Review Crew: Institute for Excellence in Writing: Teaching the Classics

I’ve had my eye on the products from Institute for Excellence in Writing for a while.  I’m planning to use their writing program when my kids are a little older.  Because this program is on my radar, I was excited to review one of their other products, Teaching the Classics!

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What is it?
Institute for Excellence in Writing produces DVD writing seminars, writing instruction based on various themes, and literature and poetry resources.  They also have products for teaching reading and basic writing techniques for young elementary students.

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What does it include?
We received Teaching the Classics which includes a set of 4 DVD’s and a workbook that contains the syllabus and the Socratic discussion questions.   The set retails for $89.  The program can be used with students of all ages, from early elementary to high school as the parent can adapt the techniques introduced in the DVD’s to fit the learning level of the child.

The DVD’s include video lectures presented by Adam Andrews of The Center for Literacy Education.  Adam is a homeschool dad who is working toward his PhD in history.  Although he has a background in history, he is an avid reader and has worked with his wife to create extensive book lists for students of all ages. 

The comb bound workbook contains the syllabus of the lectures.  This material has information about literature, literary structure, literary style, and the socratic method.  Also included are excerpts from famous works of literature followed by socratic discussion questions.  In the video, Adam takes you through each work of literature and demonstrates how to analyze the work and conduct a socratic discussion about the story. 

The program contains 5 lessons:

  • Lesson 1 – Preparing for Literary Analysis
  • Lesson 2 – Plot and Conflict
  • Lesson 3 – Setting
  • Lesson 4 – Character
  • Lesson 5 – Theme

The Appendices include:

  • The Socratic List – an extensive list of questions for each level of student on each topic of literary analysis
  • Book List – a list of great works of literature divided by age
  • Literary Terms – a glossary of important literary terms

How did we use this product?
I originally planned to watch the DVD’s alongside Curly but she quickly let me know that she thought they were beyond boring.  This meant that I was the one watching the DVD’s and taking notes.  I watched each session with the syllabus close by so I could follow the outline and read along with the works of literature to be analyzed.  After watching all the videos, I picked a work of literature and a few of the socratic questions to do our own literary analysis.

We analyzed Sheila Rae, The Brave by Kevin Henkes.

First we read through the book together and then I got out the handy little chart from the program.

 Our chart looked like this:
Exposition: Sheila Rae is never afraid of anything.
Rising Action:  Sheila Rae decides to walk home from school a new way.
Climax:  Sheila Rae discovers that she is lost and she cries.
Denouement: Sheila Rae’s sister has followed her and she says she knows the way home.
Conclusion:  Sheila Rae and her sister find the way home and Sheila Rae learns that others can be brave too.

Theme: You should not think more highly of yourself than others.  Others can be brave too.
Conflict: Is Sheila Rae the only one who is brave?

Then I asked a few of the socratic questions.

  1. Does the story happen in the country of the city?
  2. In what season does the story take place?
  3. Is the character a man or an animal?
  4. This story is about the protagonist trying to __________.
  5. Does the main character lack self-confidence?
  6. Is the main character changed in heart or mind by the end of the story?

And then we read the book two more times……………….

What didn’t we like?
The video is a lecture format in which Adam Andrews is presenting the material to a small group.  He is standing in front of a whiteboard at the front of the room and he leads the discussion.  I can’t say the DVD’s are very visually appealing.  The sound quality is not always the best during the video sessions.  I would have enjoyed something with some color or power point slides or something more interesting than black marker on a whiteboard.  (And if I’m being terribly picky – there was someone in the audience of one of the first sessions who coughed all the time.  It drove me absolutely crazy!)

I can’t imagine a student who would be excited to watch the DVD’s.  I think they would be best if viewed by the parent or teacher who could take notes and take away the necessary information for conducting and leading a literary analysis and socratic discussion. 

What did we like?
Although the videos are not visually appealing, Adam Andrews is extremely enthusiastic about literature.  I found him exciting to listen to as he discussed the works of literature.  And I found his discussions and readings of the literature to be inspired.  He is very passionate about literature and helping everyone analyze any work of literature.

I found the story chart to be simple to use and very effective.  It can be used simply for a younger student or could have many added details to create a more indepth analysis for an older student.  I liked the flexibility of the process and the simple, visual presentation.

I absolutely love the detailed socratic list!  It is brilliant!  The first question is “Where does this story happen?”  Then there are 10 detailed questions below to help students form more specific responses.  Some of the other questions are “What is the weather like in the story?” and “Is there anything symbolic or allegorical about the place where the story happens?”  I have found this list of questions to be very helpful in prompting more detailed and thoughtful responses.

What did we think overall?
These videos are of a man standing in the front of a whiteboard; he talks about analyzing and understanding literature.  I honestly thought I would be bored out of my mind watching the them.  (Ouch!  That was truthful).  Nope, I wasn’t at all.  I was absolutely captivated with the techniques presented and the story analyses provided on the DVD.  Adam is engaging and passionate about his topic.  And after watching all the DVD’s (more than once, ok???) I felt equipped and excited to start analyzing stories with my kids.  He inspired me to pull out some of the classics I’ve never attempted and start reading them! 
I’m gonna go read!  So many books, so little time, y’all!

Read other reviews from the Review Crew here!

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