Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of Hewitt Homeschooling's Lightning Literature

We have used and loved Hewitt Homeschooling's Lightning Literature courses before, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review them again. This time around, we are studying Medieval Britain, so the Lightning Literature and Composition British Medieval Student's Guide with the Lightning Literature and Composition British Medieval Teacher's Guide was a perfect fit for Therese (13). 

The British Medieval Literature Guide is 238 pages long, is recommended for Grades 11-12, and costs $29.95. The accompanying Teacher's Guide is 76 pages long and costs just $2.95.

The literature covered in this guide includes the following:

  • Beowulf
  • Anglo-Saxon riddles
  • Piers the Ploughman
  • York Mystery Play Cycle 42, The Ascension
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Selection from The Gest of Robyn Hode
  • "Sir Thomas Becket" from The Golden Legend
  • Selections from The Canterbury Tales

The less common material is included in the guide (thus accounting for its length!). Each piece of literature focuses on teaching a literary concept (such as allegory, foreshadowing, symbolism, etc.). The course reminded me very much of my senior year in high school (which covered British literature). It is comprehensive and thorough, yet easy to teach and easy to understand at the same time. What better combination is there?

Each lesson (piece of literature) follows the same format. There is an introduction to place the piece both historically and in the canon of literature. There are questions to consider during the reading process. Then, during the course of the reading, comprehension questions are provided for consideration. After the comprehension questions, the literary lesson is presented. The concept to be considered is presented in detail. Finally, several writing prompts that allow the student to explore the literary concept presented are given. The prompts are thorough and challenging and really allow the student to synthesize the piece of literature with the literary concept.

Therese and British Medieval Literature

I have to confess that I have been disappointed in Therese's lack of enthusiasm for formal literature programs. When I was a kid, I loved reading books and answering comprehension questions (throw in some vocabulary and I would be in absolute heaven!). Maybe because Therese has lived in homeschool world, she has never really been a fan of more traditional literature approaches like the ones I grew up with. Hence, I would be disingenuous if I suggested that she jumped for joy when she found out that we were reviewing Lightning Literature again. Having said that, though, out of all of the literature programs we have reviewed, this one is, by far, her favorite. She appreciates that it is sans frills and furbelows (if you'll allow me my own literary reference) and *packed* with information that is new to her. When Lightning Literature teaches foreshadowing in Beowulf in this course, it goes into so much depth and detail that it doesn't matter how much you have learned about foreshadowing before - you will learn something new.

Beowulf was first up in this course. Therese has read Beowulf before, but it's been a couple of years and she was only 10. Hence, it's almost as if she had never read it. Because it is an epic poem that was meant to be heard orally, I chose to go with an audio version for most of the book. The problem was that the best audio version out there is Seamus Heaney's reading of his own translation which, for reasons undetermined, is only available abridged. Hence, I had to do a little background work to find which parts she would have to read. Most of it could be listened to, though, and I think that really delivers the true atmosphere of Beowulf.

Rather than "assign" Therese parts of Beowulf to read due at certain times, I let her listen to a section and then figure out which comprehension question sections were covered so she could answer them. That worked fine. She would listen at night and answer the questions the next day. Working this way, it took her about 3 weeks to get through the book and the questions. We then took a day to discuss the literary lesson. I gave her a week to write a rough draft of the writing exercise we chose (to analyze an example of foreshadowing in Beowulf). We went through it together and she had another week to complete her final copy. Now she is working through Anglo-Saxon riddles, which are really fun!

What We Think

I can't say that Therese loves Lightning Literature, but I can say that she doesn't object to it, and that's definitely something. However, my position as the mater et magistra has always been that the kids' opinions are essentially irrelevant -- and I *do* love Lightning Literature. Of all the literature programs I have ever seen and used, this is the one that is most reminiscent of how my Honors programs in junior high and high school approached literature (and, in case you're new to my blog, I received a STELLAR public school education). I don't think I would change a thing. 

Looking at the work Therese produced through the course of studying Beowulf, it is obvious that she *got* the material. She certainly understood the concept of foreshadowing. She answered the comprehension questions thoroughly. Basically, Lightning Literature took all the work out of it for me, as they did what I would have done if I had the time. It doesn't get better than that. I love that Beowulf was essentially the test case for this product, as I love the poem. I have great memories of reading it in high school and college. The first time I read it, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. I loved that going through it this time, I remembered things I had forgotten and even learned new things. 

Concerned that you don't know a particular area of literature all that well? Don't be. The Teacher's Guide has you covered. Not only does it include suggested schedules, but it has *in-depth* answers to all of the comprehension questions, scoring rubrics for grading the papers, and worksheets for calculating final grades. For only $2.95 it is an absolutely essential part of this course. There is no reason on Earth not to get it. Truly, I feel that I am completely capable of checking my children's comprehension questions, scoring their essays, and calculating a grade. I have a minor in English and am well-read. I write for my bread and butter. And I would not think of not buying a Lightning Literature Teacher's Guide. There is more in here than you can imagine. Don't be fooled by the low page count (it's double-sided) or the low price. You need this guide.

Because of this Crew run, I have been made aware of some of Hewitt Homeschooling's products that I didn't previously know about. In fact, some of them will be on my shopping list for fall. To read about all of the products the Crew reviewed, be sure to click the banner below.

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