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

Everyday Education, LLC
P.O. Box 549
Ashland, VA 23005

Excellence in Literature is a high school college-prep literature and composition series. The British Literature volume is the fourth out of five year-long, self-directed studies, and it is ideally used for 11th graders. It has nine units of four weeks each. The titles studied in this British Literature level are: Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," King Lear, Paradise Lost, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, and To the Lighthouse.

In each unit, the introductory material follows the same format: the unit focus, an introduction, "Something to think about," and "Be sure to notice." These editorials are fascinatingly insightful, and they stimulate immediate interest in the work being studied. For example, the introduction to Pride and Prejudice states, "Nearly two hundred years after her death, there are active Jane Austen societies in several countries, and her novels remain favorites for book clubs and reading circles. Why have these novels stood the test of time?" And it also states, "One of the primary characteristics of Jane Austen's novels is their subtle wit. As you read, be sure to note the humor in Austen's dialogue."

The context resources provide a wealth of information in the form of recommended books, websites, links to an audio and video version of the focus text (especially helpful for studying poetry and plays, respectively), period poetry and music, and historical and lifestyle sources, all which serve to immerse the student in the author's life and times to better understand and appreciate his or her writings.

The "usual" routine for each unit, with some variation depending on the work being studied, is as follows:

Week one is to be spent conducting background research from the previously described sources, reading the focus text, and writing an author profile (except for Beowulf, of course). Specific reading guidelines are often given to the student, such as spots to pay particular attention to or specific types of notes to take.

"Approach papers" (a specific analytical writing assignment) are assigned with each unit during week two. These have a precise format, and several samples are given in the back of the book. Sometimes a different type of short writing assignment is given in lieu of the approach paper, even a creative writing assignment.

The student is assigned an essay during week three (usually two topic choices), or sometimes an alternative assignment such as a re-writing of part of the text being studied is given.

Week four is devoted to writing the final draft of the paper that was completed during week three.

The more a student writes, the better he gets--and the more he likes writing. As you can see from the typical unit schedule outlined above, this course provides a liberal amount of writing to facilitate this progression. Many helps for the student and parent are found in the book: a thorough explanation of the curriculum, "Frequently Asked Questions," "How to Read a Book," "Discerning Worldview through Literary Periods," example papers, evaluation rubrics, an extensive literary terms glossary, and a long and varied list of recommended resources. An optional "Honors Track" gives the student extra reading and writing assignments to earn an honors level grade or prepare for the CLEP or similar exam and thereby earn advanced placement or college credit.

Texts of the books to be studied each unit are necessary to have, and suggestions for obtaining these cheaply are included. The usual writing tools--computer, dictionary, an English handbook, etc.--are also needed.

Excellence in Literature contains nine four-week units of intense reading and writing for a typical 36-week school year. Or the work can be spread out and used all year long with breaks at different times. However you decide to do it, you must stay on schedule. The rigor of this curriculum does not allow for slacking off and playing catch up.

Janice Campbell's perspective comes through in her text and in her assignments. I consider this a huge advantage--to be able to study this set of classic literature under her wise tutelage and in the context of a Biblical mindset. Students who enjoy research and discovery and are up for the challenge of heavy reading and writing will love this curriculum Parents who are ready to hand over the reins of teaching to their high school children will also love Excellence in Literature. If your family desires a top-notch, comprehensive curriculum for high school literature and composition, this is it.

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