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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.

“An Appreciative Look or Comment”

How to Use the Right Books (according to Charlotte Mason)

“So much for how to tell which are the right books. The right way to use them is another matter. The children need to enjoy the book. Each of the ideas in the book needs to make a sudden delightful impact on the child’s mind, causing an intellectual awakening that signifies that an idea has been born. The teacher’s role in this is to see and feel for himself, and then to prompt his students with an appreciative look or comment. But he needs to be careful that he doesn’t deaden the impression of the idea with too much talking. Intellectual sympathy is stimulating, but we’ve all been like the little girl who said, ‘Mom, I think I’d be able to understand it if you’d stop explaining so much.’ One teacher said this about a student–‘I find it so hard to tell whether she’s really grasped the concept, or whether she just knows the mechanics of getting the right answer.’ Children are like little monkeys. All they usually get from a flood of explanations is the trick of coming up with the right answer.”
Charlotte Mason, Volume 3, pg 179

Sometimes when you are reading from Charlotte Mason’s books you have moments where it becomes clear that you are in need of some changes in your own attitude. We can agonize over what books to offer our children and then mess it up by explaining them too much or by trying to quiz them to see if they know all the “right answers”. We can train them to be like little monkeys….or so Charlotte Mason says.

We are currently reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I actually am reading this book for the very first time and trying to experience what my boys go through as they read a well written novel with wonderful characters and a plot that keeps you wondering what will happen next. I am making notes in the margins and marking sections to share at our meetings, not answering a list of predetermined questions with each week’s reading but rather just savoring the tale and talking it over on Fridays.

Here are some of the things we discussed last week.
1. Why is the book called Les Miserables?
2. Why does Jean Valjean reveal his identity to save another man only to be arrested? What would we have done?
3. What is Javert’s problem?
4. We talked about why Fantine gave up her hair and teeth to send money to Cosette and how a mother’s love is so strong that it compels them to do things that seem so heroic.
5. Jean Valjean makes some huge changes in this section of the book and we discussed how and what makes people change for the better.

These were topics that came from our hearts as we read through this section of the book. Without the need for questions and answers from TOG, we managed to have a really good discussion with things that had been on our minds as we read. As usual, I gained some insight into the character that is developing in my children. Homeschooling allows us more of an opportunity to see into their hearts and great books help us to see life’s struggles through another person’s experiences. We can intertwine our spiritual beliefs into our discussions this way too and to relate our life’s problems to perhaps a situation in the book.

This is a far better way to read and share a book with our children.

I am trying hard to develop the “appreciative look” and to make “appropriate comments”. Getting out of the way and letting the real learning happen is something that I will continue to work on as long as I have children that are at home.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

We are really enjoying this edition of the book with its notes for words that are either in French or are more difficult vocabulary.

Literature Terms-My Little Reminders

As we go through our literature readings each week, I want to have a way to remember the terms and concepts that are on our “to do” list for the year. I came up with a method a few years back and it is still a great way to review and cement ideas as we go through our weekly literature assignments. I also love that it is relatively painless and inexpensive, as well as quick and easy.

I take a set of 3″ by 5″ cards and write down the literary terms that I would like to cover for the year. I keep the cards in a box or you can hole punch and put them on a ring. I like to move the completed cards to a separate section and only use them for review. Some cards stay in the current section for the complete school year. We are working on finding the theme in our literature this year so the “theme” card will stay in the front.

As we go through the week’s reading, I pull out several of the cards and keep them in mind when we have our literature discussions. Tapestry of Grace uses “story analysis” and weaves it into their plans, but I want to review more often than it comes up in the TOG plans.

Here are some of the cards we have used over the years.

Beginning Cards:
Main Idea
Legend/Myth/Folk Tale/Fable/Tall tale
Figure of speech

Next step:
Point of view (first person, third person, etc)

Our new high school level cards:
Short Story
Poetry/free verse/limerick
Tragedy/Comedy/Historical play

How do we use the cards? After pulling a few cards each week to keep in mind, I ask the boys to watch out for examples of the concepts in their reading. For instance, if we were working on metaphors, they might keep track of a few that they come across in their weekly work. If the book we are reading is a biography, we might talk about point of view, setting, dialogue , or mood. Shakespearean plays give us the opportunity to discuss which category of play we are reading, rhyme, characters, dialect, or irony.

Another way I weave the literature terms into our work is to have the boys include examples in their own writing. I might ask them to include a metaphor in their writing or to write from a certain point of view. This way they are not only able to find examples in their literature but also cement the idea by incorporating the concepts into their own writing. I love that.

If you have younger children, you can use the cards as a reminder to yourself and as you cover each idea, make a little pencil check in the corner to keep track of which cards you have shared so far. It is a visual reminder as you work through your school year.

We start each year with a quick review of the terms we know and I add in a few new ones to work on, keeping track as we work through the weeks.

If you are a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, you can intertwine these literary terms into your narration assignments. An example might be for your student to narrate some dialogue for the current literature book or to narrate the setting of the book with a drawing. You can be as creative as you would like using the cards and terms.

Hope this helps someone or sparks an idea of your own. You can actually use this idea for other subjects as well and I found it a lifesaver when I had three homeschoolers working on different grade levels.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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