After the last two posts on financial aid, there were a few private comments about how hard it can be for a student to qualify for some types of aid. Honestly, it is easier now than it has ever been. There are all sorts of programs, initiatives, and projects, all designed to get more people into college.
This is not necessarily a good thing. Not every student is called to a profession that requires college. Not every student is ready for college right out of high school. Not every student is able to benefit from higher education. College can be a wonderful learning experience for an engaged, motivated student, but for some, it’s just an expensive party venue with a long-lasting bill.
If you have students who maintain they don’t need college, don’t want it, or don’t understand the purpose and meaning of education, it is probably not the right time to go to college. It is better to wait until they are ready than to rush off right after high school and incur debt for an education they won’t appreciate. They can go to work, start a business, work on the family farm, or do something else. If they eventually need college, it will be there.
College Alternative #1: Skilled trades
The first college alternative is the skilled trades, including machinist, mechanic, builder, welder, electrician, pipe fitter, plumber, electronics or machine maintenance personnel. The traditional list could doubtless be expanded to include healthcare technologists and assistants, cabinet makers, arborists, midwives, and many others. My husband and I encouraged our sons to cultivate both a head skill and a hand skill, not just to have backup career options, but for wholeness of spirit. Although each has a bent toward one type of skill or another, having experience in both has been a personal and professional plus for each of them.
Although college has been increasingly pushed as an option for everyone, Matthew Crawford in Shop Class as Soulcraft writes of anecdotal evidence that suggests “one of the fastest-growing segments of the student body at community colleges is people who already have a four-year degree and return to get a marketable trade skill” (p. 12; emphasis mine). Subtitled “An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” Shop Class as Soulcraft examines the purpose, meaning, and value of productive labor through the lens of Crawford’s transition from think-tank PhD to motorcycle mechanic. He makes a compelling case for the trades, noting that he has “often found manual work more engaging intellectually” than wrestling with the abstract.
The trades experience chronic labor shortages, which are only getting worse as experienced workers retire. According to an article in Fortune, “companies that make tangible products are struggling to find candidates for about 237,000 job openings. To put that figure in perspective, it’s 89,000 more than the entire U.S. economy created in September.” Those openings need to be filled, and a 2013 article in Forbes analyzes where the greatest needs will be in the coming years. If you’re willing to consider a career based on demand, the Forbes article offers solid statistics to consider.
Wages for the skilled trades have been compared to wages for middle managers, but figures vary, depending on experience and where you live. Forbes suggest that the “median wage . . . is $20.25 an hour, and even the bottom 10 percent earn $13.14 an hour.” Training for the skilled trades can come through vocational training programs, trade schools, community colleges, or apprenticeships.
Although the skilled trades don’t always earn the respect they should, they are an excellent option. There’s even an extra bit of job security for some of the trades– when was the last time you heard of a plumbing job being outsourced to China?
Resources for information on the trades
- Profoundly Disconnected is Mike Rowe’s site, designed to “challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.” Good articles and information, well presented.
- mikeroweWORKS Foundation Scholarship Opportunities: Here are links to partnerships and scholarship opportunities for high school seniors wanting to learn a skill.
- You can find detailed information about all sorts of jobs in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, a free database from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- The U. S. Department of Labor offers good information on job training and apprenticeships.
- Check your state’s Department of Labor for information about jobs and apprenticeship programs. Example: Virginia DOL
- The federal government gives grants to community and faith-based programs to provide job training. You can read the press releases on the site to find programs in your area.
- National Craft Assessment & Certification Program
- Labor unions sometimes offer paid training programs; search by trade and state. I recommend reading all the fine print of any agreement, as well as the organization’s constitution, before getting involved.
- To learn more about workforce training programs in your state, do an online search for “workforce initiative [state name]“.
- If you would like to read more about labor shortages in the trades, do an online search for “labor shortages trades.” Some articles contain useful links and resources.
- If you have any resource suggestions, please share in the comment box below.
Next time, I’ll write about College Alternative #2: Entrepreneurship. Watch for it here!
Note: As always, Amazon links are affiliate links.
