Tuesday, June 27, 2017

{Review} Shakespeare Tragedies - Lightning Literature & Composition

Some of my fondest memories of high school literature revolve around the various Shakespeare plays we studied each year. Yet, I worried about providing my high school daughter the same quality experience I had.

I've previously discussed our journey and struggle to find a high school literature program that suits Amber's desires and needs. Eventually, we happily landed with Hewitt Homeschooling and their high school level studies. The British 19th Century program seems to be a perfect fit for Amber, so I decided to give their Shakespeare Tragedies a try as well. Fortunately for me, we were offered a chance to review it right at the end of 9th grade.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature

Shakespeare Tragedies & Sonnets

For the purpose of the review, Hewitt Homeschooling sent us both the Lightning Literature & Composition Shakespeare Tragedies Student Guide and the Teacher's Guide. Although the sonnets studied are included in the student guide, your student will still need the following four plays in order to complete the course:

  • Julius Caesar
  • Hamlet
  • Macbeth
  • King Lear

Amber and I suggest purchasing the editions recommended by Hewitt Homeschooling. It will make the lessons much easier, although it certainly is possible to use other editions of the plays. We purchased all four plays through the Hewitt Homeschooling website as soon as we knew about the review. It eased my mind to know no matter when I assign a particular play, we will already have the proper edition.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature

Teacher's Guide:

This set of 54 pages comes three-hole punched and single stapled at the top. It's a no-fuss, store-it-your-way type of teacher's guide. Despite the appearance, everything you need to guide your student through Shakespeare's tragedies is included. The Teacher's Guide comes complete with:

  • Explanation of how the student guide is set-up. 
  • Grading tips for non-fiction, fiction, and poetry assignments.
  • Checklists for grading non-fiction, fiction, and poetry papers / writing assignments.
  • Grading templates.
  • Detailed schedules for completing the student guide in both a single semester or a full year. 
  • Answers to the student guide comprehensions questions for each play.
  • Writing exercise options for each lesson (play or sonnet).
  • Discussion questions for each play.
  • Project suggestions  - art or history based.
  • Memorization passages for each play.

I absolutely loved the layout of the teacher's guide. I did not need to sort through pages of extraneous information to find the information I wanted at any particular time. Instead it was all easily found and well organized.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature

Student Guide:

This is a textbook sized, soft-back book around 184 pages written directly to the student. The guide begins with an introduction that explains why we read and how to read literature. It then moves into instructions for paper writing.

Since this entire student guide is based on the works of one author, there is first a section solely on William Shakespeare. The student learns about the writer himself, the types of works he created, and the language he used.

The eight lessons are then broken down into four units of two lessons. Each unit starts with one of Shakespeare's plays as the initial lesson, which are patterned much the same way for all the plays:

  • A plot summary by act and scene to help with comprehension.
  • Comprehension questions to ensure your student is not struggling overly much with the language.
  • Literary Lessons on Theme, Character, and Language.
  • Writing exercise options (which are also in the teacher's guide).

The sonnet lessons then follow their own pattern:
  • The two sonnets to be read are printed in their entirety.
  • Literary lessons on Content and Language.
  • Contrasting the two sonnets.
  • Writing exercise options (again, in the teacher's guide too).

Each unit is concluded with a section called Perspectives, which does exactly what it sounds like. The literary works are put into perspective given the time of writing.

The student guide also has a set of appendices that include:
  • The same discussion questions found in the teacher's guide.
  • Project ideas, just as printed in the teacher's guide.
  • Memorization suggestions for each play.
  • Movie & Video recommendations of the plays.
  • Both the semester and full-year schedule 

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature

Our Experience:

Amber has been anxiously awaiting the time when she would finally be studying Shakespeare; she even attempted to read through a few plays on her own. I don't think I've seen a student more eager to study Julius Caesar than my daughter. Still, I worried because I'm a worrier. And because we've had such a struggle to find the right literature guide fit. I need not have been concerned.

We opted to go with the semester schedule, although the year-long schedule was tempting. In our other Hewitt Homeschooling studies we have basically gone at our own pace, which is anywhere between the semester and year-long schedule depending on the assignment. I'd like to say we stuck strictly to the semester schedule with the Shakespeare Tragedies, but we did not. Again, we wandered about in our timing.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature
She started the introduction the day it arrived!  Reading and question answering.

Amber easily completed reading of the Introduction and section on William Shakespeare in a single day. She moved right on to the Julius Caesar introduction and began reading the play itself. While reading the play she was sure to keep open her guide to answer the comprehension questions and read the plot summaries. This is where she fell behind a bit. It took her into the second week to complete the reading (totally my fault too - we were busy).

Next she was scheduled to re-read the play and answer a few While-You-Read questions. Instead, I opted to combine a couple of assignment steps. She watched a faithful video performance of Julius Caesar on YouTube while reading along and answering her questions. Amber said this was one of the best parts about the lesson. She knew what to expect in the performance because of the initial reading, but was able to see the actor's interpretations of the lines and feel the emotion. It made the play so much easier to understand. I'm glad I made time for the viewing by combining it with the second reading. We plan to schedule all of the plays like this in the future.

Amber then moved on to the literary lessons and the writing exercise for Julius Caesar. While working on the writing exercise revisions, we began reading the sonnets for this unit - Sonnet 5 & Sonnet 6. Amber found she did have more trouble understanding the poetic language of the sonnets than the plays, so we took the advice of the Lightning Literature guides and I had her rewrite the sonnets out in prose. That simple task made all the difference in her understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature
Watching and reading together; Initial reading with questions; Discussion questions with Mom.

After completing the literary lesson that accompanied the sonnets, we found that one of the writing assignment options is to rewrite the sonnets as prose. So I let Amber go with that option this time around. Next time she will need to pick a different assignment even if she still writes her sonnets in prose for understanding.

We are just now ready to start Hamlet, but will let that wait until the formal start of 10th grade in August. Amber cannot wait for more of the Shakespearean world to be unlocked for her after years of waiting.

Why Hewitt Homeschooling Works for Us?

This is a harder question to answer.  After all of the searching and struggling, why does Hewitt Homeschooling's high school level Lightning Literature work for Amber?

  • There are not any major assignments to do while reading. Amber prefers to keep her momentum going and read. It helps with her comprehension too.
  • The comprehension questions are not endless. They really are there to assist the students in their understanding. If the student can't answer the questions, then they probably are not getting what they need from the reading.
  • The plot summaries - Amber reads the scenes first, but then goes back to read the provided summaries to ensure she caught the gist of the scene. It is a fantastic way to boost her confidence while studying Shakespeare.
  • Writing assignments vary in type and difficulty. We can choose those that address where Amber needs to grow as a writer. 
  • Literary lessons are concise and well demonstrated. Amber finds them to be the best of all the programs she has tried.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature
Part of her Shakespeare notebook
Will we continue with Hewitt Homeschooling for Shakespeare? 

I can't imagine a better way for Amber to enjoy the writings of William Shakespeare than the Lightning Literature & Composition Shakespeare studies. She has thoroughly enjoyed the Shakespeare Tragedies, and I've already purchased the Shakespeare Comedies student and teacher guides along with all of the associated plays. Since Amber will work through only a few of the plays per school year, we are prepared with Hewitt Homeschooling to study Shakespeare for the remainder of high school.



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