Here's the thing about Classical education: it's difficult. It takes a lot of work, it's not always intuitive, and there are too many false shortcuts available waiting to lead the unwary into distraction and academic chaos. Fortunately, the folks at Memoria Press have devoted themselves to producing Classical education materials that are true to their name, affordable, and easy to use for both teachers and students.
At the center of a good Classical education is the ability to understand ideas, to reiterate those ideas, and then to express one's own ideas either in agreement or in opposition. This is the focus of the Classical Composition series from Memoria Press, designed to shape effective communicators through the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages of Classical education. Unlike other programs of similar kind, this one is self-contained and doesn't require hours and hours of teacher preparation.
How Do These Work?
As of August 2015, there are nine levels of Classical Composition, from the Introduction to Composition which serves as a kind of pre-Book I course to Book VIII (the Book IX text is available too, but the teacher's guide is a couple of months out). Each level is teacher-intensive, and requires on-going dialogue between students and teachers as kids move from dictation exercises toward crafting their own essays. Of course, this is the best method of writing instruction; students aren't going to figure out what they should and shouldn't do on their own.
Each level consists of a teacher guide and a consumable student book. The student book contains basic information about each lesson and assignment, along with space for students' written work. The teacher guide is much more comprehensive, containing the complete text of the student book in reduced format, along with answers to all exercises and a wealth of supplemental material for the instructor.
In Introduction to Composition, the teacher reads a passage from a classic children's book (you'll need to have these texts on hand), after which students answer some fairly challenging questions about the passage, summarize what was read, then write some dictation sentences. This level is for third graders, or those who don't have much formal writing instruction; older students may think it's silly, but they should probably complete this text before jumping in to Classical Composition Book I.
The following nine levels take students through the first ten stages of the Progymnasmata (a 14-stage writing instruction model that's 1,500 years old, read more here). For instance, the "fable stage" covered in Book I helps kids understand the principles of plot structure, paraphrase, and outline, thus demonstrating how a good piece is constructed. Every lesson in every book begins with a story or passage read aloud by the teacher, followed by teacher-student dialogue, and finishing with the student's written work.
As the series progresses, assignments become more difficult and more involved. Students are being shaped into critical thinkers who can work with ideas and develop their own, and who can clearly communicate them. This clearly separates Classical Composition from most of its peers: author James A. Selby fully understands the relationship between logic and writing, and imparts this understanding clearly and thoroughly to young learners.
Each student book concludes with an appendix; there's always a glossary explaining and providing examples for key rhetorical devices, along with other material (in Book IV there's a presentation of logical syllogisms). Teachers unfamiliar with rhetoric need not fear—everything you need is in the teacher guide. Lessons are fully scripted, and there's enough supplemental material to help you both present the content and answer questions.
There are about 20 lessons per level, which you can take as long as needed to complete. You won't want to rush through any of them, however, since there are stages to each one that will require thought and effort. Ancient educators never worried about how long a lesson was going to take, and neither should you; what's important is how well your students are learning, and how fully they're grasping the concepts.
Our Honest Opinion
The market is a bit flooded with Classical writing programs right now. But while many of these are bloated programs too big for any parent to adequately present, James Selby's course is simple and accessible. That's not to say it's easy, but it's not difficult to implement and won't take inordinate amounts of time on the teacher's part. Because each level consists of only two affordable books, it won't break the bank, either. Also, Memoria Press has actually completed the Progymnasmata cycle, so you can see exactly where you're going.
Because this course is designed to be used in a Christian school context, parents may want to moderate some of the content to better fit a one-on-one situation, but that wouldn't be difficult or time consuming. You'll probably want to give your kids more dictation/narration exercises even before jumping in to Introduction to Composition, and for that we suggest Elementary Langauge Lessons by Emma Serl.
Memoria Press has established a well-deserved name for providing excellent Christian education materials from a Classical method and perspective. Classical Composition is no exception, and those wanting to impart a solid grasp of the English language and its uses would be well advised to consider it. Definitely one of the better Classical writing programs we've seen, don't let the rigor deter you: let it inspire you and your kids to greater efforts.
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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