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Excellence in Literature FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions about Excellence in Literature Excellence in Literature has been around for quite a few years, and there are questions that crop up almost every year, so it seems that it's time to post an Excellence in Literature FAQ. I've gone through my inbox and pulled out a selection of those most frequently asked questions, which you will find below. The main Excellence in Literature information page has a lot of information and links to more articles on various aspects of the curriculum, so be sure to check there, too. Basic FAQs Does the curriculum utilize the entire books or selected readings from them? With very few exceptions, I assign the entire unabridged book, as this is a college-prep course. First, they will get more out of the book if they read the whole thing. They are welcome to use audiobooks, too. It can bring the story to life for many of them, and most are available on the Amazon Prime channels. Will the parent need to purchase all books (both standard and honors) for their students? If you do not plan to do the honors option, you do not need to purchase the books, though they make great summer reading. Because these are classics, most will also be available at libraries or used, but I strongly recommend annotating books, so it's better to own than borrow if at all possible. I have linked to my preferred editions on the website, with an explanation of why I chose them. Ultimately it's a choice to buy or borrow, but I think they get more out of the books if they own them. How long should a student plan to spend each day on the reading and writing in a module? A lot depends on the student's reading speed and overall work load plus the length of the book, but most students spend an average of an hour a day on the curriculum. In the first part of the book, I tell them how to plan and manage their time by looking at the length of the book and deciding how much to read each day. Why is the book written to the student? Grades 8-12 is a transitional time for students, and one of the goals of the curriculum is to teach them to think and work like smart college students. Writing directly to the student encourages him/her to take responsibility for time management, turning in proofread work, consulting models and a writer's handbook as needed, and more. By the time they've done these things for a few years with EIL, they should thoroughly understand how to be an excellent student. What happens if a link to a context resource is broken? We host a regularly updated set of links on the Excellence-in-Literature.com site for each individual module in the curriculum. You may access them at the Curriculum User Content page. The links in print book links are also updated, but obviously not as quickly as the online link list above, so for any resource you need to find, visit the appropriate module page in the Curriculum User Content section of the Excellence-in-Literature site. Alternatively, you may type a keyword or two into the search box on the Excellence in Literature resource site or try the tips at the Link Updates page. This seems pretty advanced for a teenager. Do students really need to read and write at this level? The first thing I'll note is that thinking deeply and writing about literature at this level IS challenging, and that holds true even for students in college and beyond (one reason we start practicing it now;-)). The difficulty lies in the fact that students are being asked to do something that many have never tried or even observed — develop a clear and well-supported answer to a question that open to judgement. In addition, they are being asked to do so in a serious, formal way, as they will have to do in college or business writing. By the time they reach middle school, they've probably written a boatload of essays expressing opinions about something, but it's likely that few have been required to support their opinion with evidence from a text. They are now at the age and stage of learning when thinking and communicating should be transitioning to a more mature and reasoned style, and being able to construct and convey an argument is central to doing that successfully. If not now, when? “Every maker of video games knows something that the makers of curriculum don't seem to understand. You'll never see a video game being advertised as being easy. Kids who do not like school will tell you it's not because it's too hard. It's because it's — boring.” —Dr. Seymour Papert Teaching FAQs My student is worried about writing the essay because he doesn't know the answer to the essay prompt. That's exactly the reason he should start writing! You write in order to learn, not in order to show something you have learned. There is no “answer” that he must know in order to begin; it’s something that is discovered through the writing process. The essay questions are designed to help your student ”think into” the work. The pressure is off once you (and he) realize that understanding unfolds as you write, not before. I’ve read thousands of books in my life, and the ones I have come to know and love most deeply are usually the ones I’ve written about in a way that helped me ”think into” them. Writing is thinking on paper, and it can be fun. Several of my students write boring, generic sounding essays. How can I help them improve? The Handbook for Writers offers detailed instructions and examples for writing excellent essays. In 8th-9th grade, there will be a few students (usually students who read a lot) who have an engaging writing style that can be encouraged, but many will still be writing bland formulaic essays. Show them what it means to have a distinctive writer's voice by sharing well-written models by great writers. This can help students begin to hear the differences in writers' voices, especially when you can pair a few examples of writing in the same subjects. One way to show style is to share a variety of classic literature passages that describe the weather. Just experiencing how different authors approach the same simple topic can help students see how style impacts not just writing, but also what the reader takes away. My students are having a hard time coming up with a thesis in response to the essay prompt. I understand — it's a challenging skill to learn. Have you tried having classroom discussions that begin with what students got out of a particular passage, and progressed from the what, where, and when to should or why? If they start talking about what happened in a scene, they can be moved into defending a question of why or