This year we are doing two levels of Classical Composition, Fable and Chreia/ Maxim.
I have written before about Fable here. After Fable comes Narrative, which is a wonderful follow-up! I will write more about that set another time, but basically it builds on the skills learned in Fable and adds to them, in a very underwhelming way.
Then comes Chreia/ Maxim…(play scary music)…
Like many others, I was apprehensive and even a little frightened to begin this level. It does include the narrative components and figures of description learned in the other books, and continues to incorporate variations. Other than that, it is pretty much a whole ‘nother animal.
Each lesson is spread over two weeks (just like Fable and Narrative, so this is a pace that is cozy and familiar). A famous quote (chreia) or saying (maxim) is presented as the material from which the student will be writing. By the end of the two weeks, the student will have gradually composed an eight paragraph essay discussing the chreia or maxim. Don’t worry- many of these paragraphs are very short and the breakdown is completely do-able for middle grade kids who have built up to this level. Each paragraph has its own focus point:
1)Enconium: Introduces the saying and tells why we should pay attention to the speaker.
2)Paraphrase: This is pretty much a thesis.
3)Cause: Applies the saying to real life.
4)Converse: Opposite of the Cause, showing what happens when you DON’T apply the saying.
5)Analogy: Compares the saying to some other similar recognizable aspect of life.
6)Example: Summarizes a story from history or literature that illustrates the truth of the saying.
7)Testimony: Supplies a quote that supports the saying.
The great thing is that these books hold your hand, both for the teacher and the student, and gently guide you through each step. Samples are given along the way for every single paragraph, so you do have an idea of a quote or example to use if you are stumped. There is a lot of room for digging deeper, though, if you want your student to come up with these themselves. We have made good use of online quote sources and even Wikipedia in learning basic history about the speaker. As time has gone by, I have noticed my daughter coming up with things more on her own with less of my guidance.
Things We Really Like
- Like the other levels, the daily work is predictable. This gives us a chance to practice, practice, practice each skill and paragraph. While the first few lessons were confusing for us at times, by now we are very comfortable with the process and are just focusing on honing our skills. I like that the learning curve is in the beginning, and then we sail through the rest of the year! (Which is a nice breather from other subjects that start out easy and get harder…like almost ALL of them!).
- This program requires more thinking than previous levels, and that on a deeper level. In order to paraphrase the saying, you need to be sure you truly understand the meaning behind it. Many of the chreias have more than one layer of meaning, so these nuances need to be drawn out. Word choice is also crucial when restating the meaning. This is when all those variations come in handy. Which word captures the mood and meaning of the chreia? What example most clearly illustrates its truth? You can see that we have moved on from a more “grammar” level of writing into a level that requires some logic and abstract thought.
- A great side benefit has been the way we have internalized these chreias and maxims. My daughter casually relates our real life incidents to such and such a quote by Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. I think its so cool that she remembers them from having spent two weeks thinking and writing about them. If you have to write about something, why not take advantage of these wise words that we can all learn from?
- The feeling of pride and accomplishment once the final draft is all typed and polished! She knows she has worked hard and is proud of the finished product.
- It is teaching us an organized, thoughtful way of writing an essay. I look at each of the paragraphs as a different tool that my daughter is adding to her supply of writing skills.
To be honest, this level had me pretty confused when I first looked through it. I read all the introductory pages thoroughly and pored over the samples, but for some reason could not seem to get a good grasp on where we were going with it. The videos do a great job of walking the student through each step, but I just needed a better “big picture” understanding to get on board. I found some great insights on the Memoria Press Forum that were helpful in clarifying terminology, but the best thing was just jumping right in with teaching it. After stumbling rather awkwardly through the first two lessons, I was finally able to see how all the parts fit together.
I share this not as a “con” to the level, per se, but just to offer an honest experience (and some hope along with it!) to others who may find the process a bit foggy at first. My encouragement would be to keep plugging along if it seems difficult or confusing, and also to not limit yourself to the samples provided in the teacher manual. In most cases, the samples are excellent and helpful, but there have been times where the samples themselves didn’t really line up with our understanding of the chreia or maxim. In those cases, we often used our own interpretation.
Classical education is about learning HOW to think, not just WHAT to think.
If my daughter comes up with a radically different take on her Analogy paragraph but can clearly articulate her thinking behind it and it all makes sense, I let her run with it. It is great to see her own perspective and personality come out in her writing, and I do want to encourage that as much as I can.
How We Implement It
We do not use the videos. We gave them a try, but my kids strongly rebel at watching DVDs for school (go figure). We go through the material together at the pace laid out in the curriculum manual. If you are not using a curriculum manual, you can either purchase lesson plans from Memoria Press or just do one section a day, then take a day to type/ write the final draft. It is pretty easy to schedule so I don’t think you would need the plans.
For the first few lessons, I pretty much gave her the answers to each section. By now (February), she works fairly independently and then we discuss it together each day.
And I have Refutation & Confirmation on my nightstand for evening reading! (Am I the only homeschool mom who does that?) I like seeing where we are headed!