Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Studying Tragedies of the Great Bard: A Review of Shakespeare's Tragedies from Hewitt Homeschooling Resources

After high school, I spent some time reading through the plays of William Shakespeare and watching film adaptions. But even though I had found a love and appreciation for the Bard, I was unsure as to how to approach the teaching of the plays as a homeschool mom. When given the opportunity to review Shakespeare's Tragedies from Hewitt Homeschooling Resources, I was very excited. We planned on reading Julius Caesar this year so following the full year schedule as outlined in the Teacher's Guide fit our homeschool perfectly.

What Did We Receive

In order to study four tragedies of Shakespeare, we received two items from Hewitt Homeschooling Resources:

Please note: They do offer Shakespeare's Tragedies as a complete Composition Pack with the four plays needed and both guides. Alternatively, you can purchase the items separately. 

The Teacher's Guide (54-pages) provides information regarding the student and teacher's guides, grading tips with rubrics and checklists, a semester schedule (recommended), a full-year schedule, answers to the Comprehension questions, the writing exercises as listed in the student guide, discussion questions, and project suggestions. 

Teacher's Guide

The Student Guide is broken into four units with an introduction, discussion on William Shakespeare, appendices, and a bibliography.

It is a 185-page paperback which examines four of Shakespeare's tragedies:

  • Julius Caesar
  • Hamlet
  • Macbeth
  • King Lear 
  • and several sonnets (5, 6, 18, 29, 30, 65, 73, and 97)
It is noted in the Teacher's Guide that the parent or teacher should be familiar with the Student Guide. In our house, before I asked our son to read each part of the Student Guide, I read it ahead of time. I would even recommend parents have their own copy to take notes in and mark up for further discussion. 

There are so many parts of the Student Guide that are fantastic. From the introduction – which discusses a lot of whys and hows – to the useful plot summaries, literary explanations, and thought-provoking writing exercises, I cannot say enough good things about this guide.

Student's Guide

How Did We Use These Books? 

I read through the Teacher's Guide to determine how we would incorporate the material into our homeschool. We decided to follow a full-year schedule and start with Unit One on Julius Caesar as this was in our plan already. (I do think after reading through the whole book to plan for next year that it will be necessary to read through the plays in the order of the guide as there are references to Hamlet (Unit 2) in the Macbeth (Unit 3) writing exercises and King Lear (Unit 4) makes brief mention of Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Macbeth.

We started with week one of the full-year schedule the week of May 13 and swiftly worked through reading Julius Caesar, answering the questions, writing a paper, editing the paper about the play, reading through the two sonnets in Unit 1, and answering questions about them. We worked a bit faster than suggested in the yearly plan mostly because my goal was to complete Unit 1 prior to sharing the review. 

After I read through the introduction and section on Shakespeare, I made notes for key points I wanted our teen to focus upon during his reading. I also wrote a short quiz based on the information presented with questions about such things as: soliloquy, alliteration, personification, and allusions. 

Here are some of my notes I put into my folder with the Teacher's Guide.

Following the full-year schedule, I assigned readings from Julius Caesar. Our teen read the summaries and then the acts in the play itself. We discussed the acts of Julius Caesar after dinner. I used my own copy from high school – I am glad I held onto my copies of the plays.

After our son was done reading Julius Caesar and the literary lesson, I asked him to complete the comprehension questions and then pick one of the writing exercises. He choose a paper comparing Brutus and Caesar. I read through and edited it once, provided suggestions, and then gave him back to him to continue working on refining it. I also made sure to refer him to the Student Guide which has great information on how to write a paper with Paper Writing 101. 

We spent a week or so reading the first two sonnets (5 and 6) in Lesson 2. I assigned the writing exercise that stated: "Imagine that these sonnets were written to you. Write a letter in response..." (61). 

Our Thoughts 

I was a little afraid about how I would teach Shakespeare to our son. Even though I could read through, understand, and appreciate Shakespeare's plays, this did not bring me the confidence to teach them in our homeschool. This review was a blessing to our homeschool – well-written Student and Teacher's Guides that allowed me to teach our son.

I asked our son about the Student Guide and the teaching of Shakespeare this year versus when he learned about Romeo and Juliet last year in public school.

1. How does this compare to studying Shakespeare in the classroom?

"When we learned about Shakespeare last year it was more just to understand the language and learn about Romeo and Juliet. This year is more about understanding specific things that happened in the text." (I am very glad that the Student Guide helped our son feel like he could understand the play!)

2. What did you find the most helpful?

"The plot summaries were the most helpful."

Student's Guide

3. Are there any changes that would help you understand the play better?

"Maybe a side-by-side writing of the story. One side has the play written in the language of Shakespeare and the other in modern English." (I did let him know there are books out there that do this. The real focus of this course on Shakespeare's Tragedies is to "teach deep reading and writing skills using classical literature" (1).

I would definitely recommend them to homeschooling families who are teaching the tragedies of Shakespeare. I look forward to taking a look at the guide provided for the comedies of Shakespeare in future years. I am also looking forward to reading the other reviews so I can see the other publications of Hewitt Homeschooling Resources. 

As clearly laid out as these guides are I can't wait to teach Shakespeare next homeschooling year. I love that I can use this guide as suggested over a semester, a full-year, or over multiple years as this may fit our homeschool best. Flexibility is one of the great parts of homeschooling and I find this resource to offer flexibility. 

Hewitt Homeschooling Resources also produces many other works that I will look into for the future that were reviewed including: 

If you wish to learn more about Hewitt Homeschool Resources, please visit the following:

Go check out the other reviews!

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