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We were asked to review Hewitt's Lightning Literature program. Hewitt has a policy of believing that students are individuals, and each individual has different strengths and weaknesses, so we were able to choose from any of the 7th-12th grade literature courses that I felt would suit his needs. There is quite a wide variety, from Shakespeare to Christian British Authors, from American Literature to Medieval Literature.
Ironically, the series that most appealed to him was the one right on his technical grade level, the Grade 8 Lightning Literature and Composition Pack. He chose this set (and I agreed) mostly because it included The Hobbit and To Kill a Mockingbird, two books he has been interested in studying (he read The Hobbit several years ago, but wanted to re-read it prior to the movie's release this summer). We were also interested in the poetry study included in the year-long course, since it has been a while since Tex did any sort of poetry study.
Interestingly, his first poem to study was Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. It tied in to The Hobbit, since it included fantastical characters, and it tied into another favorite series of ours, The Chronicles of Narnia, since it is an allegory. Much of the poetry unit focused on understanding figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification) and it also discussed poetic allegory.
While the Learner's Guide gave a general description of what an allegory is, there was still some misunderstanding on Tex's part that required clearing up by me, the teacher. Since I used to teach English, this was not a problem for me, and the Teacher's Guide did give helpful hints, but since this is a tough topic, some folks might find it a bit difficult to handle. I wound up telling him an allegorical story I know and having him analyze it. Then he was able to tackle the questions in the book a bit better.
Tex liked the way the lessons in the Learner's Guide were laid out. They were clear and concise, an included an informative introduction to the concepts and the authors, as well as a hint about what to think about (focus on) as you read (ie. Notice how the authors compare things with one another, and how they sometimes assign human characteristics to non-human things).
The accompanying Student Workbook is divided into short lessons with enough variety to keep you focused and interested. He enjoyed the exercises on identifying and writing similes and metaphors, and while he found certain aspects of the work challenging, he tackled it with purpose, and with a bit of direction from me, he easily handled the work. At the end of this particular section of the unit, he was asked to write allegories for certain concepts such as "temptation" and "sin" and he struggled a bit with this, but we went over some ideas together and he learned a lot.
There is also a vocabulary list included in the Learner's Guide (difficult words from the selections are defined), and there are comprehension questions for the various selections (which we discussed verbally). I suppose you could write these sorts of things out, but I felt this was unnecessary and bogged down the learning process. I prefer to discuss ideas rather than simply put them on paper that gets shuffled to the bottom of a desk pile. The book does not specify either way as being preferred. Hewitt supports the idea of using whatever method works for your individual learner.
The next section of the unit involved analyzing the actual poem itself, which Tex did quite insightfully, grasping the ideas readily, perhaps because the preparation had been so thorough. The conclusion of the unit involved writing some simple poems of his own, completing two puzzles, analyzing two different poems for their use of the same literary devices, and finally, a review of understanding of the concepts.
Of course, his tough teacher had to add that he needed to flesh out the allegorical ideas he'd composed earlier into an actual story, but that's because I thought his ideas were too good to waste on a short answer exercise! The Student's Guide offered five other ideas for final writing assignments, ranging from an opinion paper to composing original poetry, for those who would prefer something different to wrap up the unit. The Teacher's Guide wisely cautions parents to be as positive as possible about their student's writing in order to foster a love of writing instead of a dread of it. This is wise advice and one we'd all do well to follow...make simple corrections a bit at a time and surround those corrections with much praise and appreciation for your individual student's style and efforts.
Overall, from an English teacher's perspective, I would say that Lightning Literature offers a well-balanced, comprehensive coverage of some very difficult (yet necessary to comprehend) literary ideas. Students entering high school literature classes need to understand certain concepts...not understanding them will handicap them when it comes time to read, understand, and analyze various works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry encountered during the high school years. The Learner's Guide walks the student through the necessary information in a conversational and comfortable, easy to understand manner. While I felt that a few things (such as allegory) weren't explained quite as well as I'd have liked (or as comprehensively as my particular student needed), parents do have tools available (such as the internet and the Teacher's Guide) to help them help their students further, when necessary.
The program was laid out very clearly so that my involvement as the instructor was minimal. Most of the time, Tex understood what he needed to do and did it without my intervention (other than going over his work with him when he was done, though the answers are available for self-checking). The times he did need my help, it was not a problem for me to explain what he needed to understand and get him back on track. Obviously, I know this stuff since it was my major, but I think many of us remember our high school lit classes (or college ones) and can help as needed also (and there is always that manual to refer to).
I really liked the way the program was structured, and if we had a need for a structured curriculum (a means of accountability), this would be a program I would be comfortable with and that my student would like.
If you would like to read more reviews about the Lightning Literature series, you can check out other reviews on various levels of the program (as well as some of Hewitt's other fine products) at The Homeschool Review Crew Blog.
It is reasonably priced at just $125.95 for the complete 8th Grade package, which includes the Learner's Guide, the Teacher's Guide, the Student Workbook, and one copy of each of the seven books necessary to complete the study.
You can order Lightning Literature products from Hewitt Homeschool by checking out their curriculum page. Certain products were on sale at the time this post was written, so you stop by and see if anything works for your family before it's too late!
Disclaimer: I received the Teacher's Manual, the Student Workbook, and the Learner's Guide for the 8th Grade Lightning Literature and Composition Pack to enable me to write this review. I have provided a fair and honest assessment of this curriculum here. All opinions are our own. No other compensation was received.