The Classical Historian Programs

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Its history and beyond! Starting where most courses leave off (with the data), Take a Stand! seeks to teach students how to start with one of the many debatable questions from history, gather information/data, analyze it, think about it critically, formulate an opinion, and be prepared and skilled at stating and defending it coherently. To accomplish those goals, the author has given both teachers and students an excellent step-by-step process taught through some very user-friendly manuals. This is one of those series that makes me want the opportunity for a homeschool "do-over."

Designed as a teacher/student interactive course with a classical bent, the straight-forward nature of the skills progressions, the step-by-step process that the student is led through, the grading/evaluating helps that are provided for the teacher, and the thought-provoking nature of the essay questions create a learning atmosphere that will encourage and empower the student. Theres nothing like being challenged a little at a time, learning to accomplish each step in an intricate process of analysis that allows a student to both explore their own perspectives and to experiment with effective communication. As the author says, "creating a perspective with independent critical thinking is a lifelong skill." And, somewhere along the way, history becomes relevant.

The courses are organized around weekly lessons. These amount to about an hour of class instruction/interactive time (a weekly meeting) followed by the students independent research and writing. The author assumes the parent/teacher is unskilled in the Socratic method, and the first lessons in each course provide an effective presentation (or review), leading both teacher and student through the "Essential Tools of the Historian" - distinguishing fact from opinion, forming good judgment, supporting evidence, primary or secondary source analysis, using quotes, and paraphrasing. Teacher prep needed for the Socratic dialogue is minimal as the author provides specific, period-related, open-ended questions. Likewise, detailed lesson plans include systematic writing instruction.

Course components include a 32-week curriculum guide (for the teacher), student manual, and teachers edition. A required resource for each course is the Teaching Socratic Discussion DVD set and manual (a one time purchase). Individual courses also require specific textual resources including original source documents which are available at the publishers website (classicalhistorian.com).

The Take a Stand! scope and sequence is a six-year progression with each course providing a years work. Ideally, a student would start with Ancient Civilizations in 6th or 7th grade and move sequentially through the series, but I like the potential for family flexibility. You could cover the same course with 2-3 multi-age students, participating in the same discussions but receiving different essay requirements. [The author suggests building to three paragraph essays for 6th graders, five paragraph essays for 7th graders, and three to five page essays for high school students. The key word here is "build," and each step along the way becomes a useful assignment in its own right.] However, the flexibility extends beyond the obvious. You could also use the student manuals and teacher editions as a rhetoric (speaking and writing) supplement to either middle school or high school history courses using your favorite history text as your "spine." Finally, the courses could be used singly as a time period study with an emphasis on writing. For the record, a well-motivated student could glean much from working through the student book on his own (you would still want the teachers edition) and using the curriculum guide and DVD series; however, learning will be greatly enhanced by even minimal teacher input.

This seems a good time to mention the Classical Historian Games. There are Go Fish and Memory games for ancient, medieval and American history. Their use is suggested in the curriculum guides as enrichment, but they are also the focus for grammar (in the classical sense, i.e. grades 1-5) students. They provide key information on historical people and events and the game format encourages optimal memory retention.

The Curriculum Guide provides the 32 weekly lessons. As mentioned earlier, the beginning lessons of each course incorporate material from the Socratic Discussion in History DVDs. This serves either as initial instruction or as review of the methodology. These lessons, interwoven with historical content and writing lessons, follow a pattern: review and essay reading, Socratic discussion, writing instruction and assignments. Readings from required resources are assigned with occasional additional source material provided in the guide. An answer key for the student book assignments is included. [This a duplicate of the answer key provided in the teachers edition, but I think most will want both publications as the TE also includes detailed helps for grading the essays which is not a part of the guide.]

The Student Book provides a fill-in-the-blank guide through the social studies literacy analysis skill-building of these courses. The essay questions each provide a small amount of background information, suggestions for terms the student will need to research and know, pre-writing activities that include taking notes, analysis of a particular aspect of the question and suggestions/questions for class discussion and reflection afterwards. The lessons in the social studies literacy section include lessons on determining fact or opinion, assessing good or poor judgments, looking at supporting evidence, analyzing primary and secondary sources, using quotes, paraphrasing, constructing a thesis statement and conclusion, and constructing outlines and rough drafts for one, three, and five paragraph essays as well as topic and closer sentences. Lastly, there is coverage of revising, documenting sources in the text and works cited as well as typing guidelines and cover pages. A follow-up section covers skills needed specifically for multi-page essays such as thesis statements, counterarguments, analyzing primary sources, cause/effect, compare/contrast, and preparing outlines and rough drafts. Graphic organizers and a question format are used throughout. Grading rubrics are provided for one- and five-paragraph essays as well as for multi-page research essays.

The Teachers Edition is a short booklet containing a teachers introduction, notes on using the program, information on grading essays, student sample essays and an answer key. The real value in this manual is the teachers introductory information. Theres so much here! Starting with a brief introduction to the nature of the Take a Stand! courses, the how to use portion takes the teacher/writing mentor step-by-step through the process. Included is how to schedule the lessons and an explanation of each step in the process, plus a wonderful section on grading the essays along with suggestions for making this easy on yourself. (Hint: you dont have to grade the whole essay with every assignment; sometimes you can grade just the thesis statement or the evidence used or the conclusion.) The author provides an explained grading rubric (i.e. what does a score of 4 mean) as well as the different categories that should be graded (i.e. thesis, evidence used, evidence explained, conclusion, and pre-writing activities). Since it helps to have examples when youre just learning how to grade certain types of essays/papers, the author kindly provides multiple samples along with grading notes for each. He also provides examples of one-, three-, and five-paragraph essays. A nice plus is that although the general information in each of the TEs is similar, the author has fully adapted each to the specific course, including the sample essays. Answers to the questions in the student book make up the remainder of the booklet.

The Socratic Discussion in History is a two-DVD set (also includes a third bonus DVD featuring an extended introduction) plus a "training manual" that provides teachers and students with a step-by-step explanation of how to teach the Socratic discussion in history as well as examples of specific Socratic discussions. Lessons from these DVDs are incorporated into every Take a Stand! course and provide the teacher and student with important historical thinking, discussion, and writing tools.

The goal of the courses is to provide students with the skills and tools they need to think critically about history, to analyze historical documents, to formulate opinions and, most importantly, to be prepared to support and defend those opinions. Both the student and the parent/teacher/writing mentor are given the tools needed for this strategic development. Im sure we will get questions as to whether or not this series has "sectarian content." No, it doesnt, but neither is it heavily biased in other directions. The emphasis of these materials is to equip students to think critically and to analyze and evaluate historical data and primary source documents. Accordingly, the impact of various religions on historical events and personalities is considered. Curriculum guides tend to be around 50 pgs and spiral-bound. Student books tend to be around 90 pgs, pb. Teachers editions tend to be 30 pgs, stapled. The Socratic Discussion manual is 77 pgs, spiral-bound. ~ Janice

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