Standards-Based Literature Guides

As a long-time homeschooler when I hear that something is "standards-based" I usually proceed cautiously. These guides are proof that "standards-based" can be a good thing. They are very meaty, user-friendly guides for those wanting an in-depth study of quality literature. Reproducible, these guides provide biographical and background info, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing activities as well as quizzes and tests; all with answers included. All of these you would expect and hope to find in a literature study guide. Now for the "meaty" part. For instance, the pre-reading assessment for The Crucible includes questions about the Salem witch trials, witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries, puritan religion and beliefs as well as the Joseph McCarthy hearing of the 1950's (the context of the writing of the play), communism, the House un-American activities committee, and the red scare and blacklists. Background information on these subjects provide the material for "exploring expository writing" exercises such as note-taking and summarizing. After these introductory and orientation activities, reading assignments with corresponding vocabulary, comprehension, and literary analysis exercises are provided with frequent use of graphic organizers to help the student sort through and organize the information. Since The Crucible is a play, literary analysis in this guide focuses on dramatic elements such as "tragedy and the tragic hero" in addition to more typical literary elements such as irony. Vocabulary exercises are impressive. For instance, one section in this guide highlights the subtle differences between "denotation" (dictionary definition of a word) and "connotation (feeling behind the word); another looks at word parts. For each reading assignment segment (in this case, each act of the play) there is a comprehension check, a quiz, and a vocabulary quiz. There are two forms of the final test - one that is solely multiple choice and one that includes matching, multiple choice, true-false, and short essay responses.

In addition to the above, there is a "teacher guide" portion which includes a summary of the play, a vocabulary list with definitions, pre- and post-reading extension activities and alternative assessment as well as essay writing ideas. For help in grading there are two rubrics - one for projects and one for written responses to literature. The Guides are designed to be used in their sequential entirety but they may be divided into separate parts. Not all activities need to be used although they have been provided with the goal of full comprehension and mastery of the skills involved.

All in all, these guides are very easy to use and quite flexible (we have also been pleased to discover that several of them have been written by an actual homeschool mom!). Teacher prep has been done - except for copying the student sheets. Could you just hand your student these copied sheets and have them complete the work as an independent study? Probably. However, the richness of the material will be strengthened by one-on-one discussion and instruction or by co-op class interaction. Throughout the guides there is an emphasis on finding and developing common moral themes like "honesty is the best policy" but if you've guessed these are from a secular publisher, you would be correct. - Janice




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