Five years ago, I reviewed a program from Everyday Education, LLC. Excellence in Literature's first program, English I: Introduction to Literature, was fabulous, and a great introduction to writing for high school. I really loved the focus on classic literature, and such wonderful selections are included in the series. Janice Campbell never made me feel guilty for things like using audiobooks for my struggling readers, and that is huge from someone pushing rigorous, honors-level English.
The Homeschool Review Crew is currently checking out the most recent product in this series, Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers. Janice combines forces with Ian Johnston on this title, and oh, my! The first thing I did was to make sure my college kid had a copy of this to start looking over before he left for school. I didn't think I'd really be able to use it with my others, but this handbook is truly for high school and college. There is a fantastically detailed table of contents that makes this easy to use as a reference tool as he is writing those college papers.
This isn't a book that is filled with lesson plans or anything like that. But in reading through it, I am able to apply the things to other assignments that my teens have. For instance, one of the very first sections in the handbook is titled Trivial Arguments over Matters of Established Fact. We're in the middle of a program that is teaching the kids to write essays in their history work, and I was able to expand on the commentary in that program about picking a thesis statement with my kids. I didn't pull out the handbook and read it to them, nor did I assign them to read it (my statement above about struggling readers applies!) but I could informally cover the concept with them in a way I simply could not have done before reading this Handbook.
I was never truly taught this stuff, at least not explicitly. Most of the "good writing" that I did in high school and college was just that I happened to more-or-less figure out a few good principles on my own, and I just kept re-writing until it sounded good to me. Nobody told me to narrow down my thesis statement, or that it should be an opinion. I cannot remember ever getting any advice at all about how to create a thesis statement, actually. Just skimming through this handbook would have made my college life so much easier.
Because my writing abilities are mostly intuitive, it-sounds-good, I-think-that-works types of things, having this handbook helps me to understand the logic behind some of my feelings. For my teen boys, I cannot be teaching them to write by telling them to make it "feel right." They stare at me like I am completely insane. In just a couple of months, I've had multiple opportunities to go beyond feelings with them and to explain WHY.
A conversation about an essay on the fall of Rome, for instance, gave me the opportunity to talk about how you want to choose reasons for the fall of Rome that will be interesting to write about. It isn't interesting to write about something where everyone agrees, and it is even less interesting to read. Think about the writing assignment, narrow down your focus, and take a stand.
In the foreseeable future, this isn't going to be a resource I can just hand to my kids. This is a resource I will continue to read over myself, and I can use the principles in teaching all of my kids, from the 10-year-old on up to the high school students. By the time they are off to college, my hope will be that they can use it as a reference tool themselves.
You can head over to the Crew Blog to see what other members had to say about this handbook, or to see what they had to say about two other products we reviewed. Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting and Working it Out: Poetry Analysis with George Herbert were also reviewed by the Crew.
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