Writing & Rhetoric

What! Another writing program? It's easy to imagine such a question popping up since we do have a number of excellent writing programs already available. This one is a worthy addition. First of all, it follows the classical model for teaching writing (and rhetoric) skills. What exactly does this mean? It means a program that is, in essence, a step-by-step apprenticeship in the art of writing and rhetoric. It's a program that believes that imitation is the foundation for learning writing and at the same time provides an easy to use framework for starting with models of good writing, building a "conversation in the head" (in other words, content through discussion and writing exercises), and for following the persuasive writing system developed by the ancient Romans. This system - the progymnasmata (progym, for short) - takes the student from simple retelling skills through the more and more complex skills of reporting, narrating, praising, comparison, persuasion, and defense. Modern writing borrows heavily from these skills, but the underlying methodology is distinctly different. Modern writing courses emphasize mastering the writing process and gaining experience with the different forms of writing. Accordingly, they often start with a blank sheet of paper and a brainstorming session. The progym, on the other hand, starts with well-known and excellent writing models (also known as classic literature).

Secondly, this program is user-friendly with virtually no teacher prep needed and the possibility of a minimum of teacher-student interaction (although interaction is always a plus). The publisher is the same one who has given us Latin for Children and Latin Alive! They know how to do user-friendly (and appealing). Even if you had no inkling of the meaning of a classical writing program, this would be an excellent choice. The student books provide instruction and examples and plenty of space to write. The teacher's books have identical pages to the student books but add grey boxes which provide additional info, writing samples, answers and talking points. The two books are designed to be used together, and I think it would be unwise and difficult to try to use one without the other.

The lessons follow a pattern. Day One requires the teacher to read through the text followed by a subsequent reading by the student. Narration (Tell It Back), discussion (Talk About It), and comprehension (Go Deeper) are all part of this first day. Day Two holds the writing exercises. To give you an example of these, from one lesson in Book 2, copywork, dictation, sentence play, copiousness (using synonyms), and amplification (rewriting). Day Three or Four provides a time for reading/presenting the lesson's written work and separate Speak It exercises. It's suggested that this writing series would alternate with a grammar program (although no recommendations are made).

Each book is a semester's worth of writing instruction, with a total of twelve books planned. In a perfect world, a student would start in 3rd grade and complete the series in 8th grade. If your world isn't quite perfect, this series could be started anytime up to 5th or even 6th grade (in my opinion). Students beginning this program should know how to identify and create a complete sentence. We'll have to wait until upper level books are available to determine how easy it would be to start the program in the middle. You may wonder how this series interfaces with Common Core. The publishers note that their program "covers a host of these standards." But they further note that "while these goals are worthwhile, the progym derive their strength from the incremental and thorough development of each form of writing. The Writing & Rhetoric series does not skip from form to form and leave the others behind, but rather builds a solid foundation of mastery byblending the forms."

Optional audio CDs are also available for each volume, which feature Dr. Christopher Perrin and his wife, Christine Perrin, reading the fables, myths, historical narratives and other source material used in the books aloud, to either add an auditory dynamic to your lesson or help auditory learners enhance their understanding of the material. ~ Janice




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