Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review of Progeny Press' Beowulf Literature Guide

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I have used Progeny Press study guides before, but Therese never liked them much, probably because I made her do high school study guides when she was 7.  Okay, so sometimes I push a little too hard.  Just because you can read the book doesn't mean you can do the study guide! Also, the study guides I asked her to do required her to write. A lot.  We had not yet discovered Progeny Press' new interactive study guides - all you have to do is type into the PDF on the computer and then save it.  There is no handwriting at all! These study guides were made for the reluctant writer or the gifted kid whose reading ability is way beyond her ability to write for hours on end (which Therese isn't now, but was then).  I was so excited to try the interactive Beowulf Study Guide from  Progeny Press!

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I read Beowulf in both high school and college, but Therese never had, so I wanted her to have the real Beowulf experience.  I wanted her to thrill to Hrothgar and Grendel without my inept interpretations getting in the way.  I was very excited to discover that one of my go-to homeschooling resources, Audible, had Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf read by one of my favorite narrators.  So Therese could have Beowulf read to her by a master and then be guided through its nuances by the experts at Progeny Press.  By the time we received the study guide, we had already listened to the epic poem together for the first time (which is Progeny Press' suggestion - a preliminary read through prior to beginning the study guide).

I could go on forever about the joys of the Heaney translation.  Heaney respects previous translations while making the poem new again.  All I will say is kudos to Progeny Press for this excellent choice.  I would have wept if they had chosen to recommend a prose translation.  If you care about things like translations, the one a person or company chooses to recommend says much about them.  Progeny Press is a company that knows its literature (says the girl with the Great Books minor).

What Does a Progeny Press Study Guide Look Like?

Progeny Press study guides are available as downloads, printed booklets, or CDs.  For Beowulf, a 62 page study guide for grades 10-12, the prices for each of the above, respectively, are $18.99, $18.99, and $21.99.  

The study guide is broken into seven sections (what would ordinarily be chapters, but as this is an epic poem, they are divided by sections of lines), each of which follows the same format:
  • Vocabulary
  • Literary Techniques
  • Comprehension/recall questions
  • Analysis
  • Dig Deeper - Biblical comparisons and analysis
  • Optional Activities

The exercises are preceded by background and biographical information, situating the poem both in history and in the literary tradition. Pre-reading activities are also included, some of which we did before we even received the study guide! We listened to Beowulf in old English and listened to Hanson's The Lament for Beowulf.  Great minds think alike, Progeny Press! An answer key follows the main portion of the study guide.

Our Experience with Progeny Press

11 year-old Therese now loves Progeny Press guides.  I'm so glad that we got the chance to review this one! As I said, we listened to an audio version of Beowulf prior to receiving the study guide.  Once we got the downloadable, interactive PDF and read the background material, Therese began working her way through the study guide.  Because Beowulf is much shorter than an average novel, Therese did not go back and re-listen to each section prior to completing the guide.  Rather, she worked straight through it.  Progeny Press suggests working one page of their guides each day, but that pace is very slow for Therese.  For one thing, there was only one vocabulary word in the guide whose meaning she did not know, meaning that those sections went by very quickly.  It is expected that the average high school student can complete four guides per year, earning 1 Literature credit.  I would expect Therese to be able to complete at least twice that.  She is a very fast reader, though, and has exceptional comprehension and writing skills.

One thing that we did not do with the guide was the Dig Deeper section.  I am definitely not a secular homeschooler, but I do not incorporate Bible work into other subjects.  Our Catholicism permeates our home life and is present in every aspect of our day, but, to me, Bible studies are not relevant to a study of Anglo-Saxon epic poetry.  Instead, were I to bring in religious studies, we would talk about the Catholic saints of this time period and how Catholicism was brought to Anglo-Saxon Briton.  However, for Protestant homeschoolers and others who feel strongly about incorporating Bible studies into the majority of their homeschooling, Progeny Press study guides fit the bill brilliantly.  They are rigorous and scholarly, but still thoroughly Christian.

In Summation:

We love these study guides, and with over 100 from which to choose, it is highly likely that you will find one to suit your family's literature needs.  From elementary through high school, Progeny Press has study guides for many of the most popular works of literature on most curriculum lists.  To read about some of their most popular guides and how the Crew used them, make sure to read the other reviews.

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