Tuesday, July 3, 2012

High School Literature

I thought I would take some time to talk about what we do for literature.  Since I was a literature major, you can imagine, I love books and sharing books too!  One of the things I have found about a lot of literature lists recommended by programs or online is that they can be very obscure and very long.


Not only can't you find half the books on these lists.  You probably don't even want to read these books, let alone making your kids read them.  The most important thing when studying literature with your kids (of all ages, but most especially middle and high school students), is to make sure they enjoy it.  If young people enjoy reading they will be life-long learners.

You may have noticed on my middle school world study plans that I didn't assign a lot of reading.  That was on purpose.  That was just one book I want them to read that month.  I give them free reign to pick out other titles they want to read throughout the month.  Giving them freedom to pick what they read is crucial.  Do you remember when (or if) you were "in" school and they MADE you read something.  They would then proceed to tell you what the book you just read was about.  You then  regurgitate what you were told on a piece of paper.  How is that really creating life-long readers?

To this day, I can remember sitting in my 8th grade language arts class and the teacher saying we could choose to read a biography of anyone we wanted.  We would read that book and then we would write a paper.  I could not believe it!  I was so thrilled.  I picked a terrible book, however.  It was Priscilla Presley's autobiography called Elvis and Me.  I recall my English teacher not being thrilled with my choice, but that gave me a little surge of pleasure, so I stuck with it.  And I finished it.

That is the only thing I remember reading that year.  I think we might have read The Red Pony by Steinbeck that year as well.  Then when I reached high school I was asked if I liked Steinbeck, said yes, and then told (by a teacher) that Steinbeck was very immature reading.  As you can guess, I lost my taste for American literature at that moment.

Through out school I was not a reader.  I hated it.  It wasn't until I was married and living overseas with no family, friends, or television that I truly discovered reading.  This was before the internet as well.  I know, I am ancient.  I had nothing to do.  My house was immaculate.  I ironed napkins, for heaven's sake.  It was that or watch German game shows or CNN international (I preferred Sky News, which was the British equivalent).  So I started to read.  I read A LOT.  More than I had in my entire life.

At 20, for the first time ever, I stayed up all night reading one night when my husband was in the field.

A reader was born.

I wasn't reading great literature, mind you - that came later.  There was a lot of Danielle Steele, trust me.  But it lead me to the greats.

I actually started writing for fun.  I have several manuscripts hidden in my closet that I really ought to burn.  There is perhaps one worth something that I worked on with some other college students about a time traveling pre-teen who wanted to be a reporter.  She interviewed Napoleon.  They didn't get along.

I went back to college.  I studied literature.  I loved it!  I finally saw the value in reading books I didn't like.  Don't get me wrong, I don't waste my time with that now.  Reading time is more precious than gold around here for me.  If I don't like a book now, I won't finish it.  In college, it got to the point where I could not wait for school breaks so I could read what I wanted to read.

I learned that by allowing children some free reign when it comes to literature selection, they will surprise you.  They will become voracious readers and ask you for suggestions.  Literature should have a framework but a lot of freedom within that structure for your children to discover great books on their own.

I generally offer a list of books I recommend to my high schoolers every year, based on what they are studying for history.  They don't have to read everything on the list and are welcome to add some of their own.  I don't (usually) require them to finish a book if it is pure torture.  They will have to face reading books they don't like sooner or later, so there is usually about three on the list I require they finish, unless they can give me a valid and reasonable answer as to why they shouldn't finish it.

One more thing.  There are a few resources online that are invaluable to both your high schooler and you.  One of them is Spark Notes.  Take advantage of this incredible resource.  There is nothing wrong with reading a synopsis of a book, especially if you are having trouble with it.  In the classroom many of these same issues would be brought up in discussion anyway, so it is not cheating.  My college professors encouraged us to read the text but don't be afraid of help.  Spark Notes will give you paper suggestions and even quizzes!  It is truly one of the greatest tolls a homeschooling parent could have!  One word of warning.  There are forums on there and other articles.  You may not approve of everything on Spark Notes, but your teen, having been solidly raised by you to know the difference between right or wrong, should know how to deal with those issues.  They can debate it or ignore it.  Debating it, of course, will hone their skills for discussing controversial topics but ignoring it can be the right choice as well.  Just don't be afraid when you open the page and find it very "teen" looking.  You might see something like "How to Get the Best Nickname Ever" right next to a synopsis of Macbeth.

The other is OWL at Purdue.  It is an online version of the most up to date MLA formatting rules.  Bibliographies, quoting texts, and citing texts are necessary when writing high school and college level papers.  This website will give you all you need to do that properly.  It will also help your student immensely to have some idea of MLA formatting before they go to college (if that is their path).  There is also topics like "Writing a Resume" and exercises they can do.

In all things, raising children and education, I believe that children will blossom with a firm structure and freedom within those rules.  You will have a much more peaceful time not only as a family but with homeschooling as well.

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