Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Reader's Odyssey


Goodreads is the host site for a giveaway for a book by a friend of mine.  It is called The Reader's Odyssey and if you go to Goodreads you can download an excerpt (and enter for the giveaway -- it closes on May 22!).   Excerpting from the book description at Amazon: 

The Reader's Odyssey is a four-year literature program for homeschoolers that combines structure and flexibility to instill in students a propensity to engage in good and great books..... The individualized aspect of the program allows fluent and reluctant readers alike to accumulate meaningful experiences with literature, to appreciate ideas that are beautiful and true, and to grow more sophisticated and wiser in understanding through reading.....

 The first half of the book explains the philosophy behind this program and differentiates it from typical approaches to teaching literature. ...  The second half of the book provides practical tools for teachers and students,...

 I'll just add a few of my own thoughts:

Though it is called a "four year" literature program it could easily be used starting in middle school through highschool.  Basically it's a method supported by booklists and other resources.   It doesn't lay out the specifics of what to do each year; rather it gives you insights into what type of reading you might expect from different students at different levels.

The principles behind the method are significantly influenced by Maria Montessori, particularly the ideas of much freedom within structure and respecting the individuality of the student within a framework of high expectations.   The goal for education is a propensity and ability to keep learning through life, Dena points out.  Particularly this goal is important with literature, since reading literature with enjoyment and understanding is such an important part of what it means to be an educated human being. 

The worksheets in the second half of the book are a notable example of Montessori's influence-- they aren't at all like the "busywork" worksheets that my highschooler used to bring home from his language arts class.  They are in my opinion very well designed to get the student thinking about literary analysis in an age-appropriate, thoughtful way.    They are general, not tied to a particular book, so they serve as a sort of framework for beginning to think about literature.  They are not bogged down with the over-emphasis on analysis which is more suitable to literature post-grads but often trickles down into the highschool curriculum and turns many students off excellent literature for good.

Since the worksheets don't require much writing, since they are not the focus of the writing component of the course, they seem like they would be valuable to all kinds of students from the reluctant-writer middle school boy, say, to the gifted high school senior who dislikes twaddle.

The writing component to the course is also tailored to the student and Dena gives several examples of what kinds of papers might be suitable to different ages and ability levels.  

Finally, the booklists.  They are very nice and different from what you usually see on homeschool lists.   They include quite a few modern and "genre" books along with the familiar classics.   Dena shares the homeschool conviction that many of the current public school literature reading lists are unsuitable for developing minds and hearts because of raw, overly mature themes.    She thinks the literature program should inspire and form the young person, not shock or turn them off literature for life.  So the modern book choices are filtered through that perspective and so the lists are a helpful resource for the parent who is looking for good books for her young teenager beyond what is in public domain : ).

Dena is a really interesting person who founded a mission in Mexico to serve families with a Down Syndrome member.   A former pastor herself, she married a pastor and became the mother of three children.  Her oldest daughter (who is mentioned in the book as the inspiration for developing the literature program) is now a student at St John's College (one of the first Great Books colleges, from where the Thomas Aquinas College founders drew their inspiration) and her youngest has a combined diagnosis of autism and Down syndrome.   In addition to being pastor's wife and homeschool mother, she also tutors at the local college and yes, writes books.   I know her because she was a dear friend of both my parents.

I am planning to use the program this year with my junior.   My homeschool has naturally evolved into a reading program much like Dena describes, with a combination of structure and freedom, but I think the guided, developmentally appropriate but well thought out guidance tools will be helpful in supporting what we are already doing.

The program is flexible enough that it could be used alongside an existing literature curriculum, but it is meant to be able to stand on its own, and does a good job of making that possible and potentially delightful and rewarding for both student and parent. 

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