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mom2scouts

How do you teach high school literature?

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We've been doing literature without a curriculum. I've been choosing classic books, especially ones I remember enjoying in my high school AP English class or ones related to our history time period, and assigning them. We spend time discussing literary elements and meaning after every few chapters. Sometimes we use SparkNotes or similar resources or have a composition assigned. I don't remember doing much more than this in high school and that's pretty much what my public schooled teens did. I willl admit that I decided to introduce my teen son to Jane Austen by letting him just watch the movies because there was no point in dragging him through Austen. His older brother told him to thank me because the books "are just about who should date who". LOL! Anyway, is there something else I should be doing for literature? We enjoy reading great books and discussing them, but I wonder if I'm missing something.

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We mostly read books (and poems. And plays) and talk about them. They do weekly informal journal entries which we use in discussion and longer papers here and there. And we listen to lectures (Great Courses, open courseware stuff) and outside reading from critics. It sounds casual, but I try to spend a lot of time preparing and choosing in advance what passages we're going to talk about and pushing them to do some fairly intense close reading. 

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We made our own lit, and did it somewhat similar to what you describe. We also sometimes would both read a work and then watch a good film version and then compare (like when we read Macbeth and then watched Akira Kurosawa's samurai film version, Throne of Blood.) We did use excerpts from multiple guides for most books so that we would have more "background info" on the author/times, get ideas for discussion questions, and be able to read about broader literature topics.

For me, lit. topics would include literary elements, but also things like:
- info about genres and their conventions (so then we could compare works within the same genre)
- literary movements (so we could discuss how a work fit into/not fit with the movements of the author's time)
- research / go more in-depth on some of the major themes (like, coming of age; journey to the underworld; etc.)
- research / go more in-depth on the allusions in the work, or maybe even read/discuss the other work being alluded to

For output, we mostly did oral discussion, but we also did some short (1-3 paragraph) reader responses (usually from a discussion prompt), and we did do the occasional longer lit. analysis essay.

I also made sure each year that we were covering a variety of types of lit. (novels, novellas, short stories, plays, poetry, the occasional essay); and that over the years of high school that we read at least one work from a variety of genres (realistic, adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, western, epic, etc.). Also, we shot for reading works from various time periods and from various countries. Bottom line -- we tried for variety over the long haul of high school. 😉

Edited by Lori D.
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You're not missing anything. What you're doing sounds great.

You can do other things... creative assignments, book clubs with other teens, using movies and going to see plays as part of your literature program... But what you're doing sounds great.

I second what Lori said about knowing literary devices, but I'm going to assume that's in your compositions and/or discussions. 

The one thing I think you should be doing that you didn't mention is occasionally mixing in poetry and short stories and possibly plays. Novels are not the only time of literature.

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If you haven't listened to them yet, I highly recommend listening to SWB's audio seminars. There are three I recommend that relate to your questions:

What is Literary Analysis? When, Why, and How Should I Teach It?  ($ 3.39)

https://welltrainedmind.com/p/what-is-literary-analysis-when-why-and-how-should-i-teach-it-mp3/

A Plan for Teaching Writing: Focus on the High School Years ($2.39)

https://welltrainedmind.com/p/a-plan-for-teaching-writing-focus-on-the-high-school-years-mp3/

Great Books: History as Literature ($3.39)

https://welltrainedmind.com/p/great-books-history-as-literature/

You're already doing a lot of what she recommends but she does give a good idea of what the output should look like. I've listened to these over and over and have taken notes. There are basically 4 components to the Great Books study in high school, according to SWB:

1) (Output 1 - this counts for history and lit.) - The History Foundation - The student reads from the chosen history text (i.e. The History of the Ancient World by SWB, The Penguin History of the World, etc.) and the student takes notes listing important/major events, people, dates. This set the foundation for the great book they are going t read. 

2) (Output 2) - Book Context PageThis context page should be a one –page summary of historical information that includes: information about the author (birth date, death date, country of origin, etc. ), when the work was written, and major events occurring at the time.

3) (Output 3) - The Book's Genre - The first time a student encounters a genre, in each year of study, the student should 1)  Read about the genre, its history, and the instructions on how to read that genre. 2) Take notes on this reading about a genre. This page is essentially a summary of the definition/description of the genre and the "tips" (from "How to Read a Book" by Adler, for example) for how to read that particular genre.

4) (Output 4) - Book Notes - Read through the text, pencil in hand, and note down the major events in the book. Mark passages that seem significant, troubling, or puzzling.  Write a summary of the Notes. These should be brief, 2-3 pages of notes for the entire book should be plenty.

5) (Output 5 - Final Assignment) - Compositions - She recommends two types: 1) Response Paper which is a "personal engagement with the book. The student has to have an opinion about the book. The student can discuss an element, scene, plot, or character that is either interesting or annoying to them personally, they have to explain why, defend it, and include quote(s)." The second type is 2) Analytical Literature Essay and there are 3 kinds: A) Formal - The student takes a literary term, for example, a metaphor, and writes about how the term is used and what it means. B) Biographical - The student draws a parallel between something that happened in the writer's life and something that happened in the literary work. The example she gives is Jane Austen had a mean mother so all of the mothers in her books are mean. C) Historical - The student draws a parallel between something that happened in the writer's lifetime and something that happens in the literary work. The example she gives is Oliver Twist reflecting the condition of orphans during Dicken's day.

