Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Hewitt Homeschooling

Don’t you just love Twain’s wit? This quote appears on the cover of the language arts curriculum we received from Hewitt Homeschooling. In fact, it’s probably safe to say it’s the inspiration for the title.  It addresses both literature analysis and writing skills.  The subtitle reads: Preparing for High School Composition Skills by Responding to Great Literature.  We received three soft-cover books:
In addition to these books, you’ll need unabridged copies of several books:
  • Stories & Poems for  Extremely Intelligent Children by Harold Bloom
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
For this review, I actually used my own copy of The Jungle Book for reading Chapter One’s subject: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi rather than the version in Stories & Poems for  Extremely Intelligent Children. If I were doing the full year’s study, we would need Harold Bloom’s book for all the poems used in other lessons.  The required books and the curriculum are available as a pack for $92.63.

The Student Guide ($20.00, 145 pp.) contains eight chapters written directly to the student.  The format includes an Introduction to the poem, book, or story to be studied; questions to ponder While You Read, a Vocabulary List of words broken down by chapter where applicable, Comprehension Questions, a main Literary Lesson, a Mini-Lesson on a second topic, and choice of Writing Exercises to be completed after reading and completing the exercises in the workbook. The student will read the Introduction before the reading assignment and can refer to the Vocabulary List during the reading. The parent determines when and how often to answer the Comprehension Questions (weekly, as you finish each chapter, etc.).  Everything else is saved for after the reading is finished. You can find a Sample Chapter online.

The Workbook ($20.00, 162 pp.) is arranged in chapters that correspond to the Student Guide.  You may find a crossword puzzle that works as a reading comprehension exercise (the clues ask you to remember names and events from the reading).  We also encountered a word search puzzle that used names and terms from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, but was really just “busy work” to my mind.  Other activities dealt with grammar and writing and could be tied to the reading, the Literary Lesson or the Mini-Lesson.  Some assignments involved circling the correct multiple choice answer, others had him write paragraphs in his own words either from a sample paragraph or simulated “note cards,” still other times he acted as an editor—correcting missing capital letters and adding apostrophes. You can find a Sample Chapter online.

The Teacher’s Guide ($20.00, 105 pp.) begins with a How to Use the Book section before starting chapters that align with the Student Guide and Workbook.  Here you’ll find a planning schedule for two 18 week semesters. The eight chapters vary greatly in the length of time assigned to each.  The poetry chapters and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi take only two weeks each while All Creatures Great and Small and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer take nine weeks each. The chapters provide answers to the Comprehension Questions and answer keys for the workbook exercises.  In some cases, where the student is writing his own work, the guide provides some guidance for helping a struggling student. Each chapter includes Discussion Questions that deal with opinions and comparing personal experiences to the story rather than just Comprehension Questions.  There’s also a guide for parents to decide which Writing Exercise to assign.  You can find a Sample Chapter online.

The books clearly say “Seventh Grade” on the cover, but my son is an excellent reader who would be entering sixth grade if he attended public school.  He hasn’t had any problems keeping up with the work. We did not follow the recommended schedule during our review.  First of all, we’d spend several weeks (seven) just reading Tom Sawyer and never touching the Student Guide or Workbook, which wouldn’t make much of a review.  Second, my son’s least favorite activity is writing and to heap all the workbook exercises and Writing Exercises upon him in one week (after the reading) would be a recipe for disaster: whining, complaining and hair-pulling. 

After a week’s worth of reading in Tom Sawyer, I assigned a day to read the Main Lesson instead.  He was already familiar with the story so I wasn’t concerned he’d run across any “spoilers” as he read the analysis of plots and sub-plots.  There really aren’t any activities in the Workbook that required his finishing the novel first.  For the remainder of the review we read four days per week and did workbook activities on the fifth.  He prefers typing to handwriting so I allow him to use the computer for the longer writing assignments (makes it easier to correct & edit too).

This fall I’ll be teaching literature analysis for the upper grades in our homeschool co-op.  We won’t be reading the same books, but I’ve gleaned plenty of useful material from the Main Lessons and Mini-Lessons to share with the kids.  All in all, I’m fairly impressed with the Lightning Literature and Composition approach.

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