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Literature – that word either thrills you deeply or scares you deeply. Your reaction could very likely be a response to the literature classes you had as a high school student. For me, I had a strange literature year in 9th grade where one semester we focused deeply on a single writing assignment before the teacher moved to Germany and the other semester we had a creepy teacher who taught only Sherlock Holmes novels. I also think about the year that Ms. McKay taught lit in junior high and we had a fabulous time with all sorts of unique ideas for how we shared about the books we read. I like to try to allow my girls to lean more towards the Ms. McKay style year than the other one. Literature has so much to teach us but it can be easy to make it a miserable experience when the focus is in the wrong place.
So where should the focus be? Why, the story of course and what the reader is getting from it. The focus should not be on what the teacher thinks the student should get from it because we are all different and see different things in stories. And what a wonderful thing that is. My girls have taught me so much by listening to their thoughts on books. That’s why we did Story Spiels one year. And why we have not done a traditional book report. Ever.
I would suggest the following for a literature class for high school.
- Allow the student say in what is read and studied. Yes, it is a good idea to have them read stories they would not naturally pick up but they shouldn’t ONLY be reading things they wouldn’t normally choose. A good blend of their choice and yours is stronger than either by itself.
- If a prepared curriculum is preferred, there is no reason to not use it. Try to allow for modification, if would make the experience more enjoyable. We have used Sharon Watson’s materials and loved them, planning to use them again, because of the way in which she approaches the story of any book. We did not use it 100% as written but used a large part it and will with her other one in the future. We are also using one this year and modifying it to fit age level (see what I share towards the end on To Every Nation).
- Allow the student freedom in how they will share what they glean from the story. A one-size-fits-all report form is not going to sit well with a student who really understands on character but doesn’t really pay all that much attention to what year it is in the story. Finding a way for the student to share their own insights will broaden their understanding and give them a pride in their shares.
- Require a mix of creative and unique ways to present coupled with some writing. It is high school and if there is any chance whatsoever that the student will go to college, there is a need for the student to be able to express their thoughts not just verbally but also in writing. Having a challenge of half of their presentations for the year involving some form of writing will give them freedom to choose which books fit more naturally into a written form and which they would rather do something wildly creative with.
- Provide ideas that are open-ended. With specific ideas, it can be difficult for students to broaden that to their own creativity. With open-ended ideas, they can adapt the idea to their particular story and idea. Open-ended suggestions give freedom and open the option of creative ideas that might not even be on your radar but fit the student’s ideas perfectly.
- Allow for a mix of paper/pencil projects, technology, artistic, theatrical, and more. Every idea should be allowed for consideration.
We have selected the books that our sophomore is reading – the YWAM series of Christian biographies (affiliate link). She is also working on the workbook To Every Nation (courtesy link) from Not Consumed that we purchased. In addition, since the books and workbooks fall “below” her reading level, we have required her to add a final project for each of the biographies. We created a list for her to choose from following much of the criteria above.
I am going to share an idea a week (at least that’s the plan) with you from our list of what project choices we have come up with. I am going to share with you whether Miss E has used that option and if so, how it has gone. I can’t wait to encourage you in thinking “outside the box” for high school literature. After all, there is so much to learn from reading literature books that we ought to make it fun and enjoyable.
Lori, At Home.