Friday, August 21, 2015

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide A High School Literature Course Review

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide is a new high school literature course from Sharon Watson. Sharon has written several high school writing courses which are wonderful (and a junior high course, but I am not familiar with it) so when I heard about Illuminating Literature I figured it would be good as well. I wasn't disappointed. More on my thoughts in a moment. Let me tell you about Illuminating Literature first.

The unifying theme of Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide is conflict. Through a study of 8 novels students learn to discern conflict and its various types; character against him or her self, another character, society, nature, technology, God/ the gods, and fate.

Components of the Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide course.  Student Book ($39.49), Teacher's Guide ($16.49),  Quiz and Answer Manuel ($8.49), and Downloadable Novel Notebook (free).  The quizzes are also available online for free. Samples of each book are available on the Illuminating Literature website.

Novels studied are:

Puddin' Head Wilson
The War of the Worlds
The Friendly Persuasion
Peter Pan
Warriors Don't Cry
A Tale of Two Cities
Fahrenheit 451
The Screwtape Letters

Each of these novels is studied over the course of 4 weeks. The first week is spent learning about the novel, author, setting, etc. The second and third weeks are focused on reading and analyzing the novel. During the fourth week the novel as a whole is examined and a fun project related to the novel is completed. These projects expand the students knowledge of the book, historical time period, or other topics related to the novel. Examples of the projects include researching food from a particular time and preparing it, make art related to the novel, and comparing and contrast the novel and movie based on it.There is some variation in the schedule for a couple of the novels, but it is not huge. There is a writing assignment during the first week of each novel and the possibility for more in the summary projects.The end of chapter writing projects are of a creative nature or mini research projects. While a rough schedule is set up the student needs to determine how much they read and respond to each day so that they accomplish the work assigned for the week.

Students learn about literature: why a written work is called literature, how to discuss literature,  looking at conflict from the authors perspective and how it may or may not mirror the authors real life, and why people read literature.  Students learn about literary terms such as protagonist, antagonist, irony, context, foreshadowing, symbols, tense, prolepsis, a fairly complex examination of plot in terms of the hero's journey, parallelism, voice, point of view, theme, imagery, euphemism, and satire.

Students examine the conflicts authors put into their writing and are challenged to see if and how these same conflicts are present in their lives.  For example the novel The Friendly Persuasion chronicles the lives of a Quaker family, the Birdwells. As Quakers they are pacifists or against war, but wrestle with that stance when one of their sons feels the calling to go to war. After examining  the Birdwells'  reactions students are asked their opinion of fighting in a war.

Illuminating Literature is written for Christian High Schools, Homeschools, and Co-op groups. The teacher's guide  has many ideas for using the course in a group setting, many of which are easily adaptable to a home setting. There are many group discussion ideas which are fantastic for those settings. The suggestion is made if the course is being used in a group setting the teacher may want to create a Facebook group for the students and parents to facilitate communication and contact. The teacher's guide contains many online links to provide information about the authors, locations or time periods of the novels for the teacher to share with students.

The downloadable notebook provides a place for students to take notes and record thoughts while they are reading. Some examples of things recorded are witty or interesting sayings, passages they really like, examples of literary terms and devices found in their reading. For one book the students have the opportunity to write new chapter titles and these are recorded in their notebook. To keep interest and add a note of color most of the notebook pages have small pictures which match the activity or themes from the novel.

In addition to chapter or section discussions and notes taken in the Novel Notebook there are 3 or 4 online quizzes students take for each book. They are accessed from the Writing with Sharon website and a unique password from the student book. These quizzes assess student understanding of the novel, literary terms studied for that particular novel, and an ungraded opinion quiz of the students' opinions about topics brought up by the novel. The online quizzes are the same ones as are found in the Quiz and Answer manual.

Vocabulary is also included for each novel. Towards the end of each unit students complete a vocabulary matching test (found in their book) consisting of words they encountered in the novel. Students are told to ask their teacher if it is an open book test. While I will probably not allow my daughter to use her book, this is a good option for some students.

Grades are assessed after each novel and its' accompanying  activities are completed. Grades are based on reading the book in its entirety, the "I Read It" quiz, literary terms quiz, completed opinion quiz, discussion participation, completion of lessons,  assignments, and activity. There are a possible 100 points for each book. This information can be recorded using a grid from the teacher's book.

