Jump to content


WTM History for High School

Has your high school student used the WTM approach to history?  

  1. 1. Has your high school student used the WTM approach to history?

    • Yes, following it for more than 1 year
    • Yes, followed it for one year and changed course afterward
    • Yes, followed it less than one year, change course afterward
    • No, chose another course for high school years

Recommended Posts

On p. 474 of my copy of The Well-Trained Mind, directions for high school history students are to select a work of literature from the era, glance at years in which it was written in the Timetables of History and the DK History of the World, read a corresponding section in a history text, and write a one-page summary of the historical context in which the literary work was written.


For, example, the Magna Carta. Or Sir Gawain. The one-page context paper would describe contemporaneous events in England, with a final paragraph on events "elsewhere."


That is it for history lesson until the Magna Carta or Sir Gawain are completed. The student goes on to discuss and write a paper about each book. SWB recommends about 8 or 12 great books to be read each year. In the spring, student writes a research paper on a historical topic.


I would like to hear from anyone who is following this approach.


Does writing a 1 page summary of contemporary events, drawn from these 3 sources, built on top of a grammar & logic stage tour through the era at 4-year intervals preceding this year, seem to produce an adequate grasp of history? Do 10 "Great" books for literature per year, with their accompanying 1 page summaries, seem to work well for most high school students?


Have you found that this approach does indeed train the mind?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ater reading your question, I'm asking myself why I don't follow WTM. :tongue_smilie: It really is a great approach. I'm interested to read other responses.


We are using TOG for several reasons. Two of the big reasons are b/c of the teacher's notes, and the fact that we are all studying the same topic. I can no longer be sure I will be able to keep up with Ds's reading. With the notes in TOG, I am still able to have a discussion with him, even if I can't keep up.

Edited by shanvan
Link to comment
Share on other sites

We are going into our third year of this approach.


You also read (and outline in our case) a "spine" for history, too. Dd is using Spielvogel, but she also read SWB's two history books the past two years.


So far, so good. Dd has an amazing grasp of history and literature, as well as a maturity earned by comtemplating and discussing the great ideas through history.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We are going into the 2nd year of this approach at the high school level. It went very well last year. It is our third time through the entire history cycle.


Ds has a good grasp of the major events of history. Many of the great books he had heard talked about earlier and in some cases had read versions for younger children. He has a much greater exposure to both history and literature than I ever had and I went to a good college prep boarding school. Many of the books he read last year we read at that college prep boarding school plus some that I didn't get until college and a couple that I had never read.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

ETA - I did end up answering your poll (used more than one year) because after reflecting - the point was to say whether a person is using her ideas, though we have altered sequence...


For example,


For ds3, we spent many more years than one for each time period.


For dd, we are doing the following:


9th - 1/2 credit American History and American Literature for English - covering all of it at a more shallow level - using any books that SWB recommends (not reading every word/page - at a more shallow level) that are related to American History and for literature - by American authors.


Also American Government (1/2 credit), using spines she recommends but McGraw Hill for the textbook and Omnibus III for some discussions...


10th - World Hx with AP European Hx for 1 credit - using SWB recommended lit and discussion guides like Omnibus etc...and literature that wasn't or won't be covered for American Hx/Lit...


11th - 1/2 credit American Hx - go in depth in the areas dd needs to visit to prepare for the Swiss maturite with their kinds of questions/discussions, but using materials recommended by SWB....+ ones recommended by the Swiss...


So - yes and no.:001_smile:



Edited by Joan in Geneva
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am not trying to be restrictive, but I am sure people are on this forum because they are inspired by WTM philosophies, techniques, and approaches. I am really wondering about the use of the very simple format of writing a one page summary of the historical context of a "great book" (realizing that SWB is not restrictive about what books you choose) based on a spine that covers either the history of western civilization, or a broad era (such as SWB's texts)


I find it extremely difficult to not read, and ask my high-school aged children to read, books focusing narrowly on people, problems, events, and countries within the era, and write about them. (I could not resist starting this school year with Asimov's 250-page book on Constantinople.) This is not TWTM's highschool format.


The poll, and my question, is to explore the experiences of people who are using what seems to me her very trimmed-down history study for high school.


