Friday, July 5, 2013

Institute for Excellence in Writing {Review}

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I was recently given the opportunity to review a product from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). I had learned of IEW back in Canada whenever Emma and I had the opportunity to hear a seminar given by Andrew Pudewa, the founder, director and principal speaker of IEW. 
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I received Teaching The Classics ($89.00), a four disk DVD set which contains a six session seminar by Adam and Missy Andrews, plus the accompanying workbook, for review. I was looking forward to learning from this product. It has been several years since I have had the opportunity to go to a homeschool conference or seminar. This was a great time for me to sit in the comfort of my own home, watching and listening to a seminar on teaching literary analysis. I have enjoyed it thoroughly. 

I am a huge fan of literature, which began at a young age with my own reading and has continued through introducing literature to my children, also at a young age. In fact, one of the big bonuses of beginning our homeschool journey was finding a curriculum that was based on classic children's literature. It has been the basis for almost everything we have done in our homeschool and has provided a solid foundation for me to continue delving in to literary analysis with our studies at a deeper level.

Mr. and Mrs. Andrews wrote this material out of a need for more in-depth information using the Socratic Method of teaching. The Socratic Method, in case you are not familiar with that term, is engaging the student by asking questions, as opposed to teaching via lecture or workbooks. The Socratic Method is more than just asking "did you enjoy that book?". It goes into detail in asking everything from "who is the protagonist in this story?" to "how does the personality of the character reflect the values of the society (or individual) that produced the story?", and from "who is the author?" to "did the author suffer any hardships in his life that might have made him think or feel a certain way about his subject?". I want to include the Socratic Method in my teaching because it develops thinkers, and I believe it is so important for my children to be able to analyse a book (or even a movie or a song or a theatre production) and think about what makes it "good" or "bad" or even "superb" or just "mediocre". 

I knew I would like Mr. Andrews as soon as he quoted C. S. Lewis from An Experiment in Criticism. (I found the full quote from Goodreads.):
Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented…. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.
He says we can start out as early as the elementary level and continue to build upon that foundation because children's literature books contain the same elements as adult level literature. Because I have started my children with that foundation, I am ready to take things to the next level, with the help of all I have learned through this seminar. I am thrilled to have this tool in my hands and have big plans for how to use it with my older students (more on that in a moment).

This seminar is for teachers and parents to learn the basics of teaching literary study tools to their own students and is over five hours in length. Here is the breakdown of the lessons:

INTRODUCTION - Why Literature?

Included in the lessons are examples of short stories and how to teach each one. The stories chosen for this seminar are: Paul Revere's Ride, The Tale of Peter RabbitRikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Martin the Cobbler and Casey at the Bat.

Here is an example of the notes I took on the story chart for Martin the Cobbler (a story by Leo Tolstoy, which I was unfamiliar with before now) . . .

The workbook contains plenty of helpful tools, including The Socratic List (21 questions and multiple sub-questions), a blank story chart to copy and use in your teaching, reading lists for three different age groups, and a list of literary terms and their definitions.

Mr. Andrews is obviously very passionate about this subject and has made me quite excited to implement these strategies in my own teaching. One of the ways I am planning to do so is to actually have my older two children go through this seminar with me in the new school year. Emma will be in grade 12 and Austin in grade 8. I will have them watch the DVD sessions with me and then I will use this lesson plan I found on the IEW website for a six week course. Following the six weeks, I will then have them continue using this method of study with another six weeks of literature I will choose between now and then. I am very excited for us to use the material in this way!

You can purchase Teaching the Classics here.
You can view a sample lesson here.

Fellow TOS Crew members reviewed Teaching the Classics and other IEW materials. Click the banner below to see their reviews.



  1. I LOVE the full C.S. Lewis quote!! I'm planning to do the same as you and work through the seminar with my high schooler this fall with the lesson plans I found on the IEW site, then apply the methods to her literature selections for the year. I'm also going to use this with my junior high and elementary students, although I'm not going to have them watch the seminar.

    1. Sounds like a great plan, Kara! :)