Sharon  graciously shares the first chapter of the course as a free download from her site. You can find the downloads here.  Also check out Sharon's writing courses on her website - Writing with Sharon Watson.

If you need some writing prompts you can find some great ones under the writing prompts tab on the same website. At the time of this writing the first prompt which comes up is for Ray Bradbury's birthday. I am planning to print this one out and put in my teachers book for when we study Fahrenheit 451.

My Thoughts

I have used Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide with my 14 year old (9th grade Daughter). She has had some some experience analyzing literature, but mainly in looking at selections from a book, not a whole novel. So she is familiar with some terms, but not whole process of novel analysis. Because she had some familiarity with literature (and I had the book) with started the course with The Friendly Persuasion, which is the third book in the course. We will go back and study the first two novels as well,  there are so many good things to learn in those chapters (just the the whole course)!  I also wanted to be able to write about a part of the course that wasn't a part of the free sample.

I appreciate the narrow focus of literary elements in each novel, this way it is not so overwhelming when going through a whole book. Students are often reminded of what they have learned in previous sections,  apply it to other novels they are reading and compare its use in the current novel.

A unique feature of the course is the mixture of book and online resources. So many courses seem to be either or, but Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide has a great mix of the two. Each Chapter has online resources to help get to know the author, their world, and  the time period in which they wrote. I also like the online quiz feature. This gives the student an opportunity to take online tests in a fairly safe and nonthreatening manner. An experience which maybe very beneficial in their college years. This also provides some variety for the student and unbiased scores, as well as helping parents assign a grade for their student.

Even with all the ideas and options for using the course in a group setting  it is very easily used by one student in a home setting.    While most of the course work is done independently the introduction and concluding weeks of each novel would be enriched by working through the course with a group. A group setting would greatly enhance the introductory writing exercises and discussions. There are suggestion and ideas of activities which can be done in a classroom setting but they can easily be tweaked to be shared with just one student. 

I think the online links are a fantastic idea! It is a great way for students to learn to use the internet to complement and enrich their assignments and work. Since I am using this with just my daughter and not a group I share some of these links with her via our online planner where I can input internet links which she can access. I also like the online quizzes. I don't mind grading work, but at the high school level it is nice to have some outside validation on which to base grades.

I also like the variety of texts used in the course. The novels have a variety of historical settings, fantasy and reality, and American and British literature. While all students may not like every story in the course there should be several which they find exciting and enjoyable. While it is nice to enjoy everything you read, that won't always be the case, but at least Illuminating Literature makes the analysis interesting and has many helpful notes and background information.

Another great point for this course is the layout for the work. Students are given a general time line of how many chapters they need to read a week or what assessments and projects need to be completed during a certain time period, but it isn't broken down by day. I think this is a useful way to help students begin to take responsibility for accomplishing assignments and meeting deadlines.Many students need time to practice and learn how to prioritize their time to accomplish their responsibilities and the format of this course provides an opportunity for students to do this.

The course is written from a definite Christian viewpoint, but it avoids being preachy or moralistic as well as pushing any denominational beliefs. The user can easily put in their own specific religious beliefs where applicable without having to change the existing material.

One aspect of the course which surprised me was the integration of writing. Writing skills are employed during this course, just not in the way I was expecting. Students take/keep notes in their notebooks and have a writing assignment in the introduction for each book, and end of novel projects have writing components. I just was surprised  there weren't novel summary papers. However, I think that is good for my daughter and others who enjoy reading, but don't care to write as much.Other subjects such as history, art, music, and a little science are integrated into the end of chapter projects. I really like this. I believe this is a great way to show students how writing and reading are so important in other disciplines.

My daughter says:
"I have really enjoyed this course so far! I like how it is written, because I feel it talks to the student in a way that is fun and easy to understand. I have been reading "The Friendly Persuasion" and really appreciate the background information this curriculum gives before you read each story because if it didn't I wouldn't know what some of the things in the story mean. Also the online quizzes are very enjoyable. Over all I think this is a great literature course that is worth using".

I believe Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide is a great introductory literature course for high school students. It introduces important literary concepts in a gentle, easy to understand way with books that have a substantive length, but aren't huge, helps students write about what they read in manageable amounts, and make connections between subjects.

Disclaimer:I received the above materials for the purpose of writing this review. I have not been compensated in any other manner and all opinions expressed here are solely my own.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Martha, for such a kind and thorough review! I hope you and your daughter enjoy the rest of the course and novels together!