I realize that in TWTM, she gives an example of a student writing a "great books" paper on technical aspects of Greek drama. How the student might have developed that question is not explained, as I don't think it would have arisen from Timetables of History or any Western Civilization spine. Using no other resources, the great book's historical context summary would indeed be one page. It seems that history in TWTM high school is a backdrop for literature, not really a study in iteself. Unless I have missed something.


I would to love hear more of your experiences.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I need an "other." (I always need an other.)


When we first discovered TWTM, my daughter was about to begin her first year of high school, and we had already set our hearts on doing American history and certain books for that year. So, I took the basic approach described in TWTM (context pages, reading, writing after reading, emphasis on chronological study and primary sources) and kind of overlayed it on top of what we already had planned.


I added some books to her list, and she wrote context pages and essays about each book. It worked pretty well. She remembers it now as one of her favorite school years.


However, because we had taken that year out to do American history, we had to squeeze world history into three years. I did that by tweaking the beginning and ending dates for each year. For the next two years, she studied ancient and then medieval/renassaice history, again doing it more or less the WTM way.


With my son, however, we're doing things a little differently at the high school level. Last year was supposed to be a quick survey of world history, and we went with an unschoolish approach for most of the year (until we figured out it just wasn't working).


This year, we'll be doing American history, picking up from Reconstruction, because we left off with the Civil War last time he did American history, in middle school. It won't be TWTM-ish at all, really. He's using portions of the U.S. history course at www.hippocampus.org and a bunch of other stuff.


He's also doing half a credit of government, because I wanted to do that during the election year.


And I really have no clue what we'll do after this year, except that I want him to have at least half a credit of economics in there, somewhere.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I find it extremely difficult to not read, and ask my high-school aged children to read, books focusing narrowly on people, problems, events, and countries within the era, and write about them. ...


The poll, and my question, is to explore the experiences of people who are using what seems to me her very trimmed-down history study for high school.


You described (bolded) the WTM approach exactly. ;)


It's funny that you use the term trimmed-down. I am routinely accused of torturing my poor dc to death with their work load. :lol: And conversations here have centered on how to keep up with WTM history/lit for those who also want to spend more time on math and science.


What my dc do for history and literature is exactly what I did in college for history and literature in my honors classes: read great works and respond, read a college history text and related materials, discuss, write many papers.


The student's resources aren't limited to Timetables. That's just the starting point. Students use research skills from that point. My dd, for example, uses the public and university libraries, online sources, books we have on hand, etc. The students learn to find the information they need, not just copy it out of a textbook. The writing topics could come from their research, from their interest, or from their discussion with the parent. No, there isn't a nice list of questions for the papers, or of writing topics, but I think that is the point. :D


It's not for everyone, but honestly, of all the criticisms I've ever heard of the WTM methods for history and literature, being too light isn't one I've ever heard before.

Edited by angela in ohio
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I voted that I followed TWTM for more than a year, but based on your second post, perhaps I should have voted "other" because I didn't follow it specifically. Instead, I was inspired to create my own literature-based history courses tailored to suit the interests of my kids. They wrote short, usually one page papers on small research topics on a historical period or figure, and wrote longer essays about the works of literature we read. I did assign about 10 major works for a school year, with additional reading, documentaries and Teaching Company lectures thrown in for good measure.


We did a year of American history, and a year of World history, with civics and economics rounding out the social studies component of their transcripts. They also got an English credit for those 2 years of history, with grammar and vocabulary rounding out the English credit requirements. English was otherwise a separate course.


I never saw the Well Trained Mind as restrictive, rather I used it as a spring board for organizing my own scattered thoughts and plans for homeschooling.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It seems that history in TWTM high school is a backdrop for literature, not really a study in iteself. Unless I have missed something.


I'm guessing you are looking at the first or second edition of TWTM. Have a look at the third, published in 2009. It offers new suggestions for having a separate history study, alongside the lit. study.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I never saw the Well Trained Mind as restrictive, rather I used it as a spring board for organizing my own scattered thoughts and plans for homeschooling.




Listening to Susan's lectures helps this understanding I think.


She says (very paraphrased) - please not to write about why a book wasn't included or why it is included - that she's not the literature police. And that the publisher insisted on certain things being in the book. So listening to her lectures I got the idea that the program is indeed to be adapted to a family's unique situation.


