Do you have any subjects that you just have no experience, interest, or even basic knowledge about? If you're honest with yourself, there's got to be something! With me, it's poetry. I will have to be truthful and say that I have very little personal interest in poetry and even less skill in writing it. However, as a "good" homeschool mom, I have had to remind myself that it's not about me. My oldest daughter enjoys poetry much more than I do. My oldest son, on the other hand, is like me. If we had a choice, we would easily skip over poetry.
Company Information: Thanks to Classical Academic Press, I was challenged to re-think that decision. I was introduced to this company earlier in the year when I reviewed their Bible curriculum for elementary age children. I was impressed with the high quality work and the thoroughness of the program and thought I would stretch both Matthew and myself with something totally out of our comfort zone.
Product Reviewed: The Art of Poetry by Christine Perrin, student and teachers' editions, plus DVD for lessons 1-2. Both student and teacher books are softcover. There are sixteen chapters in the book, divided into two sections: eight chapters cover the elements of poetry and seven chapters give a formal history of poetry. The last chapter gives suggestions on growing the student's interest in poetry, with ideas on topics such as how to start a poetry group, how to host a public poetry recitation time, and finding mentors. Each chapter includes an introduction or explanation, a poem with explanations, and then a selection of poems that illustrate the chapter's emphasis. With each poetry selection are some discussion questions that highlight points to discuss or explore. At the end of each chapter, there are also suggested activities and vocabulary list. The end of the book provides an appendix of short biographies of each of the poets showcased in the anthology, a plan for developing poetry appreciation in a classroom or home, a glossary of terms, bibliography and index.
The teachers' guide includes the text of the student edition but with some differences. Each chapter includes the author's suggested discussion points for the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. At the end, quizzes with appropriate responses (answers) and a timeline are also included.
The DVD set is over 15 hours' worth of teaching from the author herself, along with a small group of 8th grade students. If you, like me, have very little confidence in teaching poetry, the DVDs are meant to do the work for you. The DVDs are divided to coordinate with the chapter in the student text. You'll see Ms. Perrin leading a Socratic discussion with her students as well as demonstrate in real-time how to do selected assignments from the text.
Price: $24.95 for the student textbook, $29.95 for the teachers' edition. If you are interested in the DVD set, it retails for $69.95 (as of April 1). All three of these products come bundled at a discounted price of $99.95 (as of April 1).
Age Range: Grades 6 and up. It was a stretch for Matthew as a sixth grader, but then again, he did not have much poetry experience.
Parental Preparation: Using their suggested schedule, I thought I would try to go through a chapter every two weeks. I then started by reading through the introductory material (which took me about 30 minutes). This information covered why we should study poetry, but also explained the skill of "close reading" as well as how to use the book. The teacher's edition also included an "introduction to the teacher" which took me an additional half hour to read through. For a poetry novice, this reading was well worth my time as it gave me a fuller understanding of the value and goals in studying poetry.
After this, I was better able to sketch out our lessons. As with other programs, I began by listing out what we wanted to cover. My initial list looked something like this:
- Read introductory pages, chapter 1 and discuss. (1 day)
- Read "Learning to Read Closely" section with poem and discuss. (1 day)
- Read two poems per day and discuss questions. (3 days)
- Do activities, one per day. (2 days)
- Watch video. (1 day)
I thought this would take me about 30 minutes per day, four days per week, to cover one chapter. However, when I previewed the video to see how it would fit into the schedule, I realized that I was going to need to make some adjustments. I wanted to be able to let Matthew try his hand at analyzing and discussing the poems, so we broke up the video segments and watched some before reading the poems in the anthology and then some afterwards. The video for the chapter was also a lot longer than I had thought (about 2 hours) so I knew we wouldn't be able to watch it in the time frame that I had originally planned.
How We Used It: Having a plan really helped, but I quickly realized that we were not going to be able to cover one chapter even in two weeks. As this was a new area of study for Matthew and me, it took us awhile to really know how to discuss the poems. I found that reading the introductory material and then watching the introductory section on the video helped a lot before we began trying to do this on our own. Once they started discussing the poem, I stopped the video so that we would be able to come up with our own thoughts. After discussing it, we turned the video back on to see what Ms. Perrin and her students thought. This gave us the opportunity to be a part of the discussion instead of watching others do it.
After going through "The Panther," Matthew and I then spent six days going through the poems in the anthology. One poem a day was about all both of us could do. However, we were really able to enjoy each poem, and I think that taking the time to really savor it was much more beneficial than trying to get through them in a prescribed time frame. (This is homeschooling, right?) I really wanted to learn the art of poetry appreciation, and I wanted Matthew to be able to enjoy the experience as well. Both of us just don't think in images, so it took a little bit of practice.
This time spent discussing poems really helped as we listened to Ms. Perrin discuss Robert Frost's poem, "Dust of Snow," on the video. As we had already gone through it ourselves, along with all the others, we were able to understand the insights and thoughts that the kids shared (thoughts that I, who is over three times their age, didn't even see!).
We then also watched the author demonstrate how to do some of the activities listed at the end of the chapter. I had selected some that I thought Matthew would want to tackle, but at the end, I just let him pick the one that sounded most interesting to him. He chose to write a poem about an animal, similar to "The Panther," which we studied first. Here's what he came up with:
By Matthew Christian
Soaring on powerful wings,
rippling through the air in the clear blue sky.
His piercing gaze, waiting, looking into the sea,
circling, watching for movement,- and then,
dives down, his strong, curved, claws
outstretched to snatch up his prey.
Sinking his claws in,
effortlessly gliding on his long strong wings.
Lands soundlessly, and enjoys his catch.
Not bad, don't you think? I wasn't even able to get anywhere close to what he wrote!
What We Liked:
- This was a very enjoyable experience for us novice poetry students. All of the material that we read was helpful in understanding the concept and learning how to "see" the images that the poems illustrated.
- The questions at the end of poetry selections were excellently written. They were a combination of observation questions and analysis questions that helped us to notice things that we would otherwise not have seen.
- The teacher's edition had excellent notes as well. Sometimes I wouldn't know how to even answer a question, much less guide Matthew in the discovery process. I learned so much through those teacher notes.
- The activities at the end of the chapter also had a variety of options that suited different types of learners.
- The DVD portion that we were able to view did not have the same material as the book. It modeled for us how we can discuss poetry together---not focusing on getting it "right" or "wrong" but also showing us how not to "over-interpret" a poem beyond what it means.
- The quality of the entire set is highly professional and beautifully crafted. Even the author's prose is lyrical and beautiful.
What We Didn't Like:
Honestly, I cannot think of anything we didn't like. However, if you are concerned about cost and are willing to spend the time discussing the poems with your child (which I thoroughly enjoyed myself), then you can probably get away with just the teacher's guide at minimum. As the student text is included in the teacher's text and the suggested responses to the questions are in a separate section of the chapter, you can probably use that one. However, if you'd like your student to go through the material on his/her own, then having a separate student text is helpful, so you can each do your own studies.
I didn't use the quizzes at the end, mainly because I wanted to keep it an enjoyable experience. However, if you want to turn this into a high school level course, these may be very helpful to you for evaluation.
Overall Summary: In general, this program was very thorough. It definitely has opened my eyes to the beauty of poetry. I can tell that Ms. Perrin really loves studying, discussing and creating poetry. If you have avoided poetry in the past, as I have, I would strongly encourage you to give this program a try. I think what we will probably do is take the "four year" tour of the book, taking a chapter per quarter as part of our language arts studies. My daughter was also very excited about the program and is looking forward to delving into it on her own time in the future. That's a good sign!