Friday, September 14, 2012

IEW Windows to the World-An Introduction to Literary Analysis

When my kids were in 9th and 11th grades studying Ancient History, the curriculum we were using assigned a literary analysis paper on either The Iliad or The Odyssey. Thinking this was a terrific idea, since they are some of the first epics in history, I perused the curriculum writing guide which I sadly found lacking in information. I started googling ideas without much success. My kids' papers, with only the limited information we had, were haphazard. I happened to mention this to my wonderful phD lit major friend (whom I don't know if she wants her name revealed as such =) offered advice. Oh yes, please! She explained that they need to write an agumentative thesis (really? Our literature curriculum never said that before.) and shared lots of information with me. She even offered to look at what they had and so wonderfully suggested valuable ideas to tighten up their ideas and thoughts and help develop their flow. Alas the papers were better, (along with encouoragement from a phD literature gal that my kids wrote better than many she sees in college) but we weren't quite sure what we were doing. However, I now knew the proper terminology to look for, like "argumentative thesis", which seemed to be addressed in one of IEW's newest products, Windows to the World: An Introduction to Literary Analysis.

I ordered it the next summer and we completed it as a four week class over the summer. (gasp) I know, isn't that a horrible thing to do to kids over the summer? Three things drove me to do this. I was on bed rest for injured feet. We needed something to do! Also we tend to be so incredibly busy in the school year that carving out time for a separate writing and literature program is impossible. Also time was of the essence. My daughter was entering her senior year and I knew she'd need the skills before entering college. (I was right! This book got her into the English Honors program at college! Stay tuned for that story!) Happily, this was a fun book with fun short stories from the 19th century. If you have to do summer school with high schoolers, I recommend this book!

The kids already had a foundation in essay writing with IEW's TWSS and with The Elegant Essay. I don't recommend this book until a strong habit was been developed with essay writing. This course is definitely a high school literature course. Younger students benefit more from basic essay writing to lay a strong foundation before entering more complex skills. It is the only writing course I have ever found that teaches argumentative essays (apart from a bit in The Elegant Essay, by the same author). The argumentative essay, and other skills taught in this book, are great skills learned in a college prep course, because it is the writing technique expected of collegiates.

First we learned about annotation! My kids weren't so sure about marking in books so I found some evidence of books of notable people of the past who annotated their books! Once my kids found out that Thomas Jefferson, Sir Isaac Newton and Mark Twain wrote in their books, my kids felt they had permission to do the same. There are pictures here of their annotated books, including one of Jefferson's that he annotated in Greek! After a few tips from the author, we looked at her example of annotation with "The Gift of the Magi." Then the kids and I annotated our own copies of "The Most Dangerous Game," a short story from 1923 that had us on the edge of our seats! Afterwards we compared notes, then peeked at what the author of WTW annotated. When the kids especially liked something they didn't include, they quickly annotated that in their copy.

Then we studied a few literary devices like allusions, which my kids were already familiar with. Together we analyzed allusions with a William Blake poem, one of his easier poems. =)

Next we studied plot and suspense with "Androcles and the Lion." After lots of lessons and tips, we practiced looking for plot and suspense by annotating "The Most Dangerous Game," again! This time I had them choose a new colored gel pen, so they could easily pick out plot and suspense in discussion. We would annotate this story several more times with various more literary devices and new colors of gel pens, to aid in discussion of each literary technique. That was great, because as the author said, each rereading made us more familiar with the story and brought new insights.

Then we practiced our first literary analysis paper (essay) on "The Most Dangerous Game." We had read it so much and annotated it so much, that we certainly had lots of ideas to choose from. The explanation of how to set up the argumentative thesis is crystal clear! There are many step by step details so my kids knew exactly what to do. Lots of ideas and a clear path meant instant success! The kids wrote great papers!

Then we learned some more literary analysis devices while annotating "The Necklace," a short story by Guy de Maupassant in 1884. We enjoyed this story a lot! My kids wrote their second literary analysis on this story which happened to be the one my daughter submitted to enter the English Honors program. The Dean loved seeing her argumentative thesis and asked my daughter what she liked about the story. They seemed to enjoy talking to each other about it. (stay tuned for more of that)

More techniques, more stories, all great! We also enjoyed "A Fight with a Cannon," by Victor Hugo. This story, as did the others, brought a lot of discussion to the table. I cannot say enough good things about Windows to the World: A Literary Analysis. It will help prepare your students for college!

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