I'm still very new at homeschooling high school. It has been challenging and scary. We'll be starting our second year of homeschooling high school, next Tuesday, and I don't yet feel confident. The above is a condensed version of the information SWB has put out that I've listened to and read. You are your children's teacher. Use the information you get here or not. It's up to you how you design your homeschool and what your want for your children. Hope this helps.

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These replies help. We have read a couple of plays, but my son is adamant that he hates reading plays. I might try one more or call it good at this point. We have been neglecting short stories and poetry, so that's something to add. I should review our reading list to make sure we've included a variety of genres and that he understands the genre. Thanks!

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15 minutes ago, mom2scouts said:

These replies help. We have read a couple of plays, but my son is adamant that he hates reading plays. I might try one more or call it good at this point. We have been neglecting short stories and poetry, so that's something to add. I should review our reading list to make sure we've included a variety of genres and that he understands the genre. Thanks!


re: plays
We read 2 plays. The rest we watched. Plays were *designed* to be viewed in performance, and not so much as a "read" form of literature. 😉

re: poetry
We found having a guide for poetry very helpful, as it is such a *compressed* form of writing, is designed to be read aloud (all of the sound devices), and is not story-driven but image/metaphor/theme-driven -- poetry excels at helping you make new connections and come at ideas from a new angle. It is not so much about developing character and plot. 

We used the Progeny Press guide "Intro to Poetry: Forms and Elements", section #2 of Figuratively Speaking, and section #3 of Walch Toolbox: Prose & Poetry plus a few other short resources, to help get us rolling with understanding how to approach reading/appreciating/studying poetry.

Art of Poetry came out after our DSs had graduated. You might consider plugging in a unit, or 1-2 weeks, of poetry from this program every so often in your high school lit. studies... Also, you might find Tanya Runyan's How to Read a Poem a great, non-intimidating approach to including poetry in a DIY lit. study.

re: short stories
I have yet to see any guide that is all about short stories, so you may just want to pull together a list of "not to be missed" short stories, and then do online searches for each for background info on the authors/times, and for discussion question ideas.

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1 hour ago, stlily said:

If you haven't listened to them yet, I highly recommend listening to SWB's audio seminars...
...There are basically 4 components to the Great Books study in high school, according to SWB:
...I'm still very new at homeschooling high school. It has been challenging and scary. We'll be starting our second year of homeschooling high school, next Tuesday, and I don't yet feel confident. The above is a condensed version of the information SWB has put out that I've listened to and read. You are your children's teacher. Use the information you get here or not. It's up to you how you design your homeschool and what your want for your children. Hope this helps.


Thanks so much for linking and typing that up! So very kind of you. 😄

Just wanted to encourage both OP and stlily (and anyone else reading this thread) -- if you find that the SWB method typed up by stilly (above) is too much for your student, or that it is is killing your student's love of reading and interest in literature/discussing "big ideas," then it is absolutely okay to give yourselves permission to back down a bit on formal study and output of every work of literature, and do more informal reading/discussing. I know SWB emphasizes in her lectures on What is Lit. Analysis and When to Teach It to be very careful to not overdo or kill the love of learning. 😄

Also,, just an observation: some students do much better with incremental steps and working up to all of this over several years of high school. And some do better by starting with first analyzing films (i.e., discuss how cinematic devices/elements support themes and characterization, etc., and how a filmmaker might explore similar ideas in different ways in different films, or might be reacting to something in the filmmaker's cultural/political times). And then "stepping stone" over to literature when it is easier now, after visually seeing it in a film, to read literature and discuss literary devices/elements and the author/times, etc., in a similar way as was done with discussing film. 😉 So starting with something like Movies as Literature can be a great was to ease into high school literature studies.

Enjoy your literature journeys and your participation in the Great Conversation that is the Great Books! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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Every year it has been different.  This year my 14 and 15 year old children are not being very motivated with their lessons.  I am using all of ABeka English/Literature with them year.  I personally prefer to read, summarize and discuss with literature but they are making it a bit difficult because neither one cares for it.  I am also having them read the high school level Story of the World books twice a week.  Then on their own time a book of their choice with no hidden agenda except hey do ya like it or not  during the few times where we are not doing regular lessons due to trips and holidays but still want them reading.  Next year my son will be considered a Jr. and will hopefully be taking college English/Comp 101.  I am really hoping for this because English/Literature/Comp is the worse subject for me to teach, especially with unmotivated children.

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Great courses have good literature resources that serve as starting points like Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of LiteratureIliad and Odyssey, and even some more specific like How Great Science Fiction Works or my personal favorite Shakespeare: The Word and the Action. The students can listen to the lectures and from there you can explore the titles and choose what to read.

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I have added in some podcasts from CiRCE and Angelina Stanford, to go with our reading, and Dd likes those. 

 

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I like having a standard literature text to refer to for background, good poetry and short stories, and writing ideas. For example, Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience is excellent. 

 

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7 hours ago, klmama said:

I like having a standard literature text to refer to for background, good poetry and short stories, and writing ideas. For example, Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience is excellent. 

 

We did the England in Literature book and dd really like it. I added in full Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We did Heaney's Beowulf along with the audio. There's two versions of the England in Literature, one with Macbeth and on with Hamlet. We had already done Hamlet, so we choose the Macbeth version.

We also have done "read a book and talk about it", occasional GC lectures and a unit of the Roman Roads OWC. Dd isn't a fan of literature lectures, though, so we're better off using the background info and discussion questions from Spark Notes or an anthology.

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