Ever worry this: What is the only RIGHT way to teach literature?
The Only RIGHT Way to Teach Literature
Literature is such an important core academic class in high school for homeschoolers as well as the rest of the population. I have reached a conclusion after many years of teaching my own children high school literature and teaching classes for hundreds of homeschooled high schoolers in our area:
There is only ONLY RIGHT WAY to teach literature.
I am going to share that way with you now.
I know this is the ONE RIGHT WAY because I can fast-forward the scene and enjoy where it takes me. Let me explain:
Any time we make a choice, we are creating consequences in our own life story. Think of your life story burned onto a DVD, and hit the fast-forward button…..where will you find yourself down the road as the result of this choice? Are you satisfied with the outcome you can foresee? (Thank you, Dr. Henry Cloud, for the idea of playing your life forward!)
If I teach my homeschooler literature in the traditional way, I will choose books that are recommended reading for high school at various grade levels, and I will choose them whether I actually understand the value of those books myself or not. In other words, someone else chooses my child’s book list; I don’t know who this person is, but he or she established the curriculum I bought or created a list of books that appeared on the internet and sounded authoritative.
Then, when my student reads those books, we will look for the commonly respected themes in the story, we will memorize the pivotal moments in the plot, we will recognize the universally accepted symbolism in the story, and finally, we will produce a piece of writing based on a prompt someone put forth as a “good topic” for writing about this book.
When we are all done and I play the scene forward in my mind, I see my grown child at a dinner party with colleagues someday where someone mentions the book title. “Ah yes! I read that book in high school, too.” The discussion that continues will find everyone sharing very similar experiences they had with the book, the primary focus for actual conversation being who liked the book and who didn’t. All I will have taught my child with this traditional method is to memorize what others have decided is valuable about a piece of writing, to articulate someone else’s observations about it, and to decide whether or not it was fun to do those things.
Here is the ONLY RIGHT WAY to teach high school literature:
* Choose for yourselves. Whether you create your child’s book list or you collaborate on the task, choose books that you want to immerse yourselves in. What do you want to spend time talking about in the car? What topics will interest you around the dinner table? Choose books that will feed into that conversation. Recommended reading lists are a great place to get IDEAS for books to read, but they are not definitive. There is no book that MUST be read for a child to graduate from high school.
Of course, we 7Sisters firmly believe there’s not one right way to choose for yourself, so you might choose the collection of study guides of someone you trust (another homeschooler or publisher). The choosing what fits best for your family is what is important. (Check the literature study guide collections in 7Sisters store: Great Christian Writers, World Literature, American Literature, British Literature.)
* Read with your brain turned on. It is important to pay attention to the story, the characters and the themes as you read, and a literature study guide is an irreplaceable tool if you or your student struggles to stay focused while reading. (Check out 7 Sisters’ ever-growing collection of $4.99 study guides on many classic works of literature. Our guides are designed to help homeschool high schoolers read with their brains turned on with don’t-kill-the-book comprehension and inferential questions.) The author put those elements in there for a reason, so read aloud, or read more than once, or read with study helps at your side….whatever way enables you to read with your brain engaged.
* Read with your SPIRIT turned on. Knowing what the author put into the book is not enough. It’s so exciting to uncover what GOD put into the book, and reading with an attitude of openness to His agenda for us reveals those things. Ask God to show Himself in what you are reading. Even books by godless authors frequently contain illustrations of spiritual truth; God uses the most unlikely vessels. (The background information and questions in all 7Sisters literature guides includes material that helps develop discernment- but are never preachy!)
* Talk about what you’ve read. Have meaningful conversations about books instead of oral review sessions. Don’t quiz your child to see if he completed the assigned chapters; TALK TO HIM about what is grabbing him in the reading. Encourage him to articulate WHY it’s grabbing him. There are no wrong answers when you are discussing a piece of literature. (Each teen is able to think and interact with a book at different levels. Some may even want to delve more deeply into topics presented in the guides. Each 7Sisters guide contains instructions on “leveling up” with different activities.)
* Allow your writing assignments to grow out of these conversations. If you use a writing prompt you find from someone else to get you started, that’s fine, but only if the prompt is a good fit for the conversation you’ve already been having. If your child saw something really out-of-the-norm when she read the book, and she can articulate it and support her observations with examples from the book, GOOD FOR HER! You don’t even have to see it yourself; if she can write about it intelligently, she might be able to convince you that you simply missed those things when you were reading the same book!
Fast-forward the scene in your mind: ten years down the road my grown child is at a dinner party with colleagues where someone mentions a book title. “Ah yes! I read that book in high school, too.” Now imagine how rich the ensuing conversation will be.
While many others in the circle “learned” the same things from that book, my child will be able to share from his personal encounter with the book. He can INTRODUCE IDEAS that were stirred in him. He can SHARE STORIES of how he was changed by that reading experience. And he can EXTEND A CHALLENGE to the people around him to turn on their brains and their spirits in a deeper way the next time they pick up a book.