In ancient Greece and Rome, instruction in writing was inextricably linked with instruction in logic and virtue. To say someone was well-educated was a compliment not only to their intelligence, but also to their morals. The authors and publishers of Classical Writing, with that rubric in mind, have designed a course truly built on the classical model that uses the world's great literature to teach students clear thinking and good writing.
At the center of the program is the progymnasmata (a Greek word meaning "preliminary exercises"). A Classical education included fourteen stages, beginning with mere copy work (of a fable or short narrative), and proceeding through comparative essays, refutation/confirmation, and longer papers. Each level built on those before it, providing students a broad perspective and thorough grasp of good writing.
How Do These Work?
Classical Writing is a complete writing course for grades 1-12. For grades 1-4 there is a series of three primer workbooks that can be used in any order and serve as an introduction to writing, grammar and spelling, offering copywork and dictation exercises based in 19th century children's literature. The primers follow a largely Charlotte Mason approach to instruction, integrating nature and picture study with writing exercises. There is one set of books each for grades 3-4 (Aesop), 5-6 (Homer), and 7-8 (Diogenes). Grades 9-10 each have their own books (Herodotus and Plutarch), and there is a single set again for grades 11-12 (Demosthenes).
In the early grades students take dictation and do copywork. Emphasis is placed on exact replication since this gives students a sense of grammar and clear expression. The philosophy of the course authors, taken from the classical model, is that children learn best by imitating the works of past masters before attempting to write creatively on their own. By focusing on the basics first, more advanced writing technique will be easier to introduce when the time comes. Until grade 6 there is no need for outside grammar supplementation, though in middle school attention focuses on actual composition and depending on how well your kids understand grammar you may need to supplement at the upper levels.
For the Aesop and Homer courses there is a theory handbook, two student workbooks, and two instructor's guides to be used with the workbooks. In the theory handbook you'll find the philosophy behind the course as well as weekly schedules and ideas for implementation. For the later grades there is simply a workbook and instructor's guide per year. The instructor's guides clearly present lessons and exercises, keeping teacher effort and stress to a minimum. Each student workbook supplies one year of study, four days a week with normal breaks.
A number of supplementary texts are available to reinforce grammar (reprints of the classic Harvey's Grammar worktexts), teach poetry analysis (for foundational, intermediate, and advanced levels), and even teach Shakespeare (expected to be available fall 2010). The course is simple, but not simplistic, providing challenging work for students that will actually help them learn to write well and clearly without a lot of unnecessary busywork. An Older Beginners text is also available for students starting the series at an older age.
Our Honest Opinion:
Classical Writing takes the learning-by-imitation model of classical education and many current writing courses (IEW, Writing with Ease), and presents the methods and material in an easy-to-use and -understand format. Whereas many similar curricula overwhelm parents and teachers with background philosophy, DVDs to watch, manuals to read, etc., Classical Writing implements the same ideas and methods with an economy of presentation that neither students nor parents should be afraid of. Also, whereas many similar courses attempt to guide students through a litmus test of necessary elements when writing their own compositions, this one allows more freedom as young writers gain their own voice and learn to record their own ideas in an intelligent and coherent manner.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes 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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