Friday, August 9, 2019

Memoria Press Literature (A Homeschool Review Crew Review)

Memoria Press has become a go-to company for our family.  Several years ago, I found that our family did well with their classical education model, and we have consistently returned to Memoria Press' curricula, especially for literature. After trying several literature programs, I have determined that Memoria Press programs are the most consistent performers for us; returning to a Memoria Press study feels like a homecoming.  Our family had the opportunity to work with the Seventh Grade Literature Set.  While this is available as part of Memoria Press' seventh-grade program package, the guides are available as a set and rated for students in grades six through eight.  The collection includes student and teacher guides for
The 4-volume set we received contained a Student Guide and a Teacher Guide for each book. (While the literature books are available with the individual sets, the four-title set does not include the novels.) We used this program in a unique way, assigning two books to students now (rising 7th grader Jude and rising 10th grader Celia) and saving the other two for later.

The Trojan War

Allow me a moment for a bit of background information, please. As some readers may recall, when Jude worked on the Second Grade Memoria Press literature program, he really struggled. Although the program was marketed for second graders, his skills at the time were not quite on par with Memoria Press' expectations.  I have long felt that the program's expectations are higher than average. Combined with Jude's early struggles with reading, I have intentionally used levels that are below his chronological grade level. In fact, for his sixth-grade year, we began with literature guide for A Cricket in Times Square, part of Memoria Press' fourth-grade program. To my surprise, he easily completed this study, as well as the one for Homer Price, so we skipped ahead to fifth grade's The Chronicles of Narnia. I felt that if he could manage this book, we'd move on to sixth grade; if not, we'd complete the rest of the "fifth-grade" literature. Jude proved to me that he really was beginning to mature in his thinking process, so this summer, we moved up to sixth-grade literature. There was an added benefit: while these books were still a year behind Jude's chronological grade level, they were high-interest for him. I felt this interest would be the ridge between "want to read" and "hard to read."

When offered the opportunity to try the 7th-grade package, I was a little hesitant to try anything intended for an even higher level student. However, hope springs eternal and I figured maybe the challenge would be good for him.  If worse came to worst, we could set it aside after the review period and try again later.  When the books arrived, I gave him the choice of reading any of the three options besides Anne... because I knew that set was going to Celia. As he is an avid reader of all things Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, I was not surprised when he opted for The Trojan War

I think this was a wise decision. Jude usually does better with literature studies when the story is familiar to him. If he already has a grasp of the plotline, he can follow details better, because he's not trying to figure out too many things simultaneously.  And again, high interest became the bridge between desire and ability.
While each chapter follows the elementary school-level framework that his previous literature studies have been patterned in, The Trojan War has a lot of information to absorb.  Jude is simultaneously reading Adam of the Road and completing the 6th-grade workbook, and generally manages a chapter every other day. However, we are finding it is taking us a full week to do each chapter for The Trojan War.

However, I don't think the reason is the material is too hard. I think most of it is a battle of wills. In the past, I've never fussed if Jude's answers weren't precise when compared to the Teacher's guides. As long as I could tell that he had the main idea, I let half-sentences slide. I think part of what is slowing us down is, since he's now officially in "middle school," I am no longer letting three-word ideas pass for answers. Much to his chagrin, I'm marking his book where he only has half-answers, or poorly written thoughts, and making him go back and rework them. This then adds another day to the lesson.  He also wasn't particularly happy when I told him I expected (gasp!) actual paragraphs for answers to the Enrichment questions instead of a few sentence fragments. 

Clearly, his brain is capable, even if his willpower isn't quite as strong.

 If you are familiar with the Memoria Press Classical Studies program, then you know that students begin by studying Greek Myths in the first year of the program, and then continue on to learn about Ancient Rome and Greece. While The Trojan War is included in the literature program, it is also part of the Classics Year 4 Program.  While you might be tempted to skip it, especially if you intend to continue through and have your child study The Iliad and The Odyssey in Year 5, this retelling by Olivia Coolidge is an excellent introduction to the epic.  It provides enough details to draw the reader in, but not so much that he gets lost in the minutiae of them. I think Jude will be well prepared for studying these two epics in depth next year.

At our current rate of a chapter a week, it will take Jude a full semester to complete this guide. I'm comfortable with this pace for two reasons. First, this work sets the foundation for something he will study again, so I'd rather him understand what is going on well so that when he studies The Iliad, he will again be "adding on" rather than "starting new." Secondly, I want him to begin to have better study habits. Jude only likes change when it is his idea, so I have a feeling it is going to take some time before he realizes that he wants to make the changes.

My only complaint about the set is that the tests and quizzes are only in the Teacher's Guide. I know that some parents do not administer tests, but I find them helpful to assess what Jude is retaining as he transitions to working independently. However, doing so is not a smoothly integrated process.
First, the parent/teacher needs to plan out where the tests need to be taken; it's easy for a student to "forget" that there is one coming at the end of each part of the book.  (We found writing reminders at the bottom of the last page before a test to be helpful.  Not only did it remind Jude to ask for the test, but it also helped me factor in study/review days when writing his daily assignment sheets.)  Secondly, the copyright notes in the guide state that no part may be reproduced.  This means that I either break the rules (and with a very literal rule follower child, that's not a good plan!) so he has his own copy, or Jude is writing in a book that I would otherwise have no need to replace (plus, he has temptation in the form of the Answer Key at his fingertips!). We've compromised by him answering the questions in his literature notebook, with the Answer Key paperclipped closed.

