Last fall, Jude did his first literature study with Progeny Press, and it was a perfect introduction to working with the text and themes of a story. Since then, we've tried several programs from other companies and had mixed results with them. Often I found them to expect more than I felt was developmentally appropriate for the suggested age. I was happy to return to Progeny Press' literature studies and use The Drinking Gourd e-guide, and when I shared with Jude that this was the same kind of questions that he did last fall with Sam the Minuteman, he was willing to give it a try. (Note: There are several retellings of the story of the Drinking Gourd currently in print. This guide is meant to be used with the "I Can Read" series Level 3 version, The Drinking Gourd: A Story of the Underground Railroad written by F.N. Monjo and illustrated by Fred Bronner.)
The download is a PDF file that can be set up so the answers could be typed directly to the file. I've used this option in the past for Progeny Press guides for Luke and Matthew but decided that it would be better to print the guide out for Jude and let him hand write his answers into the book. The entire guide is 35 pages, including the two pages of supplemental ideas and two-page answer key. It's a bit thick for just a staple to hold it together, so I used a comb binder to keep it all together. (A heavy-duty binder clip would work just as well.) The answers can easily be separated from the main booklet if you felt having the answers at the back of the book was too tempting for your student.
In addition to having an easy-to-use program, I love that Progeny Press does not assign specific grade levels to their study guides. When you go to their website to look at them, the guides are divided by age into Lower and Upper Elementary, Middle School, and High School, but unlabeled. The copyright allows a parent to reprint the guide for multiple students in the same household, and I'll likely reuse this with Damien. However, because the guide does not explicitly say "For first graders" or "For third graders," it can be used for multiple students when each is ready for it, without risking any bruised (or oversized) egos.
The guide isn't just a "read the book, answer the questions." It begins with background information: a synopsis of the story, a brief history of slavery in America and the Underground Railroad, and a biography of author F. N. Monjo. There are also several before-you-read activities that are used to set up and understanding of the era so that the student can identify with the story.
I allowed Jude to do these questions "open book" style because sometimes he didn't quite pay attention to the details requested. In the first section, it asks how many brothers and sisters were in protagonist Tommy's family. Jude's first response was "A bunch!" but he went back to the text, found the children's names, and counted them up. I notice that some of that attention to detail has carried over in our current book, Little House in the Big Woods. He caught on right away that there were three girls in Laura's family. Since for now I want him to be able to enjoy the stories without stressing over remembering every detail (for example, the date on the Wanted poster), we'll continue with him reading for overall comprehension and then going back for exact detail when asked.
The Drinking Gourd is a book that brings up the idea of "When is being disobedient the right thing to do?" Second- and third-graders are beginning to mature and realize that the world is not necessarily filled with absolutes. One of the discussion questions involves reading the story of the Magi from Matthew 2, and if the Wise Men were right or wrong. When asked, "Should they have led Herod to Jesus to kill him?" Jude was horrified and said no. He was confused when I pointed out they, like Tommy and his father, were disobedient to the rules -- because the rules were putting someone in danger. After talking about how we have to also consider if something is "fair," he understood that if something isn't "fair," we have to try to change it. This is a good study for beginning to learn how to discern if something is morally right or legally right.
The more Progeny Press literature guides I use, the more I like them. I think the elementary titles chosen for study are age and developmentally appropriate, and the guides help students expand their vocabulary, sharpen their comprehension skills, and begin to find their moral compass. So far, Jude has enjoyed both of the Progeny Press studies he has worked on, because while they have challenged him, they have not overwhelmed him. I am sure there will be more Progeny Press guides in our future!
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