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American Literature Full Set Review by Jennifer HarrisonStudent Notebook and Hardback Student Reader
Whit Jones, PhD
Apologia Educational Ministries
1106 Meridian Plaza Suite 220/340
Anderson, IN 46016
I’ve found a literature program that does it all. Apologia’s American Literature curriculum by Dr. Whit Jones provides the opportunity for students to read and analyze original documents and influential texts throughout American history while also teaching them reading comprehension skills, writing skills, critical thinking, and how to pick up their laundry from the floor. Okay, maybe not that last one, but I am seriously impressed with all that the program covers. Upon completion, students earn a literature credit and a writing credit. The collegeprep, history, and theology they’ll walk away with are just a bonus.
Theology is a component of every lesson, but what impresses me the most about this aspect is that the text doesn’t tell a student what to think, but instead requires them to analyze scripture, make comparisons, and defend their own views. Dr. Jones asks questions that make them think. When the publishers describe the book as being “from a biblical perspective,” they do not mean that the book teaches a moralistic deism, which is increasingly common in Christian curricula. Instead, they mean that students will examine the Bible and develop a perspective that honors truth.
This curriculum set includes a student textbook, a student workbook, and access to downloadable PDF files containing answer keys to each chapter and the tests, tips on how to grade papers, plus bonus files for the students that include advice on comma usage, paraphrasing and summarizing, and using quotations with MLA formatting.
In all honesty, we only used the student notebook for essay assignments. The chapter questions in this large, spiral-bound book are also found in the textbook, and it is easier to write the answers on lined paper rather than in the space provided in the notebook. However, the notebook does contain tests for each chapter and semester exams, which are not in the textbook. The tests in the student notebook include the essay questions that help make up the writing credit that students are working toward. It also includes guidance for writing effective essays. We skipped the tests, but kept most of the essay-question assignments.
I worked through many of the chapter questions with my son out loud so that I could be a bit more involved in this class. I enjoyed the discussions, and he enjoyed not having to write out each answer. He did well with these, which is why I did not require chapter tests. It may be interesting to go back later and ask test questions to see how much sticks with him.
There are eighteen chapters in the book, which works out nicely when spreading each chapter over two weeks, to fit a typical thirty-six-week school year. It’s a little more complicated when you look at page numbers. There are 832 pages of lessons in the book, which averages twenty-three pages per week, but some chapters are under thirty pages while others are over sixty. Of course, page numbers aren’t necessarily a good predictor of how much time a student will spend on a lesson. Each piece the student studies ends with questions, and these vary greatly in length and difficulty, as well. In the end, it all worked out nicely, even if our lesson length varied considerably from week to week.
I teach with a blend of the Classical and Charlotte Mason approaches to learning. I wondered if this class would stray too far from my preferences, with such a “textbook” approach. However, while the format may be a textbook, the lessons are much deeper than that. There is no checklist approach to these lessons; they really do inspire an appreciation for good literature, encouraging students to think. Many literary analysis assignments can end with a student hating a text, after picking it apart and struggling to identify a symbolism that the textbook author, rather than the original author, imagines exists. This text feels more like the author is saying, “Wait. Slow down and read it again. What do you see?”
Questions include practical, observable things like “List three small comforts experienced in paragraph 19” and “List three odd details about the stranger Rip meets.” More weighty questions include things like“How is the personification of natural forces consistent with Emmerson’s Transcendentalism?” and “From Paul’s example of witnessing to the pagan Athenian Greeks, how might you witness to people who believe as the Cherokees did?”
Textbook essay questions include assignments such as comparing Natty Bumppo to a knight from the Middle Ages or of a noble hero from a fantasy story such as Lord of the Rings, using at least 300 words. A notebook essay assignment from the same chapter’s test instructs students to discuss the ways two key Romantic ideals—nature and the person who lives close to nature—are represented in the selected works by Irving, Cooper, and Bryant (authors studied in the chapter.)
Students are instructed to paraphrase points made by different authors, contrast these points with scripture, and compare these views with other authors. Lots of thinking going on in this book!
Everything I’ve mentioned previously, plus the fantastic material that students get to feast on. Dickinson, Melville, Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and so much more is included. While I do believe it is best to drink deeply rather than sip from many wells, there would be no way to include the full text of all the titles in this book into a school year. This course teaches so much while giving a taste of many great classics and influential works. It does not need to replace reading assignments, but instead, can inspire them.
- The answer key is a PDF file, and the cost of printing so many pages is prohibitive. I uploaded it to a device instead. I would much rather have these available in print.
- Both books are very large. The textbook alone weighs eight pounds. I had a surgery recently and was restricted from lifting our literature textbook, which was kind of funny. That’s a little cumbersome. If the textbook was printed in two volumes, one for each semester, the tests and essays that are only in the workbook could be added to the textbooks.
- The answer key does not contain the questions, just the answers. It’s a small detail, but it does require me to open two books to grade the student’s papers so that I can better judge the meaning of the answers.
The textbook is currently available for $70.99. The student notebook is available for $27.89. You get a lot of notebook for that price! The downloadable items are available for free with your purchase of the textbook.
This is not a casual class. I suppose one could purchase the textbook and still glean quite a bit just from reading the provided material and ignoring the questions. That would be casual, but beneficial. The questions make it so much more. This is a little intense, but not overwhelming, and after grading a few pages, I think you’ll want to join in the assignments yourself.
-Product review by Jennifer Harrison, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2017