I wish the Student Guide had the Student's tests, either interspersed or in an Appendix at the back of the workbook, or that there was a separate (reproducible or consumable) Test Booklet, and that there was a reminder/test placeholder for to help the newly independent student not to race ahead.

Anne of Green Gables

Ah, Anne-with-an-E...I think Miss Shirley is one of my favorite literary ladies. I was probably in middle school when I found my first kindred spirit (Anne), my first Book Hero (Matthew Cuthbert), and my first Book Boyfriend (Gilbert Blythe).  Anne has been on Celia's reading list for quite some time, so this was a perfect opportunity for her.  While Celia was finishing 9th grade during the review, so technically "older" than the program's intended age, she has had a literature-heavy year. I decided to substitute Anne for Henry V for the last of her 9th-grade reading.  Do I think this made it too "easy" for her? Not at all.

L. M. Montgomery may have only written books on paper, but her character's words bring them to life. I think anyone who has read any of the Anne books knows Anne's grandiose imagination supports her flair for the dramatic while providing a foil for the prosaic Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert.  In addition to Vocabulary, Comprehension, and Enrichment exercises,  each chapter explores Expressions for Discussion. These could easily be done as an oral discussion, but I asked Celia to write her interpretations of what the expressions meant.  

While some might think that the answers are obvious, making it "too easy" for a high schooler, I think L.M. Montgomery was brilliant. How many times has a parent/teacher tried to help their student learn to write "less bland, more exciting" essays? Writing exercises always talk about using more specific words, more detailed words, more descriptive other words, stop saying "very"! Perhaps Anne has a tendency to be a bit over-the-top, but she's a shining example of careful word choices. Which pulls your heartstrings more, "I'm used to being disappointed," or "My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes"?  I think Anne of Green Gables is a book that all students should read so that they can become better writers!  I love how Memoria Press chooses to really dig into the expressions in the book - rather than selecting a quote or two, there are as many as seven or eight to explore. The program does full justice to the book by really allowing Anne (and the Avonlea residents) to have their say.

Classics become classics because they are enduring, but it would be easy for a book published in 1908 and set in the late 1800s, to contain archaic vocabulary.  I can remember doing vocabulary studies myself and wondering, "When am I ever going to use these words?" However, Memoria Press has focused on words that remain pertinent today. 

Comprehension questions include both literal "what happened here" and critical("What did Anne mean...") queries.  In addition to studying the book itself, the program provides writing opportunities for literary interpretation, opinion/persuasive writing, and exploring Anne's interests (Shakespeare) and tribulations (geometry as compared to Waterloo).  

While Memoria Press offers the literature books for sale, the literature sets do not include them. While some of their studies do require specific editions of books, we found this was not the case with this program.  Last Christmas, Celia received a box set of the Anne series and used the edition that was included.  In this case, page numbers did not need to match, as the program is sectioned by book chapter.

Celia has been working at a rate of a chapter every other day.  On Day 1, she does vocabulary, reading, and the expressions for discussion; on Day 2, she finishes the comprehension questions and completes the enrichment. It could easily be done at a slower pace (one workbook section a day over the course of a week), but I'm hesitant to recommend doing a full chapter a day.  It is possible if your child is a fast reader, but it would take close to 90 minutes a day just for literature.  I have done this with Memoria Press literature when we are in a time crunch (trying to get to a logical stopping point before an extended vacation, or when Luke or Matthew was trying to finish a study guide in the countdown to graduation), but it's not necessarily sustainable long term.  At a rate of 5 chapters per week plus review sections and two exams (also only available in the Teacher's Guide), it will take about 8 weeks, or one academic quarter, to finish the book.  I think that's reasonable for a high school student. 

The Hobbit and The Bronze Bow

When my students were younger, I was more focused on the "grade level" of the program.  Now that we have entered into the middle and high school years, I've learned to focus less on the grade a program is assigned to and more on its content, because middle school books begin to be less about a numbered grade level and more about the individual's literacy level and abilities. Knowing that Jude likes to binge on book series, I will likely keep The Hobbit set aside for another year or two until he is ready for the entire The Lord of the Rings series. Like Anne, I think this is a book that transcends grade level.   I think 7th grade is about the youngest age that a student can truly wring all the finer points out of it, but there is no point where a student "ages out" for exploring the book.  The Bronze Bow is set in 1st Century Israel, so it could be studied as part of the "pre-set" 7th-grade program, or it could be moved to 9th grade and part of an Ancient/World History program. While the lower grade programs involve exposure to literary concepts, the study guides at this level of the program use that familiar framework to explore and apply those ideas to the corresponding novels. I think the studies at the middle school level have the flexibility to help prepare a middle schooler for high school expectations as well as provide a relaxed but not too simple study for secondary level students. Once again, Memoria Press has proven why it has become my favorite literature program.

Crew families with students from first through tenth grades have been reading with Memoria Press. Click the banner below to read their reviews of the books they've been studying!   You can also learn about other Memoria Press programs we have worked with by clicking the links to those reviews.

Memoria Press:

First to Tenth Grade Literature Guides {Memoria Press Reviews}

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