Financial aid is available in several forms to homeschoolers, as well as the traditionally schooled. The U.S. Department of Education (the courteous provider of most of this information) awards about $150 billion every year to help millions of students pay for college. This federal student aid is awarded in the form of grants (good), low-interest loans (to be avoided if at all possible), and work-study funds (good).
Grants are typically awarded on the basis of need and generally do not have to be repaid. There are four types of federal student grants:
- Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. (In some cases, students enrolled in post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs may receive Federal Pell Grants.) The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2014-2015 award year is $5,550; however, the actual award depends on 1) the student’s financial need; 2) the college’s cost of attendance; 3) the student’s enrollment status; and 4) the length of the academic year in which the student is enrolled. Students can receive the Federal Pell Grant for up to the equivalent of 12 semesters.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The amount of the award is determined by the college’s financial aid office, and depends on the student’s financial need and the availability of funds at the college.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants are awarded to students who intend to teach in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves students from low-income families. If the service requirement is not fulfilled, it could turn into a loan.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are awarded to students whose parents or guardians were members of the Armed Forces and died as a result of performing military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. To qualify, a student must have been under 24 years of age or enrolled in college at the time of the parent’s or guardian’s death.
Avoid Loans if Possible
Loans are money that the student borrows to help pay for college, and must be repaid (plus interest). If you want to avoid loans, you might consider earning credits through CLEP exams before college, or earning an associates degree, then transferring to a four-year college for the last two years of school. You can learn more about these options and how to make them work in Get a Jump Start on College: A Practical Guide for Teens.
There are two federal student loan programs:
- The Federal Perkins Loan Program is a campus-based program that provides low-interest loans to undergraduate and graduate students. The amount of the award depends on the student’s financial need, the amount of other aid the student receives, and the availability of funds at his/her college.
- The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program enables students and parents to borrow money at low interest rates directly from the federal government with Direct Stafford Loans or Direct PLUS Loans, which are available to parents of dependent students and to graduate and professional-degree students.
- Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized: A Direct Stafford Loan might be subsidized or unsubsidized. Direct PLUS Loans are always unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are based on financial need and are available only to undergraduate students. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans while the borrower is in college and during deferment. Unsubsidized loans are based on the student’s education costs and other aid received. The borrower must pay all accrued interest on unsubsidized loans.
Work-Study is an Honorable Classic
The Federal Work-Study Program enables students to earn money during the school year while also gaining valuable work experience, typically in part-time, career-related jobs. I am always moved by the story of Booker T. Washington working his way through Hampton Institute, and he is only one of millions who have chosen this way to earn a degree. It’s an honorable way to pay for your education.
Other forms of financial aid that might be available to students include:
- State government aid. For more information, contact the state’s higher education agency. You can find the state agency’s contact information at http://wdcrobcolp01.e d.gov/Programs/EROD/org_list.cfm?category_cd=SHE.
- Aid from the college. Students should contact the financial aid offices at the colleges they are considering for more information. This is one of the prime spots to find small local scholarships that sometimes go unawarded due to lack of applicants.
- Scholarships. Some states, local governments, colleges, community organizations, private employers, and other organizations award scholarships based on academic ability or other factors. For more information, visit StudentAid.gov. You may also visit Scholarships.com or Fastweb.com for non-government-affiliated databases.
- Tax credits for education expenses. For more information about the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/tax-benefits.
- Aid for the military. For more information, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/grants-scholarships/military.
Do you have a teen who is filling out college applications? If so, there’s one more application to add to the list. It’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, informally known as the FAFSA, and if your teen wants to be eligible for federal financial aid, this form is where you start.
The FAFSA gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school, and is used by many states, colleges, and private financial aid providers to determine your eligibility for state and school aid. In other words, if you want free money, you must fill out this form.
What happens after you fill out the FAFSA?
Once you have filled out the form, it is sent to the colleges of your choice, and using the information on the form, colleges that accept your student will draft financial aid offers to fit the student’s need. These offers will arrive in the form of a letter that spells out how much the school can offer in grants, loans, and work study. Each college will offer a package that covers your federally-calculated Financial Need. This is defined as the difference between the cost of attendance (COA) at a school and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
An important point to remember is that while COA varies from school to school, your EFC does not change based on the school you attend. This should help to free you from having to make a financially-based decision on which college to attend.
