Writing instruction, at least in home and private schools, has undergone some cataclysmic shifts in recent years. From a model rooted in 19th-century pragmatic philosophy, it has swung less than gradually to the other side of the spectrum: a more or less Classical-style model in which kids learn by imitation, focusing more on style and rhetoric than on pure utilitarianism.
Longtime advocates of the Classical education model in other subjects, Classical Academic Press has recently produced their own writing program, Writing & Rhetoric, based on the progymnasmata (the ancient Greek pattern of writing instruction moving from copywork to rhetoric and articulation--learn more here).
Writing & Rhetoric is a projected 12-book program covering grades 3-9 in which students learn the different styles of writing and how to apply them. The first ten books for grades 3-8 are currently available, and introduce students to the basics of storytelling and narrative through fable, myth, parable, and more.
How Do These Work?
For each level there is a student book and a teacher's edition. The content of both is identical, except that the teacher's edition includes answers (many of them approximate) for all exercises in the student book. While there is room to write in the student book, you could easily use it as a non-consumable for multiple kids.
A brief introduction in each book presents the objectives of that text as well as some background information concerning the methodology employed. You won't need to spend a lot of time preparing lesson plans; though there is no scripting in the books, lessons are clearly laid out and require little more than facilitation on the part of teachers rather than lecture or instruction.
Lessons include introductory text, a brief narrative portion to be read aloud, a narration portion in which kids repeat the story in their own words, a "Talk About It" section with questions for reflection and dialogue, a "Go Deeper" section with vocabulary and usage exercises, and a "Writing Time" portion in which kids complete writing exercises.
Narratives include both biblical passages and selections from Classical literature cleaned up a bit for the kiddos. The idea behind basing writing exercises on a previously written piece is that kids see how good writing is done, and get good at it themselves by imitating these examples. The Writing & Rhetoric books are a bit different than other Classical-style writing texts in that they emphasize creativity earlier than most, but they're still firmly grounded in the imitation tradition.
The author of the program, a Mr. Paul Kortepeter, suggests a week for each lesson in each text, alternated with a week of grammar instruction from a grammar course. Since there are 10-14 lessons per Writing & Rhetoric text, it should take a semester to get through each book, while still continuing steady grammar instruction.
One of the strengths of this method is that students are exposed to good writing, the elements of style, rhetorical tropes (figures of speech), and genre features all at the same time, reinforcing not only their writing skills, but their understanding of literary analysis and use of logic and reason as well.
These books are sparsely illustrated with black and white drawings so kids won't be distracted by content that isn't pertinent to learning how to write. Unlike many Classical writing programs, Mr. Kortepeter's course is easy to use, and requires just two books for each year rather than boxes and boxes of materials. This alone will commend it to many parents; the effectiveness of the curriculum and its no-nonsense approach will please many others.
Our Honest Opinion
With so many Classical-style writing programs flooding the scene, it's often hard to get excited about a new one. Fortunately for Classical Academic Press, that isn't the case with Writing & Rhetoric. It doesn't depart dramatically from other courses like it, except that it's easy to use, doesn't require a lot of teacher preparation, and still remains effective.
That said, we don't know how well the rest of the series will bear out the trajectory set by the first two. If Kortepeter continues in the established vein, this will certainly become a sought after curriculum, and we see no reason to doubt that he'll maintain the course he's already set.
Communication is at the heart of all writing, and it's always refreshing to come across a writer of a writing curriculum who can himself actually write and communicate well. Kortepeter certainly excels in this department, and we're confident that if you and your kids work through this content carefully and patiently you'll raise students who are also sound and original communicators.
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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