As part of our homeschooling adventures, the children in my life and I worked on developing a college-style dialectic course for literary analysis for homeschool students at middle or high school level. We called this class “Reading Selections,” a rather mundane title, and I ran it with my daughter and my best friend’s children for three years; they were my guinea pigs. Now this fine-tuned class is offered for up to six students at a time from September through May.
If you’ve come here after attending a panel on this subject, and want reading recommendations, those are toward the end of this page under “Curriculum.” For more information about the classes, to sign up for a class, or to see past blog posts about exploration, visit: Willow & Birch Reading Selections page.
What We Do
Students are given a monthly reading packet containing short stories, essays, poetry, and transcribed speeches. They read the materials twice, taking notes, select one reading for the month, and create a project of their choosing inspired by the piece. At the next meeting, students present their projects, and then we discuss and break down each piece, answering questions about each and making connections to history, culture, mythology, and current events. At the end of the “school year,” I provide each parent a summary of the class and an analysis of their child’s or children’s growth and development in reading comprehension. Classes meet at a public location in Redmond, WA.
To improve reading (and speaking) confidence, open students to new perspectives, and to engage students in analysis that digs deeper and encourages asking questions and seeking answers. For students to learn to be accountable to themselves and their peers, rather than an authority figure, and develop their own creative solutions to complex challenges.
How It Works
The class is built around varied principles of teaching and learning.
- Small groups:
When I was young, I had some impression from a school I was accepted to that small classrooms (6-8 students) meant better learning opportunities. It wasn’t until I started researching teaching methods that the small group learning environment came up again and again as an ideal format, and primarily one where teaching was hands-off. Students in small groups where the instructor is more of a guide, have greater freedom and autonomy, they work more cooperatively, and create their education togther. Small groups also have the benefit of more individual teacher-to-student attention. One of the most impressive use of the small groups were projects created by Sugata Mitra, including Hole in the Wall and School in the Cloud.
- Socratic method:
I use targeted questions to guide discussions with students, only interjecting with my own statements where it would serve a purpose. The Socratic method is useful for encouraging students to consider questions they might not have asked themselves, and to analyze on the spot and often among one another.
- Self-directed Projects and Student-led Learning:
Projects are not the same as project-based learning (a worthy teaching tool for small groups), but the key to these projects are to leave the boundaries wide and possibilities fully available to students to kindle their creativity. While narrow structure has its place in exercising creativity, self-directed learning demands a student take individual responsibility for what they learn and in what direction they will take that new knowledge. The projects are entirely up to the student. These projects also play into student-led learning, as they must do the research and decide for themselves what’s important to them, but must do so with the curriculum offered.
Student Steps to Success
- Read the material once through, only marking when a word or phrase isn’t familiar, or writing a pressing question in the margin.
- Read the material a second time, making more detailed notes, summarizing the meaning of unrecognized words or phrases, and underlining key passages to discuss later (either sharing insights, or asking questions about confusing parts).
- Researching the author(s), the time period(s), or anything unfamiliar to the student, including definitions of words or phrases, objects mentioned in the readings, or cultural notes, wherever doing so will add clarity to understanding a piece.
- Selecting a piece to analyze deeply, breaking it down into smaller parts and extending notes to include further insights from the research, or answering earlier questions.
- Applying understanding of a literary piece by creating a project related to the selected reading. This is not meant to be a book report or summary, but a way of extending one artform into another realm of the student’s life, whether that’s through art, science, technology, or some other medium.
- Presenting ideas about a piece through the project and through group discussion, which is where the best magic happens, for students ask their questions and guide each other to understand their interpretations or debate on the reading’s meanings and its relation or application in life.
The readings are a jumble of classic and modern short stories, poetry, essays, and transcribed speeches. They’re arranged on a theme each month, but rather than share all three years worth of curriculum, I’ve included the selections that directly relate to the science-fiction, speculative fiction, and fantasy genres (sometimes this includes poetry and essays).