She clearly says that if a student wants to stop and go in depth in some area, by all means, do so. But you will easily see that you cannot read 250 page books about every topic and cover all of world history in 4 years. You go in depth in the areas that you or your students find interesting or important.


No history course will cover everything that has happened in the world over time - in depth.


The important things are to learn how to study, how to think logically, how to write well, and to not lose that excitement about learning that we have as children. She gives one path of exposure that I think has helped many people gain a vision...From that you can grow in the ways you need to.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, We've used WTM since the beginning, and now I have DS 13 and dd11 (more or less 7th and 8th grades). The WTM use of the one page summary format is, in my view, excellent practice of the art of writing pithy precis. This is a foundational research skill, and trains the mind to later summarize properly, with just the right amount of detail. Precis writing was emphasized in my ps back in the 80's, and I used the skill constantly throughout university and grad school. Even now, I am using it to not bury you with blather!


For the beefy writing instruction, we use IEW and are now in our third year. One of the many strengths of IEW is that it provides instruction in many different writing formats which students will encounter.


Good luck.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First, I think that the corresponding section in a typical Western Civ textbook will run between a dozen and fifty pages of relatively dense text. I don't have the specific text listed in the 1st Edition WTM, but I do have a copy of the brief edition of Spielvogel's Western Civilization and Kagan's Western Heritage. Either one of them would provide more than adequate coverage for a history survey sequence.


(On rereading your post, maybe we're seeing something different in the direction to read the corresponding section. We wouldn't read just an entry on the Magna Charta, but rather the chapter(s) on the middle ages and decline of the absolute monarch. If we were setting Shakespeare in his time, we would read the whole chapter on the Age of Exploration, not just the entry on Elizabeth.)


There is a one page summary of the historical period, plus a composition on the work (recommended as at least 2 pages, but could be 3-5) as well as an annual research paper or major project. This written work is in addition to annotating the text and discussing the work.


Everyone's pace is different, but our experience is that the history/lit studies outlined will take a bit longer than the 2 hours a day scheduled. But if at the end of 4 years, a high schooler had read through the bulk if not the entirety of Spielvogel or another college level Western Civ textbook, had read 40+ great works, had written essays on each book, and had completed two long research papers and two major projects; I would consider that pretty well done. (I would also say that it is at least on par if not well above the load required in most schools. Even AP English courses are often only reading 6-8 major works a year.)


It is a different question if this works well for most students. But in the end, I'm neither teaching nor responsible for most students. I'm working with three of my own and the dozen or so that I teach in coop. If they don't enter high school with the skills to read and write on a higher level, I certainly hope they leave with those skills.


I think that many of the families who have used explicitly scheduled programs for history and/or literature have done so because they don't feel confident in their own ability to read the works and put them into historical context. The parents feel that their own education was lacking and may not have the time to devote to learning alongside their kids. (I'm certainly feeling the time crunch with guiding two high schoolers and one younger student who needs many more face to face lessons.)


But I also see many people frustrated with this and that program, which reads books that they've already used or don't like or that spend too much time on a historical topic or not enough or that have an undesired religious viewpoint or one that is too worldly. (There isn't much work with primary documents like newspapers or political cartoons, because those were often assigned in the logic stage. At this level, the longer work serves as the primary document. If you are planning to pursue AP history exams, then you may want to add in more work with shorter documents from various eras.)


I've found time and again that going back to the principles in WTM provide an awful lot of freedom wrapped up with a lot of challenge.


As to the question of training the mind . . . so much also depends on the child and the home. Our house happens to be one that puts a great deal of emphasis on education, especially historical underpinings of current events. Our summer project studying the Civil War has included a Teaching Company series, Ken Burns' video documentary, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, the first section of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Battle Cry of Freedom and Red Badge of Courage. It also included several long field trips (Harper's Ferry, Manassas, Antietam, Ball's Bluff and Gettysburg, with one more to the VA Peninsula later in the year). The conversations we've had on these trips and over the dinner table encourage me that a lot is being taken in and synthesized.


But I also realize that someone else could find it completely overwhelming or too diffuse an approach. And someone else might think that we are completely off the mark to spend so much time on history and literature in the first place. But I would not be greatly concerned that using the ideas in the WTM would not provide enough work or challenge. (As always, though, your mileage may vary.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...