Example, if your EFC is $1000 and your student has been accepted to three colleges.
- College A has a COA of $40,000 a year;
- College B has a COA of $28,000 a year;
- College C has a COA of $12,000 a year.
No matter which school your student attends, you will be expected to pay your EFC of $1000. Each college will send you an offer of aid for the difference between that amount and the COA. So you should get offers for $39,000, $27,000, and $11,000.
You look at the letters, weigh the balance of grants, loans, and work-study, and start making making decisions about which college to choose. If you are offered loans, it doesn’t hurt to contact the financial aid office to ask for work study instead. You and your students will be blessed by anything you can do to avoid the burden of debt.
In our family’s experience, private colleges ended up being a much better deal than public universities, and I’ve heard other families attest to the same thing. One of our sons chose an eye-poppingly expensive private school, but received a full ride of grants and scholarships for the two years he attended (he had earned an Associates degree before applying). The public school to which he had also applied had much lower tuition, but offered one paltry grant and an array of loans. One of our other sons mostly worked his way through a public university, but got to the point where he just needed to finish and ended up taking a loan, which was not ideal.
You can learn a lot more about financial aid for college students at studentaid.ed.gov.
What you need to fill out the FAFSA
Fill out the application at https://fafsa.ed.gov/. It will cost you nothing, and it is fairly easy to follow. You may also fill out a paper form or download a PDF to fill out, but this is not recommended, as it takes more time and has a higher chance for error. The FAFSA website explains that you must create a secure PIN, and have the following items available so you can enter the information.
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
- Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- A Federal Student Aid PIN to sign electronically. (If you do not already have one, visit www.pin.ed.gov to obtain one.)
If you are a dependent student, then you will also need most of the above information for your parent(s). If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.
Although you have to fill out the form each year, the site saves your basic information, so the process is quicker for the second, third, and fourth years of school.
When is the FAFSA due?
The short answer is to do it as soon as possible after January 1st. You want to have your application in the hands of the college admissions counselor before any deadlines are close, and before all their scholarship money has been offered.
To be considered for federal student aid for the 2014-2015 award year, you can complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between January 1, 2014 and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2015. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Time, September 19, 2015.
However, many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid. You can find your state’s deadline at https://www.fafsa.gov/deadlines. Check with your college about its deadlines.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the types of aid available. Meanwhile, remember that if you want to be eligible for federal aid, you must fill out the FAFSA whether you think you will qualify or not. If you don’t fill it out, you definitely won’t get federal aid and probably not any of the other aid tied to it, so do it. It’s well worth the effort.
Meanwhile, don’t forget that Transcripts Made Easy and Get a Jump Start on College can help you navigate these years with ease. You can do it!
There are many ways to approach literary analysis, but the default method is usually writing an analytical essay. There are good reasons for this– writing an analytical essay causes students to think critically, organize thoughts, sequence ideas, and compose an acceptable piece of writing. It’s an excellent way to prepare for college writing or a debate team, and it’s good for boosting general literacy and understanding.
However, essay writing is not the only tool for studying literature. Students can benefit from the occasional opportunity to approach the great books in a fresh way, so here are a few alternatives to writing a literary analysis:
- Create illustrations through drawing, painting, collage, or other medium.
- Do a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book, with brief sketches that recall the main event of each chapter (as a bonus, you can make your illustrated summary into a mini-book).
- Compile a timeline of events that take place in the story; illustrations optional.
- Create a character chart that includes each character’s name, the page on which he/she first appeared, and role in the story.
- Write a news or feature article based on events in the book. Use correct journalistic format (instructions at the Purdue OWL).
- Summarize the plot of a book in poetry or script for a play.
- Create a website and social media presence for your main character.
Sometimes a creative writing assignment can be not only a welcome break in a heavy academic load, but also a way of understanding even more insightfully than usual. Feel free to share your own creative ideas in the comment section below.
I’m happy to tell you that the first, second, and third 1857 McGuffey Readers are now available at Everyday Education. Enjoy!
Connie Schenkelberg, my friend and colleague, stepped from this life to the next on Sunday morning (12/1/13), and I will miss her. I first met Connie at an HEAV homeschool conference in the 1990s. Her table was tucked into a corner, and she was selling only one book, Writing a Step Above. I’m a sucker for books about writing, so when she invited me to stop and hear about the book, I did.
