Friday, May 31, 2013

Review: American Literature by James P. Stobaugh

I have to confess that we've never used a textbook for literature in our homeschool before.  We've used a whole book approach that was integrated into our unit study or history curriculum.  When Stobaugh's American Literature high school curriculum arrived in the mail, it was a little intimidating at first.  It looked big, and official, and I was very pregnant.  So I did what a good homeschool mom would never do in that situation -- I ignored it.  I waited until I felt a little bit more capable and it looked a little bit smaller to me with its layer of dust on it.  Unfortunately, that makes this review quite a lot late.

When I was feeling braver, I picked it up and looked it over.  Once the cover was cracked, it was actually NOT intimidating to me after all.  However, when I handed the student textbook to my daughter, she was also intimidated by its bigness, its officialness, and the number of reading assignments it contained.  The daily layout wasn't hard to follow, but the workload was higher than anything she'd previously experienced with literature.

American Literature is written by James P. Stobaugh, and published by Master Books, a division of New Leaf Publishing Group.  It includes a paperback student textbook, and a loose-leaf teacher's guide, which can be bought individually, or together in a set (which saves money). The teacher's guide is very helpful, and I can tell it was written by a homeschool parent who understands the benefits of a curriculum with daily lessons laid out in an easy-to-follow format.  The teacher's guide contains instructions on how to use the books, grading record options, chapter tests, lesson assignments, essay options, and answer keys. It does not duplicate the text of the student book, so some families may prefer to have a student text for the student as well as the parent.

There are 34 chapters in American Literature -- enough for a full school year, and a full high school credit for 10th - 12th grade students. Each chapter is broken down into 5 lessons, one for each day of the week. There are daily concept building activities (to be written on separate paper), daily writing warm-ups, literature excerpts in the textbook, and assigned external reading of American novels. The weekly essay is assigned at the start of the week, with the rough draft due on Wednesday and the final essay to be completed by Friday.  The daily assignments are meant to take an hour to complete, and are listed for the student at the end of each lesson. Chapter tests are taken on Friday.

This literature curriculum includes writing assignments, but it does not cover writing techniques or grammar at all.  Since American Literature is designed for 10th - 12th graders, it would be best for students to review writing techniques, essay types, and grammar in 9th grade.

Although the textbook includes literature excerpts in each lesson, the author also intends for the student to read 20 additional books and plays.  Stobaugh suggests that many of them should be read the summer before starting the American Literature course and then reviewed as needed throughout the course.  That would be ideal, because it is sometimes difficult for students to cover 20 books in addition to the text. If the reading is saved for the school year, it will take more than an hour per day.  The Table of Contents tells you which books align with which chapters, and the first page of each chapter tells you what book to start reading for next week. 

American Literature is a challenging and very detailed literature curriculum.  I would only recommend an advanced 10th grade student tackle it -- if they read quickly, and already have a firm grasp on the writing process. Otherwise, I would save it for 11th and 12th grade students.  In my opinion, the greatest strength of Stobaugh's American Literature is its layout with daily assignments easily located and followed by both teacher and student.  Its second greatest strength is its focus on worldviews.  The very first chapter addresses different worldviews and how to identify the worldview in literature.  Worldviews are addressed throughout the text as students read the writings of different authors.  This is an essential skill for every Christian, to be able to compare what they read with God's Word and what it teaches.

Although I love its thoroughness and the fact that it is easy to follow (just turn the page and do the next labeled lesson), I have to admit that my 10th grade daughter struggles to keep up with the workload, primarily the additional reading assignments. Another problem is that the teacher's guide doesn't give guidance for grading the essays themselves.  If grading writing assignments is a weakness of yours, you will continue to struggle with that in this curriculum.

American Literature (published by Master Books) consists of a reusable textbook and teacher's guide.  There is not an accompanying consumable workbook.  The Teacher's Guide comes with permission to photocopy the tests and the list of essay questions for each chapter.  The concept building activities in the student text look like they should be photocopied so they can be written directly on, but permission is not granted for that and the copies in the teacher's guide include answers which make them unusable for photocopying.  Students need to re-create the different charts used in these activities on notebook paper.  If you plan to only use this with one student, you could use the student's text as a consumable workbook.  The curriculum is very affordable, especially since it is reusable.  Though additional reading is required, many of the books are available free online, or can be found at local libraries.

You can view samples of  American Literature student text HERE and the teacher's guide HERE. They can be bought together in a package for $38.99 which saves $13 over buying them individually. For those who would like to align their literature studies with their history studies, Stobaugh has also written an American History high school curriculum which lines up chapter-by-chapter with this American literature course. I wish I could tell you how well that works, but I haven't yet used the history curriculum. You can preview samples of both the student book and the teacher's book at New Leaf Publishing's website. This also appears to be an extremely affordable and challenging Christian curriculum.

If you're looking for a high school literature curriculum that is textbook-based, from a Christian worldview, I highly recommend James P. Stobaugh's curriculum.  It is affordable, excellent, easily followed, and it can be dove-tailed with his history curriculum.  However, it is definitely a Classical curriculum, and may be a heavier load than some families feel is necessary or than some students can manage. Parents should carefully consider their student's abilities and learning styles before purchasing this curriculum. You can read other reviews at the New Leaf Publishing Group Blog.

SAVINGS ALERT!!  I just found that both the teacher's guide and the student textbook are available on Kindle for $7.99 each.  It's not the most ideal method to use these textbooks, but it's less than half-price.

You can follow the author and the publisher at the following locations:
This curriculum was provided free to me for review purposes by New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received, and the opinions expressed in this review are my own.  I was not required to give a positive review.

April E.