Enjoying Beowulf or The Pros and Cons of Literature Guides

I particularly enjoyed this post about Beowulf written recently by my 12 year old. I hope you enjoy it as well. Years ago, I would have never dreamed a child could enjoy such a 'difficult' work, but I was mistaken. Miss Mason knew better. And, as Charlotte promised, my daughter, Raora, was able to make her own connections by finding similarities in the tale with another well known piece of literature.

I was tempted to do the work for her by having her follow a literature guide. After all, guides are so tidy. They, theoretically, make sure the student doesn't miss any important information and ideas. I didn't trust my own education to be sufficient enough to be of much help either so this looked like a nice hand holder. However, when I read over the questions, many simply unimportant and dull, I realized such an exercise would most likely suck the life out of the tale bringing it down to just another educational exercise. I also noticed that the literature guide was subjective and did not necessarily reflect what the author of the original work intended but instead, promoted the personal agenda of the one who wrote the guide. (I have often found this to be the case) Furthermore, upon reflecting on the past, I remembered that my children often didn't WANT the work done for them. They liked to discover things for themselves.

Instead, I decided to read the guide myself, taking note of a few important ideas. Then, I asked Raora to give an oral narration from the poem. She was obviously excited about the story and told me a few of the connections she had already made. I attempted to get her to discover some big ideas herself by focusing on particular passages and probing her to think more deeply about the possible meanings through a few questions such as, "What do you think about so and so? Doesn't that remind you of another situation we read about recently? Little light bulbs began to turn on inside her head. By acting as guide rather than the all-knowing teacher (believe me, I've been there and done that) it was very satisfying for both of us. This was all done casually and relationally. In following this informal route, she made her own connections and more importantly, her zeal was preserved. The Beowulf post above, reveals a child who is feasting on the beauty of the words, the rhythm of the lines and the noble ideas within the poem.
"We are, perhaps, opposed to oral lessons or lectures except by way of occasional review or introduction. For actual education children must do their own work out of their own books under the sympathetic guidance of and intelligent teacher...
The Teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such task as shall give full scope to his pupils mental activity." Charlotte Mason
one step at a time...