Monday, July 01, 2013

Institute for Excellence in Writing: Teaching the Classics {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

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 photo homepage_logo_zps79f1e89a.jpg
 photo teachingclassics_zps99736e1d.jpgThe Schoolhouse Review Crew has been reviewing some great products from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. IEW sent me their Teaching the Classics DVD Seminar and Workbook. The package included the video seminar on 4 DVDs and one spiral-bound syllabus.

I've often heard other homeschool moms talk about how wonderful the writing curriculum is from IEW, however, I have never had the privilege of using any of their products. Since literature is my absolute favorite subject, I was beyond thrilled to be chosen to review this literature seminar authored by Adam and Missy Andrews and taught by Adam Andrews.

As a member of, I am already somewhat familiar with the teaching style of Mr. Andrews who is their online literary teacher, so I knew I'd have to love Teaching the Classics!

Before I begin my review, here's a brief overview of Teaching the Classics by the founder of Institute for Excellence in Writing:

Teaching the Classics is a six-session course that equips you the teacher or parent with the tools and techniques you need in order to properly analyze, teach, and discuss literature with your students or children. Each session centers on one area of literary analysis with the first session beginning with an introduction that gives an overview of why the study of literature is important.

Also included in the first session is Lesson 1: Preparation for Literary Analysis in which you will learn the importance of context and authorship, structure, and style. Here, you will be introduced to the five elements of fiction (conflict, plot, setting, characters, and theme) and the story chart, the foundational tool of the Teaching the Classics approach to literature.

Before the first session comes to a close, you will be given a chance to put what you've learned so far into practice. Adam Andrews reads aloud Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and follows up with a discussion of stylistic devices used in the poem such as metaphor, imagery, allusion, onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, and more.

*Session One Time -- 1:31:30

Before I move on, here's an excerpt from session 1:


Sessions 2-5 will examine the five elements of fiction mentioned above. Session 2 begins with a discussion of the Socratic Method followed by Lesson 2: PLOT and CONFLICT
It's important to know that Andrews' overall method for analyzing literature is based on the Socratic Approach named after the classical Greek philosopher, Socrates. Wikipedia defines the Socratic Method as "a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas." The Socratic Method is discussed in detail on page 12 of the syllabus. Questions for analyzing each piece of literature discussed in this course come from The Socratic List located in Appendix A of the syllabus. This list is composed of 178 discussion questions that can be used to help you and your child/student analyze any work of fiction.
In this session you learn that conflict, the most important ingredient in a story, can be grouped into a certain number of categories, and you also learn how to organize the 5 stages of plot onto a story chart. Adam Andrews reads The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter and follows up with discussion of conflict and plot. Also included in the syllabus are several examples of plot/conflict story charts for classic adult literature. (The Iliad, Macbeth, Great Expectations, and To Kill a Mockingbird)

*Session Two Time -- 56:31

Session 3 presents Lesson 3: SETTING. During this session you learn that setting is about more than just the time and place of a story. Sights, sounds, smells, etc., all play an important role in establishing the overall mood of the story. Andrews reads the classic, "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" by Rudyard Kipling and follows up with a discussion about the setting of the story. Also included in the syllabus are several examples of setting in adult literature.

*Session Three Time -- 1:39:15

Session 4 presents Lesson 4: CHARACTERS. During this session you learn all of the ways in which an author effectively reveals his characters to you in a story. In order to properly understand a character, you must discover the ways in which he is like or unlike you. Andrews reads a chapter from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and follows up with a story chart and a discussion about characters. Also included in the syllabus are several examples of characters in adult literature.

*Session Four Time -- 43:05

Session Five presents Lesson 5: THEME, my favorite! During this session, you learn how to identify the theme of a story. A helpful list of over 25 universal themes are listed in the lesson, although it isn't meant to be an exhaustive list. You also learn how to differentiate between a theme of a story and a moral of a story. Andrews reads Martin the Cobbler by Leo Tolstoy and follows up with a story chart and a discussion on theme. Also included in the syllabus are several examples of themes in adult literature.

I'd never heard of Martin the Cobbler, but I am so glad I know of it now. Such a beautiful story; I must find an illustrated version at my local library to read to my kids!

*Session Five Time -- 1:28:29

Session Six presents: PRACTICUM and A CURRICULUM FOR LITERATURE. In Practicum, Andrews reads the poem, Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, and then you get the chance to put everything you've learned about analyzing literature into practice. You can pause the video and fill in your own story chart including setting, characters, and theme. On the video, people break into groups and each group takes on one element of fiction to discuss. Then Adam Andrews fills in a story chart and discusses the poem with everyone in detail. This is very helpful since the whole point of this seminar is that you and I will be able to effectively teach literature to our own children/students.

In a Curriculum for Literature, Andrews discusses how to introduce this method of studying literature to your children/students of all ages and how to incorporate this method into your daily lesson plans. The task can seem overwhelming at first, but Andrews breaks teaching down into manageable, bite-size chunks. He also takes the pressure off of us to do this with every single story our kids read. That would be impossible! To help get you started, he includes a suggested 10-week lesson plan developed for a high-school aged student. I love that even highschoolers begin with children's stories!

*Session Six Time -- 58:30

That concludes the seminar, but the syllabus continues with an Appendices:
  • Appendix A: The Socratic List
  • Appendix B: Reading Lists for Young Children, Juveniles, and Highschoolers
  • Appendix C: Important Literary Terms
Cost for the seminar and workbook: $89.00


I really enjoyed watching Teaching the Classics! It was nice to be the one being taught for a change. Adam Andrews is a great teacher -- dynamic and easy to follow. As I mentioned before, literature is my favorite subject, and I've spent lots of time discussing fiction with my children. However, I've never followed such an organized, step-by-step method of instruction. And don't let the words organized and step-by-step fool you into thinking this method of teaching is boring. It's anything but boring! I see some fantastic and orderly literature discussions with my kids in the near future. :)

I am so thankful I now have the tools I need to implement this style of literary education in my homeschool. A huge plus is that the techniques learned in this seminar can be applied over and over again to all works of fiction. Also, after becoming familiar with this way of learning, older children/students will eventually be able to fill out story charts and analyze literature on their own.

I haven't used this with my kids yet, but as soon as we start school at the end of July, I plan to start lessons with all 3 of my kids following the suggested plan from the syllabus. From there, I plan to continue with discussing children's books with which we are already familiar. Once we get a grip on that, and we all feel completely comfortable with this method of literary analysis, I will start assigning my 6th grader and 9th grader books that are appropriate for their age levels. I will most likely continue doing children's books for now with my 3rd grade daughter. Plus, I am looking forward to having more profitable discussions during our family read-aloud time.

I really think the price of the seminar is worth it if you are serious about implementing the Socratic Method for your child's literary education. Overall, it's a great deal and will save you money over time if you don't purchase other literature curricula, comprehension guides, etc. Truly, you don't have to be a literary expert with lots of degrees to teach literature to your children. This seminar will equip you with everything you need for literary success!

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