Monday, January 6, 2014

Creating a High School English Course (or two)

Homeschooling Hearts & MindsI'm joining a group of thirty-some other ladies in a Virtual Curriculum Fair!  This week's topic is Playing With Words: The Language Arts.

There are so many things I could talk about here, but since I have two high school students with very different-but-same-looking English courses this year, I thought I'd touch on how I create a high school English course.

First, my students.  Connor, my 11th grader, has been reading anything and everything you put in front of him for about a decade.  He was a bit slow to start, but once he was reading he was reading.  He has displayed that same behavior with all "word" skills.  He didn't talk much until he was nearly four, and then he spoke in grammatically complex sentences, with great vocabulary.  Writing, foreign languages, same thing.  I keep praying spelling is too, but I'll confess I'm losing hope there.

William, my 9th grader, is severely dyslexic.  He loves reading, he just struggles a lot to do it.  A year ago, we got him the new Kindle with the immersion technology, so he can read the Kindle book while listening to the Audible book, and the Kindle highlights the text as it is read.  That resulted in a HUGE explosion in his reading skills, and it opened up a lot more possibilities to us as well.

Two very different kids, obviously.  So what I did with Connor in 9th grade doesn't fit William at all.

My history with high school English is that so far, we've really just muddled along.  I haven't wanted to use one of those English textbooks out there, though at times that seems much easier.  This is the first year I've felt really confident about our program.

My theory on high school English is that the "course" consists of a few things:
  • First, if your child is in high school and is doing English "stuff" at a level that challenges him, that is "high school English."
  • English is not something that should take just an hour class period a day for 174 class days (or whatever your state mandates).  Most of the time, reading should be "homework" as should some writing.  The only class I really had homework for in high school (aside from studying for tests and a bit of math) was English.  Almost all the literature reading happened on "my time" as did about 80% of the essay writing.  I think "class time" should mostly be instruction or discussion.
  • High school English should include literature, writing (essays and research papers), and "other stuff" as well.
  • "Other stuff" is going to depend a lot on the individual teen, but could include vocabulary study, word root study, spelling, reading instruction, grammar, fiction writing, poetry writing, or other stuff I'm not thinking of right now.
You may have different opinions, especially regarding homework, but those are mine, and I wanted you to know that as you read what we're doing.

So, literature first.  We've done a number of things in the past, but were blessed this year with the chance to use Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings.  I have all three of my teens using this (Thomas, aka Teen #3, is in 7th grade) at different levels. What I love is that it uses the three books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as the primary literature texts.  I was able to get the recommended book for Connor, and then the Audible/Kindle combination for both William and Thomas.  In addition to the LOTR books, though, we also get into poetry (Tolkien's), epics, Arthurian tales, etc.  And it certainly holds the attention of my boys.

In the past, we've used Lightning Literature, Progeny Press, Excellence in Literature, Sonlight, and probably a couple other things.  I like them too, but this year is less stress for Mom.

I think the key is to find a good mix between literature that grabs the child's attention and literature that is a bit outside his comfort zone, and to have something that helps you work through it.  And Lit Analysis is fun, though I certainly didn't think so in high school.  Maybe the difference is that I'm focusing on different things than my high school English teachers did (or even could, really).

Our literature analysis took shape from Adam Andrew's Teaching the Classics series.  So we're not just talking about an author's use of symbolism, or trying to find obscure, high-brow literary techniques.  We're looking at a work and using some of the literary "stuff" to talk about big issues.  It's a conversation, not another mindless essay.  "Is Frodo being a realist, or a pessimist?" launches a whole long discussion that comes up for days afterwards about the importance of attitude.  Or whatever.  Literature is a great way to talk about what makes a person a hero, to talk about temptations faced, or to talk about the importance of making good choices.  Real life stuff.  It was true with books like Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and it is still true with high school "literature" -- the big difference is that now I'm using more of those "lit" words.

Writing is the other big thing.  And while I could have the kids writing about literature (and Connor does sometimes) that isn't my preference.  As an adult, how many times have I needed to write about how Shakespeare uses animals to symbolize something-or-another in his play As You Like It?  (I think it was As You Like It anyway!)  After my first year of college?  That'd be NEVER. 

