Question from My Weekly Wrap-Up Post on Literature

Preparing to Teach the Hard Stuff button

Question from my Weekly Wrap-Up post:
I enjoyed reading about your week. You mentioned you discussed Uncle Tom’s Cabin with your boys this week. And, I’m wondering, how could I discuss that intelligently??? So, I’m wondering, how have you educated yourself to get your boys to this point. Is it mainly by using TOG? Or have you spent a lot of time reading the classics? If you already have a post about this, I’d love it if you’d point me to it. I’m just wondering how I’ll be prepared to discuss some of these deeper topics. Thanks!

My Response:

School for Us,

A little of everything is my best answer.
1. I have read quite a few of the books…a long time ago but the structure and main points are still in my mind.
2. Some books I don’t remember at all so I read a bit of the book, skim some of the book, and read the Cliffs Notes.
3. If it is a TOG selection, the teacher’s notes are thorough and well written and I can usually have my boys give me their thoughts in a discussion using some of the leading questions in the student activities. Here is a better explanation of how the notes do that on TOG:
4. If I have never read the book and I have time to read it, I enjoy following along with the boys. I did this with Les Miserables earlier this year using the Enriched Classic edition.

Overall, it really depends on the material. Last year when we did Medieval and Renaissance (TOG Yr 2), I really felt I needed to pretty much read everything they did and go through the teacher’s notes. It was a tough year.

This year has been a bit easier and as the boys mature, they really take the discussions on for themselves. I just lead through questions. It isn’t like I am quizzing them or needing to find specific answers either. They narrate to me what they thought and what they learned. I listen and respond as best I can. Since there are two of them, they sort of self correct…or agree to disagree.

We are getting ready to read Macbeth this week. I have read the introduction and notes to the play, refreshed my memory with the characters and plot, and found an audio book to listen to. We will listen together and talk as things come up. This is not a TOG selection so I will not have any notes.

I have outlined some narration prompts already using the notes from the book.
Describe Banquo’s murder.
Why do you think Shakespeare’s appeal has lasted so long?
Write a review of this play for a local homeschooling group.

These are just our quick literature response narrations. I expect them to thoroughly answer the prompt in about a page usually. They never seem to have trouble with this exercise.

Remember that when the kids get into high school they have entered into a whole different world of thinking. They are no longer gathering facts or putting them together with connections, they are asking the “why” questions and are ready for thinking on a higher level. I see it happening in my boys. They go farther and build on things they have learned in the past.

For example:
In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, you are no longer learning about Lincoln or the basics of the Civil War, you are digging into the “whys” and the “why nots” behind the people. This book puts faces on slaves and slave owners. It shows how people can change in their most basic beliefs as Christians. You see the struggle in some of the slave owners over the conflict of being a Christian and treating fellow humans as chattel. My boys are finally old enough to grapple with these tough subjects. It did not take much prompting from me to hear how they really felt about things in this book. They both feel it is an important book. In fact, that was one of my narration prompts: Why should people read this book? They had solid answers. I didn’t have to do anything but schedule the reading and then ask them the question.

We can all do this. There is no reason to shy away from high school because we feel inadequate. There are plenty of resources.

We used Teaching Company DVDs when we went through ancient history and literature. This was an area that the boys were interested in and I felt better having the DVD course for the Iliad and the Odyssey. (We love Elizabeth Vandiver.)We also viewed quite a few of the lectures in the Books that Have Made History course. Sidenote: If you are new to the Teaching Company, sign up for their catalog. You will be informed when their courses are at 50% off or better. Every course is marked to 50% off at some point in every year. You just have to pay attention. I have never purchased a course at full price.

Susan Wise Bauer suggests using Pink Monkey as a resource too for high school literature. I prefer to use Cliffs Notes or the Enriched Classics editions of books to help me with my preparation for discussions with the boys when I do not have TOG notes.

Take it one step at a time, one book at a time.

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