Teaching the Classics
A Socratic Method for Literary Education - that's the subtitle for this video seminar with accompanying workbook. So just what is the Socratic method? And how does it apply to the study of literature? And why should one employ it? And just who does the methoding? Or perhaps I should ask - who needs to be Socratized?
While perhaps just a tad clumsy, the above is actually an example of the Socratic method which hearkens back to Socrates and his method of instruction - beginning with questions rather than answers. Granted, the questions had more purpose and form than my example and so do the questions that the authors have compiled into their Socratic List (attached as an appendix to the 120-page syllabus notebook). But all this is getting the horse ahead of the cart.
This revised and expanded seminar, similar to those produced by the Institute for Excellence in Writing contains eight DVDs; eight, one-hour lecture sessions plus a syllabus notebook. Based on the concept of “leadership education” presented in A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van DeMille, this is a seminar for parents and teachers - but your children can certainly join you. Adam Andrews is a dynamic, excited teacher who transfers his excitement about literature to his audience. Andrews is quick to credit his wife, Missy, for the development of this model for exploring literature intelligently and of the extensive, annotated, age-appropriate reading lists supplied. Because short stories are a type of microcosm, containing all the elements (character, plot, theme) of larger pieces of literature, are readily available and easy to work from as well as being familiar to children, they become the vehicles of instruction. You’ll be prepared to equip your children with literary study tools and ready to enjoy any piece of quality literature benefiting from its study. I wasn’t very far into the first video before I realized that this was a seminar I wanted to watch in its entirety for my own understanding and appreciation of literature.
The lecture sessions - Preparing for Literary Analysis, Plot & Conflict, Setting, Character, Theme, Literary Devices, Context and Practicum - have been completely re-filmed with two hours of brand new content. As mentioned before, Mr. Andrews is engagingly enthusiastic if slightly less delightfully quirky than Andrew Pudewa (IEW seminars). At times the lectures follow the workbook text almost word for word which, of course, prompts the question of whether you actually need to make the expensive purchase of the videos. Although the author says emphatically that both are important, I think almost anyone would benefit from picking up and using the workbook by itself. Nevertheless, the lectures repeatedly show you how to apply the workbook-described elements to literature. It’s a classic case of the advantages of multi-sensory learning along with the value of application and examples.
Why the Socratic method? Because it involves the student in the learning process and thus avoids dependence on the lecture format. Although most homeschoolers rarely use a lecture format for teaching literature, we’re still vitally concerned with involving our students in discussion. This is often difficult with literature. But TSM, while giving a workable tool to facilitate this discussion, likewise becomes a means of character instruction and of worldview-imparting. The emphasis subtly shifts from literature to teaching the student how to think (as opposed to what to think) which is the essential element of education.
The Socratic List is a list of questions arranged in order of increasing complexity following the classical stages of understanding - grammar, logic, and rhetoric. This list of questions can be used with all types of literature but within the seminar is applied to children’s stories - The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Riki-Tikki-Tavi, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Martin the Cobbler. Following these examples, Mr. Andrews then applies the same instruction to ongoing analysis of four pieces of adult literature - The Iliad, MacBeth, Great Expectations, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The seminar concludes with a practicum using the poem "Casey at the Bat."
Containing lecture notes, short story texts, and extremely useful graphic organizers, the accompanying workbook is designed to be used as you follow the seminar. The Andrews also provide both a suggested curriculum for literature and daily lesson plans in the workbook. Although rather simplified models, these are quite thorough. Not surprisingly, routinely assigned writing lessons are coordinated with IEW. Helpfully, the authors give examples of grammar, logic, and rhetoric level exercises.
How would one compare the cost of this seminar with continuing to use the many, excellent literature study guides available? I suppose it’s the proverbial teaching to fish versus giving a fish. One comes away with the tools. However, it seems to me that there’s another very important element here - that of learning to use an exceptionally facile tool for critical and worldview thinking (the Socratic Method). For me, this seminar does for literature instruction what the IEW writing seminars accomplished for writing instruction - giving a now-I-get-it overview of a complete system of literature instruction as well as a means for teaching students to be profound thinkers. ~ Janice