There's a big difference between reading a book and understanding it. If you're just reading, the content doesn't matter as long as it's entertaining. But if you read to understand, the message and mode of presentation are of utmost importance. James Stobaugh understands this, and his course for junior high and early high school students will equip them to understand literature from a structural and stylistic standpoint, and to compare it to the truth of the Christian worldview.
How Does This Work?
There's a non-consumable student text, and a teacher guide in a 3-ring binder. Ideal for grades 7-9, advanced younger students and slightly older kids needing remedial work can also complete Skills for Literary Analysis. 34 chapters present enough work for one school year, with assignments for five days a week, 45-60 minutes per day. There are online and video-based supplements to allow kids to work alone, though the program is ideally taught by a teacher or parent.
The goal of the course is twofold—kids should learn the mechanics of literature and how to interpret classic works according to a biblical Christian worldview. Stobaugh breaks these elements into three categories: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is the integrity of the narration, the question of whether the author accurately represents the worldview set forth in his or her work; logos is the theme of the work; and pathos is the work's humanity and emotion, whether the author stirs readers to feel for the characters, the theme, and the story.
Students are taught a wide range of literary genres (satire, allegory, epic, etc.), terminology, narrative tools (dialogue, description, etc.), and analytic tools. Each chapter includes four lessons with a reading portion and a daily assignment, and a "Concept Builder" exercise to flesh out the ideas being learned. Every Friday an essay is due or a test is to be administered, based on the novel, short story, or poetry students have been assigned to read for that week.
Concept Builders help kids outline novel plots, formulate their worldview, identify a story's dramatic tension, etc. Essays focus on analysis, with students identifying the major themes, ideas, etc. in a range of classics including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Idylls of the King, How Green Was My Valley, Shane, and many more. There's a lot of reading, between the main text and the assigned novels, but this will prepare students for the more rigorous work they'll encounter in high school and college.
Periodic grammar review helps kids remember that all language arts are integrated and that one aspect can't be understood apart from the others. Stobaugh does a good job drawing seemingly disparate elements together to present a holistic view of the material, rather than giving students the impression that there's no context to anything they're learning. A teacher's guide provides answer keys, an instruction guide to aid presentation, the daily Concept Builders (also found in the student text), and weekly essay questions and tests.
Very motivated students can work through this book on their own, but the content is best digested through conversation with parents or teachers, and even with other students. Many of the ideas will be new to junior high kids, and the ones that aren't can be difficult; without assistance many kids will feel like they're groping in the dark. This isn't a course catered to the lowest possible expectations, and it takes effort, but it's effort well rewarded with a solid foundation for literary study and a better understanding of how to take every thought captive to Christ.
Our Honest Opinion
It's hard to compress good literary instruction into one volume, but Stobaugh has done it. If you're looking for something fun and exciting you'll be disappointed, but if you want something educational and Christ-centered, look no further. Christian kids must learn literary analysis from a Christian perspective. Written portions of the text are clear, the application of Christian thought is orthodox and thorough, and the works read are representative titles.
Don't stop at Skills for Literary Analysis, however. This is an excellent text, but it's introductory. The content is more advanced than that of the Andrews's Teaching the Classics, so you could start with that program before progressing to Skills for Literary Analysis. After this course, students should be ready for something more rigorous like Omnibus, or the specific American and British literature courses from either Institute for Excellence in Writing or those by Stobaugh. Great for families or individual students, this is one of the best one-volume literary analysis courses we've seen.
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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