Essentials in Literature courses teach literary analysis, vocabulary, and reading comprehension for grades seven through nine. The series should eventually cover grades four through twelve. Level 10 is schedule to be released in the summer of 2017. Levels 11 and 12 are planned to be released in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Levels 4, 5, and 6 will follow.
Each course set consists of three DVDs, a student worktext, a slim teacher handbook, and a novel to be read and studied.
Courses are taught by presenter Matthew Stephens on DVDs, and students complete assignments in the each course’s companion worktext. They will read one full-length novel along with many shorter literary works that are available free through the Internet.
Each course is presented in four units: fiction, nonfiction, study of a novel, and poetry or figurative language. Examples of the literary works studied in Essentials in Literature 9 are short stories such as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Monkey’s Paw,” and “The Bet;” nonfiction articles such as “Charles Martel Biography,” “Farewell Letter to the Pilgrims,” and “Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time” by NPR Staff; the complete novel The Hobbit; and poems such as “Dreams” and “Red Roses” by Langston Hughes, “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, and “Sonnet 29” by Shakespeare. As you can see, the literary works are very diverse and include both old and new works.
The novel for levels 7 and 8 are Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Night. Some works such as Night are darkly realistic. For that book, Stephens deals with the main character's crisis of faith by having students write a personal letter of encouragement to him. Parents might want to read Night in advance since it is a disturbing book about the Holocaust that would certainly benefit from some discussion rather than just independent reading. In the teacher handbook, Stephens gives parents a "heads up" about content that might be considered questionable or offensive and provides them with different ways to address questionable content. This should be especially helpful for level 8 and Night.
As they study the various literary works, students learn to analyze literature, and they also learn how to make connections between authors and their works as well as the historical and cultural settings of the works.
Essentials in Literature courses require less composition work than do many other literary analysis courses. Questions often require only brief answers or a few sentences. A few activities such as the Connection Reflection questions and the Writing Connection assignments generally can be answered in paragraphs of only five to eight sentences. There are no essay assignments. (Stephens’ Essentials in Writing courses mesh well with Essentials in Literature since they concentrate on the development of composition skills.)
Students will generally spend five or six days on each work, with additional time allotted for The Hobbit. Lessons for each work consist of activities to be completed before the student reads the work, while they are reading the work, and after they read. Students can complete some activities directly in their worktext, sometimes on graphic organizers that make the process simpler. But they will need a separate notebook for writing out lengthier responses or assignments.
Most lessons have a short video teaching segment for students to watch. Stephens clarifies some of the worktext activities in his video lectures. Icons on lesson pages alert students as to when they need to watch video segments.
Students are directed to create vocabulary study cards following instructions in the worktext. Vocabulary lists are provided at the beginning of each study so students can be prepared in advance with knowledge of words they will encounter.
An Extended Activity within the lessons for each literary work is optional. Extended Activities might require brainstorming, research, field trips, interviews, or other activities that extend far beyond literary analysis. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to use them.
Students can work independently through most of the coursework, but they are frequently directed to discuss an assignment with a classmate or with a teacher. A parent or teacher will also need to correct student work. The Teacher Handbook for each course explains how to use the course. It also includes a list of all of the literary works to be used, a course syllabus, and an answer key. Assessments are included within the student worktext at the end of each unit. The teacher handbook makes it very easy for parents to check student work without having to watch the videos and read lesson material themselves. The answer key section of the teacher handbook has suggested answers for many of the questions. Sometimes it has a few sample responses for a single question that might all be correct. Sometimes there are two responses labeled “Quality Response” and “Ineffective Response” to give parents a better idea of the type of response they should expect from a student.
The courses teach literary analysis while trying to avoid promoting any particular value system or point of view. Parents or teachers might choose to add discussion to address values that are presented or implied in some of the literary works.
Essentials in Literature should be helpful for parents with limited teaching time as well as for students who want to work independently. Most independent study literature courses require students to read extensive instructional material in addition to the literary works. However, the instructional video segments in Essentials in Literature make it easier for students who benefit from visual and auditory input and less reading. While the Essentials in Literature worktexts do have instructional material to be read, the video segments’ reduction of the reading load should prove very helpful for some students.