The book turned out to be a short, easy-to-use intensive grammar course, and I used it with all four boys, and loved it. I saw Connie at a few conferences after that, but then she disappeared. It wasn’t until I was speaking and traveling to other homeschool conferences that I started looking for her book so I could recommend it to others (you wouldn’t believe how often people asked about a good grammar resource).
Around 2005 or 2006, I finally tracked her down and cold-called her to ask if Everyday Education could republish her excellent book. Much to my surprise, she was very receptive, and we ended up forging an informal partnership and republishing Writing a Step Above as Grammar Made Easy: Writing a Step Above. When she wrote Spelling Made Easy: The Homonym Way to Better Spelling, we were able to publish that as well.
When she was able, Connie loved to join me at conferences to talk with people about her books. If you were at a Virginia conference between 2006 and 20112, you may have had the delight of being hailed by the kindly lady with the robust laugh. She’d ask about your family with genuine interest, tell you about her books, and share tips about teaching, cooking, and good things to read, too.
Connie shared my love of middle grade fiction, and my favorite of her book recommendations was Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago. She also introduced me to “Three Questions,” a memorable short story by Leo Tolstoy, which in her honor, formed the foundation for this month’s writing lesson at Schoolhouse Teachers.
In recent years, Connie’s health has not been good, and she’s had to stay closer to home. I haven’t seen her for over a year, but we communicated by phone or e-mail. I’m going to miss knowing she’s there. I’ll miss making room in the booth for her scooter and bowl of candy. I’ll miss watching the crowds of kids who stopped by for candy but stayed to talk to the lady with the compelling voice. I’ll miss hearing hearing about her trips to visit the stately buffalo she loved. Connie was a dear friend, and I’m glad I knew her.
Connie’s life was characterized by a focus on faith, family, and friends. She leaves her husband, Loren, and grown children, Andrea and Andrew, along with their spouses and one granddaughter. You will find details about her memorial service on her Facebook page.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
A cold rain falls outside my window, but inside it is warm and cozy, and I am thankful. Not just for the warmth that results from months of wood cutting, splitting, and hauling, but for the love that inspired it all, and for the faith, family, and friends that make life sweet. I am grateful.
It’s time to begin cooking, so I’ll be brief. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that each year I share the same poem, “Gratefulnesse” by George Herbert (1593-1633). Each year it reminds me anew to focus on things that matter. The poet, describing himself as “thy beggar,” begins by petitioning God for a grateful heart:
Thou that hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a gratefull heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
Herbert muses about God’s tender, patient reception of our “perpetuall knockings” at His door, and finishes with a touch of humor, reminding God that
“And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankfull heart obtain
Not thankfull, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare dayes:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Herbert’s love for God and understanding of Him as a gentle, patient “Abba, Father” shines through each line. God’s children ask “Gift upon gift,” yet he “didst allow us all our noise: / Nay, thou hast made a sigh and grone / Thy joyes.” Imagine.
You may read the entire poem, plus a bit about the Jean-Francois Millet painting (above) at the Excellence in Literature site.
Here is the link to a 2009 post with an idea for sharing blessings, plus the Cranberry-Orange Relish recipe. This recipe is our family tradition for Thanksgiving, and it’s ideal, because it’s quick and easy and can be made ahead. So if you were looking for one more thing to add to your table, here it is!
And finally, be sure to check out our Thanksgiving Sale!
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought,
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
I have been thinking about fairy tales this week after coming across the bowdlerized (to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content) version that appears on a third grade Common Core reading assignment. In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien writes, “The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”
Although non-fiction is effective for telling facts, fiction shows facts in action. There are two primary ways you can tell truth through fiction. The first is through simple stories such as parables, myths, and fables that easily and obviously illustrate a moral or truth in action. The second is through longer, more sophisticated stories such as those found in novels, plays, and epics. Each has its place in the world of fiction, but I have come to believe that some of the most powerful stories are short–pithy parables, wise fables, simple folk tales, and imaginative fairy stories.
