Students can learn all they want, but if they never learn to communicate their ideas it's not much use. One way to acquire good communication skills is to interpret the work of others, learning how best to present the material in an entertaining way that captures its sense and meaning. This is whatThe Art of Interpretation is all about.
Despite its subtitle ("A Study in Bringing Literature to Life"), this isn't a literary analysis course. The title is more literal—author Nicholas Elledge undertakes to teach students how to recite poetry, dialogue from a novel, a monologue from a play, or whatever else they find with all the facial expressions, voice modulations, physical emphases, and interpretive skills of acting.
How Does This Work?
This volume serves as student book and teacher guide. There are 18 lessons (the last one is simply performing your interpretation before an audience) which can be neatly completed in one normal semester. A teacher-directed course, this is probably best for high school students, but it can be understood and completed by middle school students as well.
Elledge, himself a homeschool graduate, takes kids along the entire process of interpretation, from choosing the piece to recite, to shaping it for delivery, to getting in character and performing the finished product. His tone is conversational, and he intersperses bits of his own biography with which kids will be able to relate.
Each lesson begins with a homework assignment sheet which tells kids what to read, gives them questions to answer as they read the lesson, and ends with directions for applying what they learn to preparing their own peice to deliver. Then there's a page which outlines the students's objectives in that lesson, and a brief overview of what's coming.
Then comes the lesson itself, in which students learn by stages The Art of Interpretation. This means understanding a character well enough to accurately present him or her through performance. Elledge doesn't allow students a shortcut, either: he has them read the entire work their monologue appears in, and then minutely assess and evaluate the segment itself.
Lessons cover both the theoretical and the practical. Students learn to edit their piece as needed, how to introduce the piece, how to make appropriate facial expressions, how to use different voices, how to receive criticism, and much more. Two tools in the appendix will help with this process—a character evaluation sheet, and activities for each lesson.
Not only is this designed to be teacher-directed, it's intended to be used in a classroom setting. Teachers act as facilitators for discussion, grade students's work, and guide the activities; the activities are difficult to implement with only one student. If you choose to skip the activities, however, you could use this with one student without too much difficulty.
What is the endgame with all this? Well, students aren't just interpreting a piece of literature to improve their theater skills. The whole point is to produce young people able to express themselves well in front of an audience, and Elledge makes it clear that the point of this is in turn to help form students able to articulate their Christian faith without awkwardness or fear.
Our Honest Opinion
There aren't many programs like this one, and Elledge overall does a good job presenting character and basic literary analysis, as well as vocal presentation and public performance. His approach is energetic and organized, and kids will get the basics without too much difficulty. Teachers will have to put in some work, but not too much time.
Elledge's content suffers a bit from his tone. He writes like someone who's read too much 19th century literature and not enough from his own period, and at times his stories and commentary are stilted. For teachers or parents too peeved by this, you might just relay the information in lecture or discussion form.
Still, kids do need to learn how to present themselves from a public speaking perspective, and learning to interpret literature is great preparation for learning to relay the ideas of others in a dialogue or debate setting. There's room to improve Elledge's course, but in the absence of another like it, we'd encourage parents to investigate The Art of Interpretation.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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