Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: Excellence in Literature (Everyday Education)


Having a student in the household who just requested "more Shakespeare, please" reinforces that I need to find and provide quality literature programs in our homeschool.  Unfortunately, my less-than-stellar high school experience required very little reading of quality literature.  In fact, I don't even remember any of the classics being required in my high school courses (Sad, isn't it?). Since I pursued an engineering degree, I didn't have many literature requirements in college either.  All this means that I really need a guide to help me with my Shakespeare-requesting student!

After I heard a fellow homeschooler rave about Excellence in Literature, authored by Janice Campbell, I was very excited to learn that I would have the opportunity to review it. Intended for grades 8-12, there are 5 levels available in the series: Introduction to Literature, Literature and Composition, American Literature, British Literature, and World Literature. I received the first, Introduction to Literature (English 1), in the e-book format to review.


Excellence in Literature  is a self-directed literature study course written to the student.  Each level, which has nine 4-week units, has the same format and includes the following:

Overview and Objectives for Excellence in Literature
Frequently Asked Questions
How to Read A Book
Discerning Worldview Through Literary Periods
***Units 1-9 compose the bulk of the book, providing guidance for weekly lessons.
Formats and Models
Approach Paper Format
Historical Approach Paper Format
Author Profile Format
Literature Summary Format
Sample Poetry Analysis
What an MLA Formatted Essay Looks Like
Excellence in Literature Evaluation Rubric
Excellence in Literature Evaluation Rubric for IEW Students
Selected Resources 

Each unit is structured similarly. It is centered around a focus text (a full-length novel, play, or poem) and includes context works to round out the study. The context works include supplemental readings, biographies, poetry, audio resources, videos, art, and music. In addition, a suggested honors text is given for those students needing an extra challenge.

Students are given a weekly schedule. Each unit is similar with the first two weeks spent reading the focus text and context works, and writing "approach papers" (these aren't really full papers, but an assignment designed to prep the student for writing an essay), the third week starting a 500-750 essay, and the fourth week editing and revising.  A rubric is given to assist in evaluating and critiquing assignments.

A free sample unit from English I (Introduction to Literature) is available if you would like to see exactly how each unit is structured. You can also view a 5-year book list that includes all the focus and honors text for all 5 levels.  If you are curious on how the texts were selected, read Janice Campbell's explanation, How I Chose Great Books for Excellence in Literature.
The daily workload for the program is estimated to be a minimum of an hour a day.  I think this is highly dependent on the ability of the student.  For example, while my 7th grader isn't anywhere near being ready for this program, my 9th grader felt the writing assignments to be a bit light and that 4 weeks was too long for one unit.  However, my 9th grader has done similar studies already and is working several grades ahead.  Because the levels progress in difficulty, I showed her samples from English III and IV, which are co-published with IEW, and she thought these looked to be a more appropriate level. It seemed the essay requirements were a bit more difficult, as were the works, even though the structure was length per unit was the same. Even so, English I covered works that she hadn't yet studied and would provide a great introduction to literature for those just starting out.

Much of this program was a fit for us. I loved the flexibility and self-directed approach of this program.  The units can be mixed and matched.  The providing of just a basic weekly schedule requires the student to self-plan just as they would in a college course.  It is easy enough to add the honors track into the program if needed, and scaling the requirements back with shorter essays is feasible.  Furthermore, many units give audio options of the focus text, which would be of benefit those students that might struggle because of learning challenges.

While it is suggested that students have their own copy of the focus text to encourage active reading, digital versions of many of the focus texts are available for free or inexpensively. Also, links are provided for most of the context works and there isn't a lot of digging around trying to find materials.

Lastly, being a fan of Institute of Excellence in Writing materials, I really appreciated that in addition to a standard rubric, there was also a rubric specifically for IEW users included.

There were a few things either I struggled with, or that may pose problems for others.  I didn't care for the digital version and ended up printing the entire document.  Since it is non-consumable, I think I'd prefer to just purchase the printed version.  Being able to just click on links with the digital version is a bonus, though I encountered a couple that needed copied and pasted to work.

Either students using this program need to be independent, or the parent/writing mentor needs to fill in the gap and provide some guidance and structure.  For one of my students, the self-directed approach is perfect.  For my other student, I would have to work more closely on the day-to-day tasks with a goal of future self-planning.

Lastly, though a rubric is provided, evaluation of the final assignments may be difficult for parents that aren't confident writers themselves.  In this case, it would be beneficial to seek out someone that could provide writing evaluations. Janice Campbell has some suggested resources for evaluators, or a relative or another homeschooling parent could assist in this area.

Overall, this is a nicely done literature study and I would definitely consider a future purchase of other levels in the Excellence in Literature series.  Each level is available from Everyday Education for $27 in e-book format, or $29 plus shipping in a printed coil-bound version. Or, all 5 levels can be purchased at once at a discounted $135 for an e-book or $139 plus shipping for a printed version.

See what others have to say about this product by visiting the official TOS Crew blog!

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

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