When Christ told the parable of the seed-sower who sowed in various places, he told a story his audience could visualize. Can you imagine that any of them left with the desire to be anything less than the good soil that would produce a bountiful crop? In a similar way, Aesop’s fables illustrate the folly or wisdom of human behavior in such an effective way that many of the morals drawn from them are used as metaphors in everyday life. We can encourage ingenuity by reminding our children of the crow and the pitcher, or discourage greediness by reminding them of the dog in the manger.
Fairy tales are often seen as either too dark or too frivolous, but they tell the truth in a very special way. As G. K. Chesterton wrote in his essay “The Red Angel,” “fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already . . . What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” To deprive a child of fairy tales or present him with a butchered version such as the Peter and Patty story from the Common Core is to not only dull his taste for good literature, but also rob him of the assurance that one day he too may slay the dragon.
“On Three Ways of Writing for Children” by C. S. Lewis
I’m not sure why, but I’ve recently been seeing a rash of misused peaks. I have a feeling that these things spread like smallpox, and are just as deadly to clarity and enjoyment of the written word. Here for your enjoyment is a mini poster that might help keep them straight. Feel free to share!
P. S. I know that learning homonyms isn’t always easy, but there are things that can help. Spelling Made Easy is an ungraded two-year, puzzle-based spelling program based entirely on homonyms, and the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers has a substantial list of Frequently Misused Words (pages 267-277). I hope they’re helpful!
No matter what curriculum you use, homeschooling is a deeply personalized journey. What it looks like and how it feels will be based on each family’s unique blend of talents, interests, knowledge, skills, learning styles, and personality types. Moms who are just getting started and looking for the “right way” to homeschool sometimes feel a bit frustrated trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. Is there a good way to figure out the best options for your family?
First, you need to know that there is not one single right way to homeschool. If someone tries to tell you there is, you’re welcome to smile politely, respond noncommittally, and ESCAPE! Although it can be fun and interesting to research the options and go to conferences with your peers, I would recommend that you also talk to homeschool moms whose students have graduated. The more you can talk with, the better, as it helps to gain a variety of perspectives. Here are three questions to begin with:
- What is the most delightful memory you have of homeschooling?
- What was the worst mistake you made when homeschooling?
- What do you wish you had known while you were homeschooling?
These three questions can be the start of a great conversation, and help guide you toward things that matter, rather than toward the latest curriculum fad. If you find an older woman who shares your values, the conversation could even become the start of a deeper mentoring relationship. I think you’ll find that answers to these questions will vary, but there will be common threads that will help you grow in discernment.
If you want to seek counsel from graduated homeschool moms, here are a few things to consider:
- Look for a mom who loved learning and enjoyed the homeschool journey, NOT someone who did not understand the value of education or regarded it as a tedious chore. Attitudes are contagious and can be discouraging.
- Learn from moms who won’t tell you to do what they did, but will help you figure out what is right for your family.
- Talk to women who homeschooled through hard times, and learn from their stories.
- Learn from mommas whose children seem comfortable and happy in her presence.
- Spend time with women who encourage and uplift you, rather than those who leave you feeling discouraged or discontented.
- Talk with moms whose homeschool graduates have something you’d like to see in your own.
- Seek out spiritually beautiful older women who model the character traits you would like have at their age.
Wise counsel from older women and trusted friends can help you navigate the homeschool journey with joy. If you don’t know others who homeschool locally, you may find wise counsel through the pages of well-chosen books, online support groups, or through other means, so no matter where you are, reach out and ask the things you’d like to know. It could be the beginning of a blessing.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise . . .
In last night’s webinar with Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, we talked about teaching the great books in the context of the history, literature, art, and music that can illuminate them more fully. In case you missed the webinar, I thought I’d share this article on the same topic.
“The sole substitute for an experience which we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature . . . Literature transmits incontrovertible condensed experience . . . from generation to generation. In this way literature becomes the living memory of a nation.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn (from his Nobel lecture)
As Solzhenitsyn points out, literature enlarges our experiences. Pick up a good book, and you are immediately transported into another life. Reading the great books allows us to learn from the greatest minds of all time, and to gain perspective on the ideas that have shaped our culture. Literature is the foundation of a classical education. Why not make great books the foundation of your high school humanities study?
