government agencies drill on is not part of the subject of English! LOL! It is a God-given skill that develops naturally in teens and young adults. You cannot rush this development—every student is unique and every student will become more analytical with time. Just be patient and know that it will indeed show up—one day!


~Carol H. :o)
The goal of learning how to write these kinds of essays, is to prepare your student for college level courses where the teacher may assign 'on the fly' type writing projects. The more comfortable your student is, the better he/she will be when asked to write on a specific topic.

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My teenager moved from AO Year 8 (which she didn't really complete) into public high school. They gave her backup credits for grade 9 and 10 English, based on her reading list and on a couple of writing samples we submitted. She did grade 11 English in grade 10 and this year (officially in grade 11) she's doing the grade 12 course. She's had no problems with it at all—and she was not a student who would do extensive written narrations or particularly enjoyed doing serious-type essays.

One thing that I think did help—besides reading How to Read a Book—is that I worked her through a number of sections in the reference book Writer's Inc. I figured she would probably need to understand some 'English-teacher-ese' at some point, or at least know where to go to look up pathetic fallacy or hubris or whatever, and what the different kinds of essays were. The other thing that we did, sometime around the time she started an English class, was to sit down together in front of the computer, click on our province's ministry of education website, and look at some sample grade 11 essays in the university-preparation stream, which were very handily provided for us along with rubrics and teacher comments.

As well as giving us a taste of what was expected in student essay writing, it also gave us a chance to discuss how really bizarre, or at least non-literature-related, some of the public school essay topics can be. "You are a speechwriter who has been hired to write a speech defending a position on a significant, current social issue." I don't have a problem with the assignment, but I felt it would have been more helpful to see writing samples based on the literature they were reading.

Something else AO recommends but that my daughter never got to are the Quiller-Couch lectures on writing, scheduled in Year 10.

Essays by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch from On the Art of Writing—Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, 1913/14
   1. The Practice of Writing
   2. Interlude: On Jargon
   3. Some Principles Reaffirmed
   4. On Style

Helene Hanff, the author of 84, Charing Cross Road, said that Quiller-Couch's lectures were her college education, and that everything she knew about writing English she was "taught" by John Donne, John Henry Newman, and Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Anne White

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"He is reading and giving decent content narrations but his writing skills (and my teaching them consistently) are lacking and from looking over the curriculum outlines on our state site, so are our analysis skills. I know there is much more to just reading and narrating and I feel like I don't have the necessary knowledge to draw from to guide him in detailed analysis. I guess I am looking for some definitive structure to "progress" through."


Although, I do spend time asking the kinds of questions in order to lead the child to think analytically, as Carol discussed, I also think parents can, and should, spend some time (not an inordinate amount, but some) developing those skills in their teens. We should give some focused assignments which gradually prepare the student for more critical analysis. I do this in a couple of very different ways . . .

1. English composition papers.

Carol covered these so well that there's not really much else to say . . . However, I will tell you that for teaching composition I use The Elegant Essay, which is a very gradual introduction to essays, and some other IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing) materials. I use these in a very CM-friendly way, so they've been a great addition to our Language Arts program!

2. Worldview.

You may wonder how I use Worldview to develop critical thinking skills, but it's actually a perfect opportunity! Of course my students read a Worldview book, and I ask them for "casual" oral narrations, in which I engage them in conversation about what they are learning in the book. Very easy! But, I also assign specific written narrations about the book. I usually pick the topic from the conversations we've had about the book. I'll know for instance, that my daughter hated Frankenstein, so then I'll ask her to write something about it from what she's brought up during our talks. Sometimes, there is only one of these, which would count as the Exam for that book.

In addition to the written narrations, I also assign a "Research Paper" in our Worldview Co-op. For the last couple of years, we've co-oped with one other family who also has 2 high school students. It's been an incredible way to teach analytical skills to our children in a practical, life-changing way! Of course, the class discussions are wonderful, but what I wanted to share with you was how I have used written work to teach them those analysis skills you're wanting to incorporate into your lessons. Let me give you a couple of examples from our lives.

Last year we read 7 Men Who Ruled the World From the Grave. At the end of the book, we had the four students research the Presidential candidates (since it was an election year) and write a paper. For their papers they had to cover 2 moral and 2 political topics/viewpoints for their candidate. I gave them specific requirements for each viewpoint researched, which included stating the candidate's View on the topic, as well as the Implications of that viewpoint, (if it were enacted just as the candidate outlined), and whether the student supported or opposed their candidate's position etc. After the papers were completed, then the students had to "be" the candidate for our Presidential Debate. They all did an outstanding job!

The outcome of the papers . . . Both of my students learned to think about "what" was said, and the implications of the views expressed. We even had an instance with my son, in which what he believed was not what he wrote. That led to a wonderful discussion about "what" he believed and taught him to be careful in the way he expressed himself on paper. It also showed him he could easily be misunderstood if he wasn't careful in the way he worded something. A very valuable experience, to be sure! My daughter said, after the paper was completed, she was glad she had done it, and it was a good experience. She also told me, she didn't think she could write that in-depth of a paper, and was glad I'd given her that challenge. However, during the process, her sentiments were QUITE different, I can assure you! (FYI: My 10th grade daughter's paper ended up being about 16 typed pages, while my 8th grade son's paper was 11 pages.)

This year, our co-op class is a Speech class with a 'Defending the Faith' emphasis. Their final paper is going to be on a cult. They have a list of specific things to tell about the cult, how the cult affects the cult members' worldviews, as well as the implications of that worldview. They also have to explain how their cult's influences are seen in the culture today, and tell how to defend against the cult. After their paper is completed, they have to come, dressed in the attire of their cult, and present a 20 minute speech based on their research. (The paper is NOT to be read.) This should also be another life-changing experience, as they will see how prevalent so many cult's teachings are in our culture today. I expect their critical analysis skills will grow as they try to decipher how the cults influence our culture. Already their eyes are being opened as they realize some of the cult influences around them!

Although the outlines of these papers may seem "unattainable" to you, let me break this down so you can see this is a "do-able" process. I've provided resources on the cults they've selected, so they don't have to spend an inordinate amount of time doing the online research which might otherwise consume their time. I have given my co-op students a specific format for each paragraph (the standard—introduction, 3-points, and conclusion/transition type of paragraph), which is already very familiar from their composition training. Over the course of about 2 months, they are given 1-2 paragraphs (each topic to be at least 1 paragraph) to write each week, and then the final weeks to do their table of contents, introduction and conclusion for the paper. They've had lots of practice giving speeches and doing role plays defending the faith during the year, and have already given a 15 minute speech last semester, so the speech requirement is also not beyond their grasp.

My point in sharing all this with you is to show that our teens need to be challenged to "think" about important things. If they don't learn to analyze the things they see and hear, they will be naively wandering through life, trusting blindly to whatever they are told. A very dangerous failing! I believe, now more than ever, our children must be prepared to think for themselves, so they will be able to make a difference in the world! They need to be made to examine beliefs and form opinions, their opinions, under our watchful guidance. When they leave the nest they need to be prepared to make wise decisions about their faith, as well as everything else . . . great or small.


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