Classical Writing: Aesop

Book cover: 'Classical Writing: Aesop'
Author(s): 
Tracy Davis Gustilo
Lene Mahler Jaqua
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

If you are attracted to the classical method of teaching composition, by analyzing and imitating excellent literature, but have struggled with implementing your own program, then this is the writing series for you. Meticulously thought through and well organized, Classical Writing: Aesop combines structure with flexibility. It can be used with multiple ages in the homeschool and, though designed for beginning writers in grades 1-5, can be adapted for older ages. It uses homeschool-friendly methods such as copywork, dictation, literary discussion and narration, as building blocks for composition skills.

Classical Writing: Aesop is the first in a proposed series which will cover the various steps of the progymnasata (literally "preliminary exercises") by which classical and medieval students were taught to write in a variety of different modes. Classical Writing: Aesop covers the first exercise in the progymnasata, narration of fables. The child learns to retell simple fables and tales in his own words, adding dialogue and description in easy increments over the course of the curriculum. This is the "imitation" component.

The analysis component of the course, in which the literature selection is carefully gone over at several different levels, can be adjusted to the level of the student(s). A week's routine is divided into (1) introducing and discussing the model (2) word skills (3) sentence skills (4) copywork or easy dictation. A beginner would practice basic phonics and learn about how to tell a sentence. A more advanced student would practice beginning dictionary skills and learn the parts of speech. Though a supplemental grammar book is recommended, Classical Writing contains teaching tips and content for all the formal grammar that is needed at this level.

There are plenty of charts to help with the organization of the course. Appendices include some sample fables and tales to use as models, and even a sample 36-week syllabus for busy moms who want to pick up the book and go rather than write their own lesson plans (though a sample lesson plan template is included, too). There is even a description of how the authors, both homeschooling mothers of four, use the program with their own children, with examples of narrative exercises by their children of various ages.

This is not intended to be a self-teaching curriculum. It is meant for the homeschooling parent to use *with* children. It is suggested that half an hour per day be spent on each of the components of the course, analysis and imitation, four days a week. The authors believe that composition is a formative skill, and should be guided: "training in speech and writing cannot be separated from training in virtue". The goal is a "habit of mind" which the students can apply to any writing task. This is a thoroughly Catholic idea -- that "academic" skills should be at the service of virtue-- that I have not found so well stated and carried through in any other writing curriculum. I am looking forward to using this program with my grade school children, and have already adapted elements of it for use with my older children.

The book is available in a Kinko's copy, or in a PDF file that can be downloaded from the internet. The PDF file is probably the most versatile, since multiple copies of the sample models can be printed out for use with more than one child. See below for the Classical Writing website, which also has a link to a message board for support of this product.

The authors also offer Traditional Tales - Models for Classical Writing, a sourcebook of 36 fables and traditional tales to use with the composition course. The models include fairytales, Scripture, history stories by James Baldwin, in addition to fables by Aesop: all excellent literature which can be read by the fluent primary age child. This book is not an essential companion to Classical Writing, since the sources are all in the public domain and can be found online (some URLs are listed in the handbook). Still, it is a savings of time and effort for the homeschool mom to have them selected and right at one's fingertips. Downloadable PDF format and Kinko's copy format both available from Classical Writing.

Review Date: 
11-8-03
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