Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Lightning Literature

Hewitt Homeschooling-- and particularly their Lightning Literature program -- is something I have heard about ever since I first began really thinking about homeschooling.  Lightning Lit was one of those programs everyone seemed to "just know" was good, but I hadn't had an opportunity to view it myself, so I was just never sure.

I've seen it now.  And it has changed our literature studies.

Lightning Literature is available for junior and senior high (with programs for elementary grades coming soon!) and the Crew had the chance to work with almost all of these products.  Lightning Lit uses a combination of novels, plays, and autobiographies (full-length texts), and also essays, short stories and poetry, to teach composition, literature, and other language arts skills.

I've looked at their website over the past four or five years, and my reasons for not trying this mostly boiled down to my concern that this just wasn't enough.  Whether it is simply a matter of getting the product in my hands, or the fact that I'm looking at things for son number two, or just that I'm getting a bit older and wiser (frankly, I think it is all three.  Well, maybe not the wiser part!) this program totally clicked for us.

The junior high levels (we used Grade 7) are full year courses, and include a student guide, workbook, and a teacher guide.  I intended to use this with William (who just finished 7th grade, but with his dyslexia, he struggles with most language arts products) but I ended up having both him and Thomas (a rising 6th grader) use it.  That meant ordering an additional workbook (the only consumable portion).  This probably would be too much for Thomas on his own, but combined with William, it really works out.

The program is set up so that you alternate between major works (novels like Tom Sawyer, or a biography of Helen Keller) and minor ones (Rikki Tikki Tavi is the first selection).

With each work (or works, in the case of poetry), the student goes through a similar process:
  1. Read a short introduction in the student guide.  This includes biographical information, and things to be watching for in the reading.
  2. Read the work/s and answer comprehension questions.  There are also vocabulary lists available by chapter.  For the longer works, this stage can last a few weeks.
  3. Read the lesson and mini-lesson in the student guide.  For Tom Sawyer, the lesson is on sub-plots or multiple plot lines.  The Mini-lesson is on outlines, specifically on outlining the stages of the plot.
  4. There are workbook pages to complete.  These worksheets include ones that reinforce the literary lessons or the mini-lessons.  There are composition skills worksheets.  Some pages address thinking skills.  There are worksheets covering grammar.  Each chapter includes a couple of puzzles.  There are 'extra challenge pages' which I am discussing with my 8th grader, but not with the 6th grader.
  5. Finally, the student chooses a writing assignment.  One thing I love is that the writing assignments are of varying difficulty, and the teacher's guide helps to explain these assignments so that you can help the student choose an appropriate one.  For more prolific writers, the schedule suggests doing an additional writing assignment.  That won't be happening here.
If you do the basics, this means that over the course of each semester (18 weeks) the student will read complete four chapters, which means four writing assignments, plus the writing practices in the workbook. 

I love the progression.  The Teacher's Guide will comment in various places about how a certain literary topic is being quickly introduced now, but will be explored in depth in the 8th grade program.  That keeps me from thinking I need to go adding extra explanation.  And it really makes me look forward to using the next level.

High school Lightning Lit programs are intended to be semester programs (though there are schedules available for using each over a full year) and there are a dozen options.  Connor is working with Early to Mid 19th Century American Literature, which is intended for grades 9-12.  All of the high school levels consist of a Student Guide and a Teacher's Guide.

Like the Junior High programs, this uses a combination of longer and shorter works.  There are no worksheets, which also means the entire program is non-consumable. The basic lesson set-up is similar to the Junior High levels as well:
  1. Read introductory material in the student guide.  This includes biographical information, discussion about the work in that lesson, historical background, etc.
  2. Read the work and answer comprehension questions.  Most of the major works are scheduled over two or three weeks.  Moby Dick pretty much goes on forever (you start reading in week 12 and finally finish in week 16).  (I confess, I am not looking forward to Moby Dick.  I need to find an abridged audiobook. For me.)
  3. Read the Literary Lesson in the student guide.
  4. Choose a writing assignment. There are quite a few options available.  The writing assignments tend to be essay-length, but some are shorter, and there are some research-style options in there as well.
  5. For a book-length work, choose a second writing assignment.
In a semester, the student works through four major works and four shorter ones, completing twelve writing assignments.  That sounds like a lot, when I write it out here.  But it hasn't felt like too much as we are working through it.  Maybe because Connor has so many choices when it comes to what kind of writing assignment to complete? I'm not entirely sure.  But the pace is workable.

