Writing and Rhetoric is by far the best progymnasmata-based writing program I have used.
Wait! I can already hear the question flying through the air, “What is the progymnasmata?”
Okay, so let me back up a bit. When I started looking for a writing curriculum, the first question I had was, “How did they use to teach people to write?” It seems painfully obvious that something drastic happened in the last few hundred years when you read “classical literature” coming forward through time.
I scoured the internet forums looking for any information on writing methodologies and found that Classical Writing was a program that was trying to get back to the way that the Greeks and Romans taught writing. Apparently, we used these methods for hundreds of years with great success. I looked into it more and learned that the progymnasmata was a series of exercises that took a student from retelling fables through arguing for legislative proposals.
I read reviews of Classical Writing and decided to take the plunge even though many reviews claimed it was difficult to use. I got all of the Aesop books, including the added student workbooks and instructor’s guides, and started using the program. I didn’t like it. First, it was a combination program that included grammar and spelling along with writing. I loved my All About Spelling program already and it was better than the spelling in Classical Writing. I also liked my grammar programs better than what was included. I actually didn’t like the models in the student guides at all. So I thought maybe I would use the program without the extra books, but then I had to sit and sift through what I wanted to use and what I didn’t want to use, and that made the program entirely Meliah-planned. And when something isn’t pick up and go here, that means it doesn’t get done as often as it should to be successful. (I do have a lot of kids to teach and a house to manage.)
Second, I didn’t like that there wasn’t a rubric or a standard to measure success. My oldest has a great memory so she could basically retell the fables word for word. I would read them to her and she would narrate them back, and then we would progress to rewriting them and they would basically be exactly the same as the original. Was that good? I didn’t really know. The Aesop book doesn’t give you examples of writing from children. All you get from the book is vague helps like, “If your student has trouble sequencing and remembering details, create a sentence by sentence outline as described above.” You correct the drafts looking for comprehension, grammatical, mechanical, and sentence structure errors. And then this, “The final copy has a coherent sequential story line, with proper use of capitalization, punctuation and spelling. All sentences are written correctly.” I didn’t feel like I could really help her progress using this program. Was she getting anything out of the Aesop level? Were we successful? I read reviews that maybe it was great to come back and do Homer after doing Classical Composition, so I switched to Memoria Press.
Classical Composition has a DVD that actually teaches lessons for you, so that was a major advantage after exhausting myself with Classical Writing. It was so much easier to just follow the teacher’s guide and DVD. Also, I liked that the lessons had you change the fables by inverting the sequence of events, reduction, or starting from the middle. You also retold the fable with added figures of description. There was finally some writing work being done on the part of my daughter instead of just parroting a fable word for word. But there were things I didn’t like too. Their outlining was awkward for my daughter to follow the first few times. It basically had to be exactly like the example in the book or it didn’t fit in the student pages. I am sure people who don’t have my kid’s perfectionist mannerisms wouldn’t be annoyed by this, but it bothered my daughter. I also didn’t like that the lessons were basically the same over and over again. Inverting the fable was fun the first time, but it was really lame the after several times. It became a battle to get writing out and done, and it had been a favorite subject before. I was killing her love of writing, and she had thought of herself as an author–filling several blank books with her stories.
We took a break and just wrote whatever she wanted in her blank books. And I began my search again. I figured I would give the progymnasmata another go before leaving it entirely and I found that Classical Academic Press was writing their own series. I took a look at the extensive samples for each level and was sold. They were so much fun. The fable rewrites were really cool. Instructions like, “Rewrite the Lion and the Mouse using the Mouse as the big animal,” made my daughter excited to do her writing again. Each text is written to the student so they are very easy to use. The teacher’s guide has sample that make it easier to judge progress and skill level. It doesn’t assume that the parent is already competent teaching the progymnasmata, so it gives clear and easy instructions about how to implement the program.
I also like that speaking is included in the program. My daughter has recited poetry and worked on her elocution. I feel like this program is working on turning my child into a competent communicator. Speaking and writing are both addressed in fairly equal levels.
It also demystifies the progymnasmata. After using both Classical Writing and Classical Composition, I still felt a little outside of it, like I was walking in fog and only a few feet were ever visible. It seemed like I would have to go through the program to truly understand it. With Writing and Rhetoric I have been able to really understand what is being taught at each level, so words like “Chreia” and “Commonplace” actually have meaning to me now.
So if you are interested in the progymnasmata, I would really recommend checking out Writing and Rhetoric. We have used several books now, and I have seen the positive difference in writing ability and public speaking. We are actually in Chreia now after being stuck in Fable-land for 2 years.