Friday, August 1, 2014

Hewitt Homeschooling: Lightning Literature & Composition (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Hewitt Homeschooling ReviewLearning about literature is a must for a well-rounded student.  But when you have a student that struggles with reading comprehension, how do you make it easy enough that he doesn't lose hope, yet still strong enough that he gets a good education?  Truthfully, I had no idea.  When the Crew opened applications for Hewitt Homeshooling's programs, Matthew was just about to finish 7th grade in private school and transition to homeschooling.  Having seen his grades (and lived through the comprehension question homework), I knew this was going to be a tough subject to teach.  For a student at his level, were given the opportunity to review the Lightning Literature & Composition program for either Grade 7 or Grade 8.  While Grade 8 would have been the appropriate chronological program, we opted instead for Grade 7 because of its foundational content.

When I first looked at the program, I liked how it alternated reading short works (Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling, selections from poetry by Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, and Edward Lear,  The Bride Comes to the Yellow Sky by Stephen Crane) with longer novels (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland) and non-fiction works such as The Story of My Life by Helen Keller and All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. Not only is it a great variety of genres, but the alternating long and short pieces keeps the reading from becoming a drudgery.  Yes, there is assigned reading daily, but the promise of "the next one will be short" is keeping Matthew from giving up on the 36-chapter Tom Sawyer.
The full-year Grade 7 program contains three soft-bound books, priced at $20 each:

Lightning Literature and Composition: Grade 7 Student's Guide

The Student Guide contains author biographies, vocabulary words and comprehension words listed by chapter,  sorted by chapter, lessons on the literature readings and composition, and writing exercise guides.

Lightning Literature and Composition: Grade 7 Student's Workbook (consumable)

This book contains practice exercises for the corresponding lessons in the Student Guide; for example, in the text the student will learn to identify parts of a plot and then apply this to a passage written in the workbook.  There are also some "fun" activities - such as crossword puzzles - to reinforce comprehension and/or vocabulary

Lightning Literature and Composition: Grade 7 Teacher's Guide

The Teacher Guide includes an answer key to both comprehension questions and workbook pages, discussion questions, answers to comprehension questions, answers to the workbook pages, extra teaching help for the lessons, help in choosing appropriate writing exercises, and discussion questions.  It also includes a two-semester teaching schedule.

I'm impressed at the vocabulary study.  Matthew has been averaging 5-6 words each day with vocabulary.  Inspired by Ben and Me's word study series, we've chosen to take a similar word study approach to lists.

Sometimes, Matthew has really struggled with words, especially writing sentences.  This has been a good exercise for him to work on not just definition of words, but using them in an appropriate manner - for example, using a noun as a noun and not trying to turn it into a verb.  (It's also been good handwriting practice.  Trust me -- for Matthew, this is pretty tidy.)

Though labeled for grade seven, this program is recommended for students in grades seven or eight.  Knowing this, I felt better about choosing a "lower level" program for Matthew.  We knew he'd be homeschooled for high school, but after his struggles the last two years, we felt that taking the 8th grade year at home would help us all be better prepared for the demands of a high school English program.  While he came from a school with a very strong literature and writing program, his grades showed he may have a poor grasp of the material.   Having used this now for some time, I think he absorbed the information in the past, but just was unable to show mastery.  Where I think this program really helps him is the pacing of lessons.

Rather than reading a piece of literature  by a certain date and then starting a discussion in class, this program purposely works at a steady pace -- about 40 pages per week -- and is meant to work with the discussion questions as you go along, rather than a giant exam at the end. It's much less overwhelming to read a chapter a day than it is to be looking at a 200-ish page novel!  This makes a huge difference; the slower pace allows him time to read rather than skim.   The Teacher Overview is deceptively slow -- 4 chapters a week -- but when you included the accompanying vocabulary and comprehension questions, it certainly provides a significant amount of work to accomplish each week.

There is a lot of writing involved, and in many styles. The guide book's end-of-unit writing exercises range from short-ish (five paragraph) essays to poems to character sketches.  Within the units, workbook assignments include instruction in deconstructing a paragraph into notes followed by a lesson in writing a cohesive essay from a list of notes (like the one pictured), writing to a specific audience, and creating poetry.  There is also a heavy dose of grammar and proofreading.  In addition to the main works studied, the workbook draws from other literary resources; for example, in the workbook pages accompanying Rikki Tikki Tavi, the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault is the practice story for identifying parts of a story's plot, while Thornton Wilder's Our Town is the inspirational work for creating an original dialogue in the unit for The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.  The program outline calls for this writing to be done between reading the literary works, but we've opted to adjust the recommended schedule and are working on some of the workbook writing while still reading.  Otherwise, I think it would be too large a bolus of writing.

Overall, I think this is a strong literature and writing course.  Some things for Matthew are easier than we anticipated - he does recall what some of the writing styles are (fictions vs. autobiography vs. poetry), and the vocabulary that goes with them.  Some things - like the vocabulary - are hard.  The vocabulary list is certainly exhaustive - even the short Rikki Tiki Tavi had 10 words on its vocabulary list, so I definitely feel he's going to have a drastically increased vocabulary when he's done.  There is plenty of opportunity to practice writing.  While he's had his moments where he's pushed back because he doesn't like writing, or needed help with cleaning up a draft, expectations and directions are clear enough that he can do an appropriate rough draft that simply needs help with polishing, rather than hand-holding the entire way.   I haven't decided if we will complete the entire program, swap for unit studies of same-genre books that are more interesting to him, or possibly consider the 8th grade study program, but I will certainly be using this program as a measuring stick. 

 In addition to the 7th Grade Lightning Literature & Composition program, the Crew reviewed seven other programs for students in grades K-12.  You can read about them by clicking the banner below.  To connect directly with Hewitt Homeschooling, find them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or the Hewitt Blog.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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