When I was in high school, I was one of those weird kids who liked Shakespeare. Each year, with the exception of my 10th grade year which focused on American Literature, we had to read one of Shakespeare's tragedies: 9th grade was Romeo and Juliet, 11th was Julius Caesar and in 12th grade, we tackled Macbeth. However, we never read any of his other works and so Shakespeare's tragedies were as far as I ever got to really diving into his works.
Members of the Crew were given the opportunity to review a wide selection of literature curriculum in a wide range of grade levels from Hewitt Homeschooling Resources. You may remember that I previously review and used the Lightning Literature & Composition for Grade 3 with Garrett a few years ago. However, this time around, I opted to review something that was of interest to myself. I'm a firm believer that you should never stop learning and so when I was given the option to review the high school level of Lightning Literature & Composition curriculum that focused on Shakespeare Comedies , I was pretty excited.
Hewitt Homeschooling started it's roots in the educational market in 1963. Through the years, the company has evolved and now focuses on providing materials for homeschool parents that emphasize character development, positive work ethics, community service and academic excellence.
For this review, I was given the Student's Guide as well as the Teacher's Guide. The curriculum offers 4 units with two lessons per unit for a total of 8 lessons. An appendix in the back of the book offers schedule suggestions for using this curriculum for an 18 week semester (a curriculum on Shakespearean tragedies could be used for a second semester) or for a 36 week full year course.
Each unit goes into depth over one of Shakespeare's comedies as well as two sonnets. The first unit covers Twelfth Night and Sonnets 27 and 28, Unit 2 covers As You Like It and Sonnets 130 and 136, Unit 3 covers A Midsummer Night's Dream and Sonnets 93 and 138, and finally Unit 4 covers The Merchant of Venice as well as Sonnets 116 and 129. While the individual sonnets are reprinted in the book, students are required to have obtained their own copies of the four required comedies.
Because I'm using this program as an adult just wanting to expand my knowledge rather than as a high school student working towards credit, I approached using this curriculum a bit differently. First, I moved at a much slower pace - I wanted to savor what I was reading and hearing, rather than just trying to get thru it.
At nights, before turning off the lights to call it a day, I would spend about 20 minutes reading through a portion of the materials. I'm ashamed to say, I probably spent more time than was required reading the section on William Shakespeare himself as I found that section highly interesting. I found so many rabbit holes that I was constantly searching various topics to read more.
When I finally got to Unit 1, I really settled in for the long haul. I had never read Twelfth Night before nor have I either listened to it or seen it performed. So this particular play was completely new material to me.
|Plot Summaries came in handy while reading thru the plays|
Each unit starts with a very brief introduction to the play about to be read, as well as the themes that are found in the reading and questions to keep in mind while reading the play. Following this short introduction, there are very brief plot summary for each scene in the play. I usually referred to these pages before I read a scene just so that I could had a general understanding as to what was about to happen.
I took the curriculum's suggestion to first read the material on my own, trying to decipher the words as well as to recognize the rhetorical, poetic and figurative devices Shakespeare used (a very in depth introduction breaks each of these with descriptions and examples of each). I would try, on average, to read at least two scenes each night which really allowed me to focus on what I was reading without getting too overwhelmed.
Per the suggestion of the curriculum, on the following night I would listen to a performance of the play. I would listen to what I had read the previous night, reading along while I listened to get the most impact. I found this very helpful in determining the tone being portrayed as it's much easier to note if something is being said lightheartedly or in a serious manner when you hear it rather than to just read it.
I also found myself highlighting those things that I easily recognized as literary devices. For example, above I am showing just where I was highlighting examples of Irony in one scene - pink represented verbal irony while yellow was the color I was using for dramatic irony. I had a whole slue of colors I was using for highlighting for different devices such as alliteration, metaphors, imagery, ect.
Following the plot summaries is a list of comprehension questions that help gauge how well the student read and understood the material. I personally would read and answer these questions to myself because I did not want to mark in the book as I hope to later down the road use it with my kids. I found that after approaching the material the way suggested (reading, interpreting and then listening to) that I could easily answer the questions without problem. These questions are fairly straight forward and just require a general understanding of the setting, theme, and characters of the play.
With the general understanding of the play tackled, the curriculum now takes the student below the surface of the words and helps to build a deeper understanding of the material. A large portion of each of the four units is the Literary Lesson section where students learn begin to research deeper the themes, characters, language, settings and symbolism that lies beneath the surface. I found this literary analysis from the author very informative and interesting and found myself thinking about things in ways that I didn't originally see in my own reading.
Another portion of each unit is the writing exercises. As I did not use this curriculum for school credit, I personally didn't want to write papers. However, I did look over the writing topics offered and I found them to be well rounded in subject and on par with what I would expect a high school student to write. Some topics had students doing outside materials such as about music during the time period of Twelfth Night while others asked the student to write their opinion in regards to one of these main themes of the play or about a character. The unit on Twelfth Night offered 9 different topics students could choose to write about, giving a large variety that any student could find something that appeals to them.
The second lesson for each unit focuses on two of Shakespeare's sonnets. Sonnets are not dramatic material and lack plot of characters other than the speaker and the reader. Because of this, and that fact that these sonnets are more personal in nature and portray the speakers thoughts, they are analyzed a bit differently from the play that was the focus in the first part of the unit. Students are instead taught to recognize the style of the English Sonnet (a 14 line long prose that follows a very particular rhyming scheme. The book presents the two sonnets for the student to read and then also follows up with a literary lesson for them. Writing exercises are also offered in regards to the sonnets, asking students to write on topics such as writing their own sonnet (in English Form), rewrite one of Shakespeare's sonnets in prose form, or compare and contrast Shakespearean prose with the sonnet of another author.
Each lesson ends with a section called Perspectives. These are just additional information in regards to that point in history. Topics such as Did Shakespeare actually write his material, or about Elizabeth I and James I are discussed. These are short sections of only about 2 pages long and do not require the student to complete any assignments in regards to them. I found them to be very interesting and another great supply of rabbit holes to jump into.
In addition to the student book, I was also given the accompanying Teacher's Guide. This is a 52 page collection of Xeroxed papers stapled together that would easily fit inside a spiral bound notebook or folder. Within this guide is suggestions for grading assignments for this course, including a checklist for grading nonfiction papers, grading template sheets for grading both the writing assignments as well as the comprehensive questions. There are also sheets provided to help track overall grades for the semester and year. The suggested schedules provided in the student book are also provided in the Teacher's Guide for easy reference. These schedules give a week by week summary of what the student should accomplish for full credit for the course.This teachers guide also includes the answers to the comprehension questions, the discussion questions and also lists each of the writing exercises that are given in the student book. Finally, there are also project suggestions listed to incorporate art, history, geography, memorization, music, bible, science, healthy and nature into the lessons.
I have been extremely pleased with the presentation of this material and I think that even students who are not crazy about reading the Bard of Avon's work could find themselves enjoying this approach to it. I will continue to use this curriculum on my own to work though the next three units myself. Then, I look forward to pulling this out again and actually using it as a curriculum with my kids in the hopes they will enjoy Shakespeare as much as I do.
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