For The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (the first lesson in the first unit), Connor chose to write a short research paper on Franklin the Inventor, and for his second writing assignment, he opted to write a letter introducing himself to a new penpal.  We're going to use this to send to our new Compassion child, actually.

The high school levels can be completed at a slower pace (one guide over a year) with a schedule provided.  They can be completed at the college-prep pacing of one guide per semester.  Also, there are additional reading suggestions, and Hewitt considers this an honors course by adding some of those.

My bottom line:  I love this.  My perusing-the-website-and-samples impression of Lightning Literature was that the pace was too slow and we wouldn't be reading enough.  My 'older and wiser' thoughts are different.  While I definitely want my children reading more books during a schoolyear, they certainly do not need to be doing in-depth analysis of a new book every week.  Lightning Literature gives us room to add books that relate to the history or science we are studying, or just add some because we want to.

As for papers, we probably will cut back some from the suggested schedule.  Unlike my high school experience where paper writing happened only in English, Connor is writing essays for his history course, his humanities class, and in science too.  I suspect we'll drop at least one paper per quarter from this schedule.

The price is good too.   The Junior High (7th or 8th grade) level costs $60 for all three workbooks, and $20 for each additional student (for the workbook).  The high school levels cost $32.90 for the two guides, which I can use for each of my children.

The kids' bottom lines:  Connor has asked that we continue with Lightning Literature.  He wants to do the British Christian Authors book, pictured here.  He wants to do both World Literature titles.  He wants to do British Medieval.  And Shakespeare Tragedies. And...

William and Thomas want to continue to use Lightning Literature.

I'm planning to use their new First Grade materials with Trina.  Richard, I'm afraid, is going to be the only one not using Lightning Literature at the moment.  His turn will come.

To see what my fellow crewmates had to say about the different Lightning Literature courses and some of Hewitt's elementary products, click the banner here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Schoolhouse Review Crew, I did receive some of the products mentioned for the purposes of a review.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

If you are interested, here are more of my Schoolhouse Crew Reviews.


Blossom Barden (NorthLaurel) said...

Great review- as always :)
I like the program also- my dd probably would like it more if she could get out of "It's summer!" mode :) I didn't even notice the British Christian authors! If I'd paid more attention (and it was offered?) I'd have chosen that one!

Debra said...

yeah. We had a few of those "It's Summer!" moments regarding this as well. Believe me.

Long term, though? My boys love this. Connor even looked at the 19th Century Brit Lit one that includes Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre and said that he'd be willing to do that. He hasn't had a very good attitude about either of those titles with other lit studies we have done. (Of course, he wants to read Ivanhoe... LOL)

The British Christian Authors was offered. I think there are only about three people reviewing it though. But watch for reviews.

Jennifer said...

This was a completely new company to me before this review, but we are sold now. You have me interested in their elementary offerings; I'll have to go look around some more for my son.

Kym said...

This company was new to me prior to doing this review too. But we loved it. I was glad to see your thoughts on the high school level because I am keeping it in mind for when my daughter gets there. A long time from now. ;-)

Kristine said...

Debra, how funny that I found this by googling as I am working on course descriptions for my 12th grader! And then to find this is a new review! lol

She used LL in 8th grade and enjoyed it. When we used Notgrass in 9th, she specifically requested to go back to LL. I liked LL so much that I ended up buying LL7 for my younger son.

I continue to really like the middle school curriculum. The high school is more hit and miss. Shakespeare was great. We will not be using World Lit again though.