Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: American Literature

We've been floundering a bit with high school here.  So the chance to review James Stobaugh's revised literature series was a very welcome addition to our schooling.  American Literature includes both the student text, and a Teacher Guide.  Together, this can be used for a full-year literature course for high school.

This title, along with British Literature and World Literature, and the corresponding history titles, is published by Master Books, a division of New Leaf Publishing Group.

Here's what they have to say:
Enjoy beloved classics while developing vocabulary, reading, and critical thinking skills!
  • Each literature book in the series is a one-year course
  • Each chapter has five lessons with daily concept-building exercises, warm-up questions, and guided readings
  • Easy-to-use with suggested reading schedules and daily calendar
  • Equips students to think critically about philosophy and trends in culture, and articulate their views through writing
A well-crafted presentation of whole-book or whole-work selections from the major genres of classic literature (prose, poetry, and drama), each course has 34 chapters representing 34 weeks of study, with an overview of narrative background material on the writers, their historical settings, and worldview.
The rich curriculum’s content is infused with critical thinking skills, and an easy-to-use teacher’s guide outlines student objectives with each chapter, providing the answers to the assignments and weekly exercises. The final lesson of the week includes both the exam, covering insights on the week’s chapter, as well as essays developed through the course of that week’s study, chosen by the educator and student to personalize the coursework for the individual learner.
Coordinates with American History, by the same author!  That is a feature I love.  Okay, the coordination isn't totally perfect, but it is really close.  For instance, Chapters 4-5 of American Literature focus on "The Revolutionary Period, 1750-1800."  In history, Chapters 5-6 relate to the Revolutionary War, and Chapter 8 relates to the Constitution.

Looking over the table of contents for both titles, though, they do mesh amazingly well.  Chapter 25 in history is on the World War II, and Chapter 25 in literature is the last of six chapters focusing on 1916-1946.  The time periods match up great.

My take:  There is a fairly lengthy list of literature -- additional books and texts not included in the student book -- provided in the introductory materials.  I counted 20 titles in total.  The suggestion is that the student read "most, if not all" of them during the summer before taking the course.  Personally, that wouldn't work so well for me... or for my students.  If they are finishing these titles up in August (to use traditional school schedules here), but not studying those last few until May... that is a long time to really remember the details of a book like The Chosen by Chaim Potok (the last book on the list).

In our case, we needed to start using the materials pretty much as soon as we got it.  Connor had recently read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, so he was able to skip the reading of that one.  Otherwise, he was starting each title a week or two before we got to it in the materials.  The student book does tell you what is coming up, so you do know to read those selections.

Personally, I think 20 titles is a bit much for reasonably in-depth literature study over 34 weeks.  However, I can't really argue with that amount of reading, nor can I argue with the titles selected.  Basically, this course covers:
  • up to 1750: two chapters (Bradford, Edwards, Bradstreet)
  • 1750-1800: two chapters (Franklin, Wheatley, Henry, Jefferson)
  • 1800-1840: two chapters (Bryant, Irving, Poe)
  • 1840-1855: five chapters (lots of great poets, Thoreua, Melville)
  • 1855-1865: two chapters (poetry, speeches, spirituals, Douglass)
  • 1865-1915: five chapters (Twain, Crane, and some short stories)
  • 1915-1946: six chapters (poetry, Wharton, Hemingway, Hurston, Faulkner, Steinbeck)
  • 1946-1960: five chapters (O'Neill, Hellman, Williams, Miller)
  • 1960-present: four chapters (Knowles, O'Connor, Porter, Burns, Potok)
Each week includes daily assignments, weekly reading (for sure if you didn't read over the summer, but frequently even if you did), a weekly essay, and a weekly test.

I think to do this course as written, you are definitely doing an honors-level course. 

For us, Connor struggles to keep up with this level of writing.  He could pump out an essay a week, but given his other school assignments, and his interests (more science-oriented), to do that well sucks up a lot of his time.  We've slowed it down, and I'm not requiring a weekly Literature essay from him.  Instead, we started looking at the assignments for the week, and determining which essay assignments ought to truly be done as essays, but some we just used for discussion, and others he would outline an essay for me but not actually write it.

One thing I really appreciate is that each chapter has three essay options.  For instance, in the first chapter on Huckleberry Finn, the student can write about how Twain develops the character of Jim, how Huck matures, or he can compare Huck Finn to young Samuel in 1 Samuel 1-3.  (I abbreviated the actual essay prompts, there is more information in the book!)  With pumping out an essay every week, it is nice that there are some choices as to what to write about.

We will continue to use this and the other books in the series (British Literature and World Literature), though with my science-oriented children, we are not likely to use them as intended.  Maybe for my youngest, but she's only 7 so it is a bit early to tell.

This is making a great addition to our plan for high school English credits.  I love the worldview presented, and am especially glad that Connor did do the first chapter (Worldview Formation) as written.

You can watch the book trailer here:

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.   

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