A Case for Memoria Press Study Guides - Memoria Press

Many of us did not have the privilege of a classical education growing up, but we recognize its value and we want it for our children. Because all people are worthy of its ends (truth, goodness, and beauty), classical education should be available to all who seek it. However, we understand that it can seem intimidating and overwhelming to pursue. It takes some courage to say, “I am going to teach Latin, logic, ancient history, and the great books­—and I am going to teach to mastery—never mind that I am not, in fact, a master of these subjects.” We understand.

At Memoria Press, our goal is to provide a classical education that is accessible. We have conscientiously mapped out a curriculum that enables students to achieve the high standards of the classical tradition. Though we may each set our sights on different peaks, the climb should not feel daunting nor the destination unattainable. Enter the Memoria Press Study Guides. Like an experienced friend who offers encouragement and expertise, our guides provide a helpmate for the journey and a champion for the cause.

Please know our study guides are not mere workbooks intended to be passed off to the student to fill in and return. Memoria Press curriculum works best when teacher-led. Our guides are intended to assist the teacher and focus the student. Of course, as with any plan, flexibility is expected. So that you can get the richest experience from a text, we have tried to provide everything a teacher might need in order to learn the material well and teach students with confidence. We all know that success in a classroom or homeschool increases if the teacher is over-prepared and has a robust plan to keep things moving. So we have written guides to enhance the study of literature, history, and science.

The Classical Core Curriculum provides a cohesive plan, not just a compilation of well-meaning parts. Each lesson, each book, each course builds on the next in meaningful and intentional ways. For teacher and student alike, it’s rewarding and exhilarating to recognize connections, observe patterns and themes, and notice influences across the curriculum. This is what classical education offers. Our guides are replete with the vocabulary, comprehension questions, discussion topics, and enrichment ideas that make this complete experience possible. Each exercise proves a small step toward a slightly less fragmented world.

At Memoria Press we teach from real books. We believe that slow, thoughtful attention is required of the books prioritized in a curriculum. In a single course, students typically study a limited number of texts. They are trained to delve deeply. Of course we encourage broad reading of additional great books as a discipline, hobby, and delight. But if students are not trained to read conscientiously and develop patience with new vocabulary and unfamiliar ideas, they have the potential to stagnate and reading can be robbed of some value.

Take a book we all love, like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. The book is brilliantly written, speaks to the heart about friendship, and provides an entertaining perspective of the family farm. Independently, a student could easily read Charlotte’s Web, fully understand the story, and have a memorable, enjoyable experience. But, our goal is to train students in observation and discernment. We are seeking not merely knowledge, but wisdom. We want our students to learn to recognize every morsel of goodness, truth, and beauty available. Without direction, will they notice that Fern’s last name is Arable and make the connection to Latin (aro, “to plow”)? Will they recognize the scientific reference to spiders in Charlotte A. Cavatica’s name? Will they pause to consider the injustice that outrages Fern? Or compare Charlotte’s act of sacrificial love for Wilbur to similar acts in history? Will they recognize Templeton’s gluttony and compare it to the other vices? Will they understand that the word “yarn” is used to mean story, not thread? Will they stop to marvel at the miracle of Charlotte’s magnum opus—or at the miracle of spiderwebs altogether? Be honest and ask yourself: Will your students’ journey through Charlotte’s Web be as fruitful without a “guide”?

Memoria Press seeks to produce materials that are purposeful and clear. Our guides are similar in format and appearance across the curriculum. In defense of this, I like to quote C. S. Lewis who said, “a good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice.” When there is routine and repetition, students know what to expect. Effort can go into new content instead of a new system for doing things. Our goals are consistent from book to book, subject to subject, grade to grade, so it should not be unexpected that our materials look similar across the curriculum as well. In general, we are seeking mastery learning and thorough coverage of the books we study. The format of our guides serves these ends in efficient and thoughtful ways. Below is an explanation of the common elements.

Vocabulary

This section of our guides is perhaps the most often misunderstood. The vocabulary section is intended to be a discussion of vocabulary words that appear in the chapter and might inhibit understanding. We seek definitions in context. One goal of this exercise is to develop patience and perseverance in our students as they read. While pursuing accurate definitions, we want students to begin to look for context clues that help them decipher words. Because students will hopefully always be reading at increasingly difficult levels, we want them to recognize and understand that meeting unfamiliar words is expected, even into adulthood. Isn’t that a key point of reading, to broaden ourselves?

