A Well-Constructed Literature Program
This curriculum is designed with the idea that the majority of the literature will be read aloud by the teacher for at least the first three years. However, unlike other curricula modeled after the teachings of Charlotte Mason, I have made a very concerted effort to include some books which will be accessible to these younger children. These books allow the children to read them on their own, yet still maintain literary quality.
Each year, the literature was thoughtfully selected so that the number of challenging books vs. the number of approachable books had some balance to it. The best literature programs will offer some challenge but not overwhelm and frustrate your students.
A well-constructed literature program also considers the balance between fiction and non-fiction and with this the lesson of reading to learn vs. reading to gain pleasure and encourage imagination. It is important that students who are just gaining their momentum in reading fluency not to be asked to read a book which they find challenging to read as well as read and be expected to produce learned knowledge from that same book. This is similar to asking a student to write a five-paragraph essay when they are just getting comfortable with writing well-constructed sentences and then to write this essay on a topic with which they, as of yet, have little knowledge. The essay project becomes a burden to the student and actually creates bad habits, because they are being asked to focus on too many different skills at once.
The overall goal of this curriculum is to progressively increase the reading levels of the students as they move through each year.
I'll use the latter part of this post to demonstrate some of these thoughts with examples from the curriculum.
Years One and Two have literature selections which will most likely need to be read aloud, although there are some independent reader suggestions, coordinated with the topics in history and science, which may be read by the student. These reader suggestions do vary in level. Year Two includes The Boxcar Children (#1) , which might also be read independently by some children in Year Two.
Year Three is the last year that independent reader style books are suggested in coordination with history and science. (Although they can certainly still be used by older students for additional reading practice and/or additional free reading options.) Year Three was given a little extra attention in literature choices, because this is the beginning of a transitional time for most students. Children are now, generally, reading lighter chapter books and with better speed and fluency. Included in Year Three are books such as The Trumpet of the Swan by E B. White, The Moffats by Eleanor Estes and Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder to meet these needs. Generally, Heidi and Understood Betsy will need to be read aloud. Of course, these are all generalizations and each child will differ. Year Three should be thought of as the year in which some books are being taken over by the student but definitely not all of them. Accessible non-fiction books for Year Three will be mostly limited to the list of independent readers which coordinate with history such as A Lion to Guard Us, Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman, The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk and Pearl Harbor.
Audio books may provide relief for the teacher who has much to read aloud. Elementary students can also read along with the audio books, if possible. It would be important to use audio books for some occasions but not to let them overtake all reading aloud by the teacher. Reading aloud gives the teacher the opportunity to prepare the reading section (with vocabulary, map-work, etc.) and to answer any questions as they arise. This time period will also feed well into discussions and/or narrations after the reading.
Year Four is another transitional year with regard to reading levels. The literature in Year Four is quite challenging. The book choices for history become more difficult as well. The biography of Phillis Wheatley may be a good choice for an independent reading book. Other literature choices in Year Four will greatly depend on the individual student. I deliberately chose to offer more choices for independent reading in science to try and create balance again. The majority of titles about scientists will be great choices for independent reading for this year. I also added an independent reading option for geography for this year in the form of a biography of an explorer, allowing your student to read at the level which bests suits him/her. Remember, some books may seem too easy, but for the purpose of learning to read to gain information, you do not want to give books which are too challenging to your students, but ones that are either on-level or even slightly below. You could also consider Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry, which coordinates with Benjamin West as one of the artists studied this year.
Year Five holds the expectation that the majority of its students can and do read with great fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. In fact, it is in this year that students will begin to handle literature with more maturity and this will be reflected in the narration and discussion work required with it. Some of the books for science, geography and history will not be as complex, but there are great expectations in these categories too. The books listed under Geography about canals and The Story of Thomas Alav Edison will be good choices for independent reading. Faerie Gold: Treasures From the Land of Enchantment contains short stories and will make this a possible choice too.
Year Six continues the expectations set in Year Five and from here on forward there will be only books listed which are easily handled by solid and proficient readers. The best recommendation to find books to replace ones that are too challenging at this level is to choose books from lower levels which are of a similar topic. Also, often the additional reading suggestions included in the guides for history at these levels are of varying levels.
Years Seven and Eight would follow the same plan as was set forth in the above paragraph.
Year Seven is a deep study of the medieval time period and the only other time period which will match this by topic will be aspects of Year Two. If the science or geography is presenting the problem, feel free to choose books which are for other levels but match in topic. With regard to literature, try to go ahead with as much of the literature as possible, but feel free to replace some selections from other years that have not been read yet.
While some of the literature selections will match the time period for these years, not all of them have been chosen to meet this requirement. It is more important to choose books based on the idea that they will progressively raise your student's reading level as well as support the idea that some books are better appreciated when better understood, than to be chosen simply because they match the history time period. I feel strongly that this attachment to the idea that all literature must match the history time period can be more of a hindrance to these developing years. On the other hand, I also feel strongly that some of the books chosen for literature in the upper years should match the time period studied because at this level (Level 7+) a humanities approach is beginning to be developed. This is why there are books selected to support both ideas. If you look carefully at the curriculum, you will find more books which support the time period than you originally noticed. Other books, which are not matched, have been chosen because the level in which they are placed continues the development of reading levels. For example, students read the majority of the book Tales From Shakespeare in Year Six and begin reading Shakespeare's plays in Year Seven. Students read prose retellings of Homer's works in Year Five and Year Six, Age of Fable in Years Six and Seven and then read The Iliad (credited to Homer) in Year Eight. Year Seven also begins English Literature for Boys and Girls, which will continue through Year Nine.
Year Eight will include some selections to support the study of the Renaissance but will also include books which will carry forward the plan of building a solid reading foundation. Notice that in Year Seven the reading of primary sources becomes an important aspect to this level of study. The primary sources will add a significant support to the study of material which matches the time period being studied. Because it is would be very space-consuming, I cannot list all of the essays and other primary sources which are read in these years. It is a great deal of reading material which is not readily apparent and may not be taken into account when examining the number of books which support the time period.
Years Nine through Twelve will also follow the same plan as was set forth in the above paragraph.
Year Nine will complete the literature selections which coordinate with English Literature for Boys and Girls and will also include great works for the study of the Romans. This level includes a full humanities approach and will for each year thereafter. The humanities approach includes a study of literature, primary sources, history, art history, geography and philosophy for each main time period of history studied.
Year Ten will be a complete and in-depth look at American history along with an advanced study of the Greeks. Year Eleven will look at Modern History and an advanced study of the Romans. Year Twelve will give the graduating senior the option to choose an area of study that particularly interests him/her in a specialized focus study.