How many times have I needed to write up something that would fall under the category of a personal essay, persuasive essay, research paper, or other essay?  Fairly often, actually.  I'm not saying writing a literary analysis essay is a total waste of time. But with my writing-resistant kiddos, I'd rather expend effort on something they see as more applicable to their lives.

What that means this year for my high schoolers, is that they are doing different things for writing instruction.  Connor is working with Essentials in Writing, a fantastic, grade-based writing program on DVD.  He's working with the 9th grade program, just because that's what we decided to use.  William is using the Student Writing Intensive Level B from IEW, along with Thomas.

Essentials in Writing is really nice for Connor because the daily lessons are clearly defined, and we know when he is done for the day.  No guesswork, straight-forward, Connor can do it with minimal input from me (until I need to grade something).  The instructor has taught English for years, and he tends to sound like an English teacher.  Connor needs some of that.  We like the guy, and Connor is definitely learning.  The focus in high school is on various essays and on research papers.  We do choose to use our own essay topics, for the most part, so that does overlap with his other subject areas.

(I am willing to count one paper as filling multiple course requirements.  The "writing" side of the paper counts for English.  The research and content parts of it counts for history, science, economics, or whatever.  Or I'll grab a scholarship application's essay prompt and use it for the personal or persuasive essay prompt and he'll submit that for the scholarship.)

William using the IEW materials is perfect too.  Andrew Pudewa just has a way of talking to these struggling students, and he motivates my guys to really try.  I chose to do the Level B (intended for 6th-8th grades) as that is an easy one to adapt up or down, and honestly, he's better off with something a bit easier right now.  Well, and since this isn't so self-directed (at least not for these two children), I need something that involves both kids.

The final component of my high school English courses is "Other Stuff."  Again, this looks really different for my two very different children.

Connor is doing spelling, because he needs it.  He is working through Vocabulary from the Classic Roots.  He is working through a workbook called Analogies.  He is doing some handwriting too, as his is atrocious.  None of this takes a whole lot of time.  This is in addition to the extensive vocabulary work in the Lord of the Rings study.

William is working through Logic of English with me, to try to firm up some of his reading skills.  He is doing spelling and handwriting too.  We're working through Bridgeway English for explicit grammar instruction.  His English "class" takes a lot more time than his brother's ninth grade English did, but that is based on his needs.

What will High School English look like next year?  I have no idea.  But it will still include literature, writing, and "stuff" and I'll do my best to make it the 10th and 12th grade English that these young men need.

Here are the other fabulous posts (posts are due to go live by noon, so if you check one and it isn't there, check back later!)

3 Reasons to Read to Your Teens by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Language Arts {Virtual Curriculum Fair} by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

A Classical Take on 6th Grade Language Arts by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

The Power in a Word by Michele@ Family, Faith and Fridays

The Latin Road to English Grammar Volume 1 by Kristi K. @ The Potter's Hand Academy

Starting a Foreign Language in Elementary School by Amy @ Eclectic Homeschooling

These are the words we say by Christa @ Fairfield Corner Academy

A Peek into our Homeschool: Language Arts by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Our Curriculum Choices 2014 ~ English by Renata~Sunnyside Farm Fun

Virtual Curriculum Fair: A World of Words by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

It Starts with the Alphabet by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Playing w/ Words - Charlotte Mason Style by Lynn P @ Ladybug Chronicles

2014 Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Playing with Words: the Language Arts by Jennifer @ a glimpse of our life

Our PreK - 1st Grade Language Arts Mix by Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

Fun (or Not) With Spelling by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Word Nerd Love by Lisa N@Golden Grasses

Our Favourite Resources For Teaching Elementary Language Arts by Kim @ Homestead Acres

Unconventional Reading Lessons While Homeschooling by Lori@My Journeys Through Life

My Favorite Writing Curriculum for our Boys by Monique @Living Life and Learning

Virtual Curriculum Fair: Playing With Words - Language Arts   by Stacie @Super Mommy To The Rescue

Fun With the Language Arts by Mary @ Winecup Christian Homeschool

Our Grammar Path by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

Virtual Curriculum Fair !!! by Jessica @ Modest Mama

Language Arts in Our Homeschool This Year by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

If you want to link up, you can do that too!

1 comment:

Susan said...

Thank you for sharing how you plan your high school English courses---my oldest will be a high schooler in fall, so I'm pinning this for future reference!