Monday, November 26, 2007

Enjoying Beowulf OR The Pros and Cons of Literature Guides

I particularly enjoyed this post about Beowulf written recently by my 12 year old. I hope you enjoy it as well. Years ago, I would have never dreamed a child could enjoy such a 'difficult' work, but I was mistaken. Miss Mason knew better. And, as Charlotte promised, my daughter was able to make her own connections by finding similarities in the tale with another well known piece of literature.

I was tempted to do the work for her by having her follow a literature guide. After all, guides are so tidy. They, theoretically, make sure the student doesn't miss any important information and ideas. I didn't trust my own education to be sufficient enough to be of much help either so this looked like a nice hand holder. However, when I read over the questions I had to admit that many were simply unimportant and dull. They would most likely suck the life out of the tale bringing it down to just another educational exercise. I also noticed that the literature guide was subjective and did not necessarily reflect what the author of the original work intended but instead, promoted the personal agenda of the one who wrote the guide. (I have often found this to be the case) Furthermore, upon reflecting on the past, I remembered that my children often didn't WANT the work done for them. They liked to discover things for themselves.

Instead, I decided to read the guide myself, taking note of a few important ideas. Then, I asked Shannon to give an oral narration from the poem. She was obviously excited about the story and told me a few of the connections she had already made. I attempted to get her to discover some big ideas herself by focusing on particular passages and probing her to think more deeply about the possible meanings through a few questions such as, "What do you think about Beowulf's decision to... ?" Doesn't that remind you of another situation we read about recently? Little light bulbs began to turn on inside her head. By acting as guide rather than the all-knowing teacher (believe me, I've been there and done that) it was very satisfying for both of us. This was all done casually and relationally. In following this informal route, she made her own connections and more importantly, her zeal was preserved. The Beowulf post above, reveals a child who is feasting on the beauty of the words, the rhythm of the lines and the noble ideas within the poem.

"The Teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such task as shall give full scope to his pupils mental activity." Charlotte Mason

one step at a time...


  1. Anonymous26.11.07

    I had a hard time reading her blog as a page popped up saying it couldn't be found. It was a page sponsored by Google.

    Thank you for this encouragment as we are beginning our year 7 today with our 13yob.

    Tarheel Mama

  2. Both of your entries were thoroughly enjoyable. After seeing your daughter's entry, my almost 7yo daughter was highly interested in the idea of narrating on a blog. Not yet, dear ;)

    Thanks, too, for the thoughts on study guides. I agree, it is sooo tempting to "be complete". I'll remember this post the next time I start browsing too long in the teacher store ;)

  3. Cassandra26.11.07

    Well, my 13 year old reads your daughter's blog, and today she started reading it on her own to my surprise. I guess I better get informed with a guide!

  4. Cassandra26.11.07

    Oops...I MEANT she started reading Beowulf. She has been working on Year 7 HEO this year.

  5. Thanks again, Lindafay, for your encouragement! I'm finding myself not as rigid and a perfectionist like I used to be..

  6. In response to Cindy's question over at the CM blog carnival...
    My daughters do not post narrations on their personal blogs and I don't assign them anything. They simply write about the things they enjoy on their blogs.

  7. Cassandra,
    I don't think you need a guide at all! I hope my post didn't communicate that. Probably reading the preface of Beowulf or better yet, the poem itself is all the help you'd need. I started reading the poem with my daughter just to get her interested and then handed it over to her.

  8. Cassandra27.11.07

    No, I realized that you weren't indicating the reader needed the guide. It is for myself that I thought I could become acquainted with the story more quickly through a guide. I found my daughter reading Beowulf yesterday with no promptings by me. I feel somewhat overwhelmed at times with these books, but try to keep abreast of what my children are reading. I did in fact start reading the poem myself last night after talking with her about it. Sorry if there was any confusion.

  9. Oh Cassandra,I knew you were speaking about yourself. I just didn't want you to feel that it was necessary for you to buy a guide; that's why I mentioned the preface. It does help to stay on top of our kids' books though, doesn't it? I'm laughing at the follies of written communication. I wish we could just chat about it in person. I will make a confession here. I wasn't looking forward to reading Beowulf when my first daughter read it last year or so. I thought it would be difficult and boring. However, when I finally did pick it up, I enjoyed it so very much. I hope you do too! Blessings to you!

  10. Isn't it ironic that sometimes in our quest to make their learning more "complete" we wind up squelching the very learning we were hoping to improve upon?

    So glad that you caught yourself, and that you shared with us. I know with my nature I would've been tempted to do the very same thing. I'm learning to be more relaxed, which is something I wouldn't have associated with encouraging the learning process before. And we have been so blessed to capture the passion and adventure of learning in the process.

  11. Your daughter's blog is beautiful.
    I do plan on attempting Beowolf...
    Yes, that pic is me & kids. I put it up and take it down (not crazy about pics of myself!) But, I realize how much I like to see pics of makes me feel as if I know them better.

  12. Cassandra27.11.07

    Oh gosh, a chat would be nice! No purchasing for me :). I admit to peeking at the Sparknotes...just a litle though :).

  13. I'm in awe at your daughter's excellent writing skills! My children are 7, 5, and 9 months and I hope they will have even half her ability. Good job Mom!