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Excellence in Literature: Reading and Writing through the Classics Review by Kathy Gelzer

American Literature
Janice Campbell
Everyday Education, LLC
P.O. Box 549
Ashland, VA 23005

This fall, we will be embarking on the high school path in our homeschool. When I saw this literature program, I knew I'd found what I want my highschooler to use for the literature and writing component of his high school education at home.

One of five incremental books in the series of Excellence in Literature, American Literature is a survey course designed for the 10th grader. However, individual ability and interest are to be considered in choosing which level to use when.

The Excellence in Literature curriculum is self-directed, meaning your student is to take responsibility for his learning. The parent assumes more of an advisor role. I can imagine the amount of growth one sees in the student as he learns to own his education, manage his time, and hone his writing skills through following this program.

Naturally, the written papers are to be corrected and graded by the teacher-parent. Plenty of assistance in the way of grading rubrics and sample reports and essays are provided.

The book is written to the student and contains nine units covering these American classics: Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Selected Works by Longfellow, The Last of the Mohicans, The House of the Seven Gables, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, House of Mirth, The Great Gatsby, and The Old Man and the Sea.

All the units follow the same format. At the beginning you will find introductory material including references to books and websites to help the student gain background information on the author and title(s). There is a list of audio and video versions of the book, and even related poetry, art and music listings to explore. As you can see, this 36 week literature/composition program is very comprehensive!

A four week assignment schedule is laid out for the student. The first week is designated for background reading and reading of the classic book to be studied. During the second week, an "approach paper" is to be completed, so named because "writing each section of the approach paper helps guide your thinking as you approach the assignment." During the third week a 750 word essay (I estimate this to be about three to four pages of double-spaced text with standard margins and type size) is to be drafted by the student, and the fourth week the same essay is to be put in final draft form. All of these written assignments, both the approach papers and the final essays, are clearly explained.

How long does all this take? Author Janice Campbell says to allow at least an hour each day for the reading and writing plus an additional twenty to forty-five minutes per day for vocabulary work. The student is expected to look up all unfamiliar words in the dictionary. When you consider the student is covering both literature and composition thoroughly through this course, this does not seem like an exorbitant amount of time. The integration of literature and composition is an important element of this curriculum. The student learns to read critically and he learns to respond to his reading.

Although not overtly Christian, a Biblical perspective is evident in Janice Campbell's commentary and assignments. Here are a couple examples. In the unit on Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, the student is asked to make a list of personal goals similar to those Franklin wrote in his book. Janice Campbell further states, "You may use scriptures to support the goals you set." In the introduction to the unit on House of Mirth, Janice Campbell comments, "The novel reflects the Naturalistic view of man as a helpless pawn of fate rather than a created being with a purpose and its events accurately portray the consequences of this worldview."

Helps to the student and parent abound in Excellence in Literature: thorough coverage of how to use the book, tips on how to read classic literature, a background of six literary periods, sample papers, a glossary of literary terms, and a list of recommended resources.

What is needed for the course? Copies of the books being read are of course necessary, and it is recommended that one buy the books rather than borrow from the library so that the student may make notes in them. An English handbook or style book, dictionary, and thesaurus will also be needed for assignments.

An "Honors Track" is included, which provides an additional reading and writing assignment per unit for the student who wishes to earn an honors-level grade or take an AP or CLEP test at the end of the school year. The student interested in this route will also need to write a 6-10 page research paper on one of the authors studied during the year.

This is a serious, rigorous curriculum for serious homeschool families who are preparing their highschooler for college level work. It would fit right in with the classical homeschool approach. If you are not a structured homeschooler and don't wish to be one, this curriculum may not be for you. If you are willing to have your student do some steady, hard work and gain exposure to some of the best American literature, you and your child will find the payoff well worth it.

How I wish this curriculum had been available to me when I was in high school! The next best thing we parents can do is provide just this sort of top quality learning opportunity for our own children. That is, indeed, why many of us choose to homeschool.

Product Review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2009