We find that young readers sometimes either stop entirely or ignore new words when they are encountered. When students encounter new vocabulary we want them to have a willingness to investigate and the discipline to continue reading. This process works best if teachers discuss new vocabulary before reading and students write down agreed upon definitions. This can easily be an oral activity for those who seek less writing. Keep in mind that while we can see the value of using the vocabulary lists to practice dictionary skills, consider doing so after students are able to choose the best, most relevant definition for the word in use.

Comprehension Questions

Comprehension is a skill that must be trained in readers from the beginning. Again, students need to know that completed does not necessarily mean comprehended and comprehended does not always mean contemplated.

The comprehension questions in the Memoria Press guides graduate in degree of difficulty as the student matures. Beginner guides seek answers that are easily identified objective facts—the who, what, where, when questions. Later, students are asked to discern information, and finally to analyze. Students learn to answer questions completely, concisely, and eventually, eloquently. This is no easy feat. Our guides offer many opportunities to practice meaningful, articulate responses in both oral and written form.

Student answers should be developed with supervision until proficiency is achieved. Teacher and student should compose a well-prepared response together. It need not look exactly like the answer in the teacher’s manual. But strive to do good work. Discuss spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization. Choose interesting vocabulary words. Edit as needed. Each response could realistically be a complete composition exercise. In fact, we hope it is.

It’s important to note that the strategy above takes time—a lot of it. Our lessons are thorough and there are many opportunities for writing and discussion. We like complete, accurate responses; feel free to do some questions orally if necessary. For written responses, set the standard high.

Facts to Know and Reading Notes

The Facts to Know and Reading Notes sections in our guides prioritize for easy reference the key ideas in the chapter. These are the major takeaways. Use the Facts to Know for drill questions, memory work, recitation, and regular review. This section is formatted so the student can easily quiz independently or the teacher can quickly check for mastery. This section prepares students to notice main ideas in their reading.

Memory Work

The Memoria Press guides have numerous opportunities for students to memorize and recite. Recitation requires mastery of a subject and fosters confidence in students—the kind of confidence earned by accomplishing a challenging feat, the kind that enables them to humbly believe they can learn anything. The Scripture, facts, poetry, songs, and literary passages memorized by the student are formative and life-giving. They become the truths to which they will cling, the resources from which they will draw, the facts with which they will persuade.

Discussion and Enrichment

Discussion and Enrichment opportunities are often the bridges from knowledge to wisdom. These are the questions, connections, and suggested activities that greatly enrich the learning experience. For instance, consider this activity in our grammar school D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths guide: “Compile a list of heroes hidden in youth.” This is an exercise that can change the way students see their history, their literature, their faith, their world. By thinking broadly outside the bounds of a single story about Zeus, or Romulus and Remus, or Moses, or Jesus, students learn to recognize trials and triumphs that are common in the human experience. Consider these opportunities in your school day as you pause on your trek to take in the vistas. This section of the guide, if completed with enthusiasm, typically provides the satisfaction and delight that motivate progress.

Additional Resources

It is important to flesh out stories in a way that makes them tangible. When students understand the geographical locations and historical periods in which stories happen, they can better see how the history of the world is knitted together. If lessons are left in isolation, students are apt to overlook the interconnectivity of their subjects and dismiss the influence events and people have on each other. In addition to the specific work in the literature and history guides, the Memoria Press Geography and Timeline programs are inordinately valuable in giving students a mental poster on which they can paste facts as they travel across the curriculum. Little by little, broader scenes emerge and greater understanding is achieved.

Conclusion

Many of us started our classical education late. We understand how it feels to embark on this path with inexperience or questions. We remember wondering if Latin was within our reach and asking what in the world a recitation is. At some point (or at many), we were convinced and encouraged—thus we persevere. As we continue on, we can see the fruit. We continue to pursue the wisdom and virtue that are intrinsically consequential to this broad and grounding curriculum. In gratitude for those who guided us, our goals at Memoria Press will always be to simply encourage, inspire, and offer help as we are able. In our study guides, we hope to be doing just that.

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