Reading and teaching literature in context is a bit like studying a map before you set out for a walk in a strange city. Context helps you find significant intersections, decipher archaic language, and find a path through old-fashioned rhetoric. Great literature is worth is all the time and attention it takes to understand and enjoy it, so you need to present it in a way that keeps your student from feeling as if he or she is wandering in the dark.
How should great literature be taught?
How should a student approach a complex work such as Shakespeare’s King Lear, or Homer’s Odyssey? What are the context keys that will unlock their understanding? As I have read, learned, and taught great literature, I’ve discovered some basic truths:
- First, most students will enjoy the great books, as long as they are presented in a way that makes them understandable.
- Second, the fastest way to put students to sleep is to do all the work for them, and tell them everything they need to know. They stand a better chance of staying awake and absorbing everything if they do guided research for themselves.
- Third, reading and thinking analytically about literature helps students become better thinkers and writers, which translates to success in other subjects.
- Finally, there’s nothing better than the moment when a student gets through a long and difficult work, and says, “That’s the best book I ever read!”
Present Great Books in Context
When you ask your son or daughter to study the great books, it’s important to present them with a road map and the tools for enjoyment. This includes an annotated version of the book, plus audio, and possibly even video versions of the text. You’ll need to point your student to study resources that will provide the basics of the literary, artistic, and historical contexts of the book, including poetry, music, and other relevant resources. You can find these things yourself, but if you use Excellence in Literature, context resource links are all included, along with a four-week lesson plan for each book, a Formats and Models chapter that contains instructions and a student-written model for each type of paper, a rubric for evaluating writing, and more.
Most literature studies should begin with a brief overview of the book’s table of contents, as well as a bit of background information on the author’s life. This will provide enough context to begin reading the work and/or context works. If your student is an auditory or kinestheticlearner, it’s perfectly acceptable to listen to an unabridged audio version of the book for the first read-through. By absorbing both the great book and information about the art, music, literature that surround it, students are ready to exercise analytical thinking as they compose essays in response to carefully crafted writing prompts.
Guided Study Ensures Active Learning
This “literature in context” method has the virtue of providing for self-directed learning. Once students understand what it takes to enjoy the great books, and once they have mastered the process, they have the keys that will help them unlock any difficult subject in college. Guided research helps students learn deeply and independently, and encourages use of critical thinking as they evaluate not only elements of the literary work, but also the worldview of the author, and the validity of various resources. Students don’t have time to get bored, because they aren’t passively listening to long lectures–they are actively engaged in learning!
Literature Study Helps Students Become Better Thinkers and Writers
Literature not only presents deep ideas and encourages critical thinking; it also models excellent writing in many different styles. A student who studies full-length great literature in context has an almost insurmountable advantage in test-taking and vocabulary over a student who doesn’t study the great books.
In order to encourage the development of analytical thinking, it’s important to provide writing prompts that engage the student at a “why” level. This is not the time for trivia questions, such as “What color was the dress Cosette wore when Marius first saw her?” (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo) This type of question belongs in Trivial Pursuit,® not in a high-school curriculum! Asking questions that relate to the overall theme of the book, motivations of the characters, the author’s intent, or the reliability of the narrator will always elicit more thoughtful essays than will trivia questions. The right question prompts higher level critical thinking, which is a skill that will help the student in college and the future.
The Delight of Shared Literary Experience
Beyond the academic benefits of studying literature, there is one more very fundamental reason to read the great books. Solzhenitsyn had it right when he spoke of literature as “living memory.” When your student reads and writes about one of the classic literary works of Western civilization, he or she becomes part of a great conversation about ideas that has been carried on, generation after generation.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live– a ranch in Montana, an apartment in Los Angeles, a cabin in Tennessee, or even a houseboat on the Yangtze River– your family can live with and learn from the greatest literature of the ages. And as you experience great literature in context, I’m sure you’ll never get tired of hearing, “That’s the best book I ever read!”
We’ve added a new free resource to the Excellence in Literature website! It’s a Chart of Literary Periods that I think you’ll find useful. I will be the first to admit it is not yet exhaustive–I am likely to add more at some point, but I think it will be helpful as it is now. I hope you enjoy it!
Article by Janice Campbell and (c) 2013 by Everyday Education, LLC. See “Newsletter Editors” tab for reprint information.